Beginning with this post, I'm going to take a look at a few reasons why this year's team failed to reach expectations. This is for detailed information and a catharsis exercise in order to bury 2009 and prepare us for the off-season. Let's begin with the run scoring.
The Rays are fourth in the American League in runs scored per game with 5.07. American League average is 4.83 which is a difference of 0.24 runs per game or 39 runs over a full season. I took every one of the above average AL teams from this season and figured out how many games they scored below their average. The numbers are startling.
|Team||R/G||%G < *|
You'll note that most of the other teams are pretty much confined within plateaus. The Rays are distant from the pack. Add in the below average American League offenses and you get these figures:
Given that only Kansas City rivals the Rays percentage, this seems like nothing but random variance. Further, while some will claim this is a skill - and be sure that I believe offensive variance is not one - last year's unit averaged 4.78 runs per game and scored less than 4 runs in 52% of its games.
Most are more than unwilling to accept that luck and randomness plays such a huge role in the success of a baseball team or player. With such, I have to admit there are a few reasons as to why I can see this offense sputtering more than expected, but not quite more than the rest of the league. The reasons are as follows:
Ineffective leadoff hitting
450 plate appearances from Upton netted an on-base percentage of .317. Even if the number two hitter reaches base, the chances of scoring a run are dramatically lowered with one batter already out. Upton represented the second worst hitter and yet he was the leadoff man for a majority of the year. The decision to drop him may have came too late, just as the decision to place him at the top may have been too hasty, but the idea was about as failsafe of a concept as the Rays lineup possessed. It didn't work out this year, hopefully it does next year.
Constant lineup altering based on cold/hot streaks
For a while Carlos Pena was batting in the lower half of the lineup against right-handed pitching. This is absolutely inexcusable and reeks of short-sightedness. Pena mashes righties like nobody else in the lineup, over the last three seasons Pena hit righties at a .236/.369/.567 clip while faring decently against lefties with a .211/.332/.482 line. Yet, for whatever reason, Pena was moved down in mid-to-late July and would fluctuate the rest of the season from the six to the four slot depending on what the dice landed on. Obviously Maddon had no hesitations moving him up and down on a daily basis at this point, but wouldn't do the same for platoon affects?
Another unexplainable move was Evan Longoria batting sixth for a few weeks. Yes he struggled; no you don't move players down because of it. Maddon damn well knows Longoria is one of his best hitters. What does demoting him in the order accomplish? Theoretically it takes pressure off Longoria to perform or the demotion pisses him off, causing him to press even more.
Seemingly inefficient lineup usage
Ben Zobrist has walked 16% of the time to date. I believe most people were aware Zobrist's .600+ slugging percentage was too good to be true, but his key talent has always, always been his ability to draw walks. Maybe his true talent level for walks isn't quite 16%, maybe the figure is more like 12% moving forward. Nonetheless, Zobrist has fewer than 60 at-bats in the top three slots this season. Now Carl is probably a lock as is Evan - or he should be at I suppose - but Zobrist never even gained consideration for leading off. Why? Beats me.
Neither Gabe seemed to get upper lineup preference either, and instead were usually stuck in the bottom third. This seems silly considering Kapler's domination of left-handers and Pena's relative struggles. I'm not saying flip the two, I'm saying Kapler batting eighth is less than ideal.
Underperformers in key spots
I've addressed the leadoff struggles of Upton. Pat Burrell was either on the DL or on the DL for most of the season. Dioner Navarro was possibly the worst catcher in the major leagues. Otherwise, the Rays saw one massive overachiever and three underachievers. Luck plays into this category heavily and given past performances it's hard to blame anyone for not dropping Upton or Burrell at an earlier date.
Next up: defense.
(Numbers used are dated before 9/9's game.)