The Rays Modern Era: A Look Back

ST. PETERSBURG - OCTOBER 12: Pitcher David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays watches his team against the Texas Rangers during Game 5 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field on October 12, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

I (like many of you no doubt) love looking forward to the next season and trying to anticipate what Friedman and Co will do to make the Rays exciting and competitive again next year; however, today we’re going to break from that and look back to what I call the "Modern Era" of Rays baseball. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve recently found myself only half-heartedly paying attention to the Post-Season, post Rays.  While plenty of match-ups were intriguing (a la Lee v. Lincecum), on more than one occasion I sat at my computer with eyes drifting away from the HD and towards the computer screen and randomly browsing around ESPN.com and somehow clicking over to the final regular season standings and just admiring the Rays name being listed there on top, towering above other great teams.  I’m not sure what started it, but I started comparing this season with the two prior.  First with just some basic measures like home and road records and run differential, but then I just kept going.

First, some of the basics (AL rank in parenthesis):

Win

Loss

RS

RA

Diff

2008

97

65

774 (9)

671 (2)

+103 (2)

2009

84

78

803 (5)

754 (7)

+49 (5)

2010

96

66

802 (3)

649 (2)

+153 (2)

We all know that the Rays won one more game in 2008 than this year, but I didn’t have a full appreciation of how successful the team was in scoring more runs while allowing less, resulting in a run differential that was 50 runs better than ’08. Also, it's interesting how similar the offensive output was to ’09 with all the improvement coming from the pitching.

Digging in a little further on the offensive side, it wasn’t a surprise to see that BB% and K% have both had small upticks over the 3-yr span (but still maintaining the same BB/K rate).  Nor was it surprising to see that BA dropped from .263 to .247 last year, but good to see some of that potentially explained away by a 10pt drop in BABIP (after posting .302 and .303 in ’08 & ’09 it was .293 in ‘10). 

The next set of stats unfortunately were all negative.  OPSwRCwRAA & wOBA were all at three year lows (and yes, they are highly correlated):

OPS

wRC

wRAA

wOBA

2008

0.762

798

38

0.336

2009

0.782

821

76

0.343

2010

0.736

756

36

0.328

Not what you'd expect after scoring only one fewer run than 2009.

The last offensive metric that jumped out was the RAys' swing percentage on balls out of the zone.  While almost all other swing% metrics stayed within a reasonable margin of the past two years (like swing% staying exactly the same as 2009 at 44.2%), the Rays decided to go Vlad-Guerrero-style and increased their O-Swing% by 4.1% from '09 (4.8% above '08).  Hopefully Brignac and S-Rod can hang out with Jaso a little over the off season and calm down.  This all seemed to be a good case of some advanced metrics matching up with my eyes; while the Rays' offense didn't seem as pretty as the past years, they continued to score runs.

On the pitching front, the advanced stats matched the results; what materialized as the best year for the Rays staff, was also the strongest by numerous measures.

K/BB

FIP

xFIP

WPA

+WPA

2008

2.17

4.22

4.40

10.70

115.10

2009

2.18

4.37

4.36

1.62

106.56

2010

2.49

4.09

4.18

 15.58

112.85

Oddly enough, the pitching stat that jumped out at me the most through my browsing of Fangraphs was how bad the Rays are at inducing groundballs.  In 2010 the Rays pitchers had the lowest GB% of any team in baseball, at 41.3% - and that wasn't new, they were the second worst in '08 and fifth worst in '09.  Not surprisingly we have been towards the bottom of the league in HR/9 as a result. 

Since we don't expect a lot of change in the rotation, I'm not sure we can be hopeful for much of a change on that measure in 2011.

So what is it that you expect or want to see change in 2011?  While I'm hopeful to see less hacks at sliders down and away and our pitchers keep the ball on the ground, I'm hoping it's not too long before I can stare at the Rays name in the same spot in the standings as it is today.

For those with questions on the stats above, please visit the Saber Library.

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