Rays News

Tampa Bay Rays: Strikeouts Are Killing the Rays

By David Egbert
Apr 12, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) reacts after striking out against the New York Yankees during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) reacts after striking out against the New York Yankees during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /
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Striking out is an unproductive out and the Tampa Bay Rays have more than their share which links to their current losing streak.

Teams make a lot of outs in baseball. The winning team in a game will make at least 24 outs. Even the best hitters in baseball make an out seven out of ten times they are at the plate. There are lots of ways to make an out but the least productive is the strikeout. Rarely is the ball in play after a strikeout and so a batter cannot get on base or advance a runner. It is a simply an unproductive out, and the Tampa Bay Rays have more than their share.

It’s fair to say that a major reason for the Rays rocky start is strikeouts. To date, the team has struck out 150 times in 470 at bats. That is a 32% strikeout to at bat ratio. It leads major league baseball and comes on the heels of a 2016 season when the Rays were second in baseball with 1482 strikeouts in 5981 at bats. That was only a 24% strikeout to at bat ratio.

The strikeouts aren’t just coming from some over matched rookie. Evan Longoria has struck out in 40% of his at bats and Brad Miller in 44%. Kevin Kiermaier, who hits at the top of the order and is paid to get on base, has struck out in 30% of his at bats. About the only good news is that Steven Souza Jr. has reduced his strikeout rate from 37% in 2016 to 26% so far in this season.

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To see how strikeouts impact wins and losses, one only has to look at the recent Rays/Red Sox series. Boston won the series three games to one and it’s not hard to see why.

They lead the league in hitting with a .287 team average and a .353 on base percentage. They have only struck out 77 times in 446 at bats or a 17% strikeout to at bat ratio.

In the four games series, the Rays struck out 46 times in 137 at bats and Boston 20 times in 139 at bats.

Even more important is that the Red Sox won two games by one run and one game by two runs. Errors and an inconsistent bullpen caused some of the havoc for the Rays but if they had put a few more balls in play, the results might have been different. As an example, in game four of the series, a sacrifice fly by Miller with the bases loaded would have tied the game. Instead, Miller struck out.

The real question is how do we solve this problem that has been plaguing the Rays for better than a season? I’m no hitting coach and I have never stood in the batter’s box at a major league level but it seems to me that the Rays are simply too aggressive at the plate. Most of their strikes are swings and misses and not foul balls.

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I watched Derek Jeter for years and always marveled at how he would foul off pitch after pitch until he got the one he wanted and then drive the ball on a line for a single or double.

On the other hand, the Rays hitters seem to think that they must crush every pitch that they see no matter where it is in the strike zone.

Maybe, it’s just as simple as Longoria, Miller and Kiermaier finding their game. After all, they were three of the Rays brightest stars last year and have the credentials to be better overall hitters.

Maybe, hitting coach Chad Mottola can work the same magic he did with Souza Jr. and correct the flaws in their swing.

Next: Steven Souza Not Making Fans in Boston

Whatever the answer, it had better come quickly. The Rays have already been exposed with too many injuries and flaws in their bullpen, catching and defense. Unless they get enough clutch hitting to carry them past those issues, they could, for the second season in a row, fall out of contention early.

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