Stop Blaming the Rays' Offense or, What's Up With Our Pitching?

ST. PETERSBURG - JUNE 10: Infielder Carlos Pena #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays is congratulated after his home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on June 10, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Come on, admit it - we've all done it. Ever since the series against the Red Sox a couple weeks ago, the Rays have been in a bit of a slide, going 7-7 and losing ground in the AL East race. The public scapegoat for this slide has been the Rays' offense, leading many people to clamor for the Rays to trade for a big name slugger like Adrian Gonzalez. Now that the Rays are performing like mere mortals with runners in scoring position, it's felt as though the offense isn't strong enough to stay competitive. 

And true, there is some truth to this argument. The Rays' offense currently has the third most runs scored in the major leagues (behind only the Red Sox and Yankees), and their offense isn't that good. Timely hitting over the first couple months of the season inflated public opinion of the Rays' offense, but that doesn't mean the Rays can't hit either. Consider:

2010 Rays

MLB Rank

OBP

0.338

9th

ISO

0.157

8th

OPS

0.755

9th

wOBA

0.337

6th

If you are unclear what any of these abbreviations stand for, please click on the links provided.

Are those earth-shattering numbers? No, of course not. At the same time, though, considering the hyperbole and concern being expressed about the Rays' offense recently, I expected those rankings to be a lot lower. I would love for our wOBA to be closer to what the Yankees or Red Sox are producing (mid-.350s), but our offense has still been better than 24 other teams. That's pretty darn impressive.

So what's been the issue plaguing the Rays these past couple of weeks? Despite its overall solid performance this season, has the offense been slumping recently? In short, no.

Last Two Weeks

Full Season

OBP

0.353

0.338

ISO

0.172

0.157

OPS

0.803

0.755

wOBA

0.358

0.337

Wait...really? The Rays' offense has actually been stronger recently than it has been overall this year; that feels so wrong, but that's why we keep statistics. Heck, even if you go back a full 30 days (which includes that anemic Red Sox series), the Rays are hitting better than their season average (.347 wOBA). Their numbers for hitting with runners in scoring position have regressed back closer to their team average (.788 OPS with RISP versus .755 OPS overall), which has probably accounted for the perceived "slump".

So if the Rays have actually been hitting better recently, what's the cause of this recent slide? The Rays have gotten very pedestrian pitching performances recently from their staff, with their 3.94 team ERA over the last 14 days placing them in the middle of the pack. In fact, the Rays' pitchers have gotten lucky with their results; their 4.65 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) over that timespan is the fifth worst in the majors. When you combine the two halves together - good-but-not-great offense and mediocre-to-poor pitching - you get an overall mediocre team, explaining the Rays' recent 7-7 record.

Thankfully, we know this is just a slump. The Rays can expect offensive regression from Carlos Pena (already happening), BJ Upton (also already happening - 1.144 OPS in last 14 days), Jason Bartlett, Gabe Kapler, and Willy Aybar, plus they will get added offensive value from Kelly Shoppach and Matt Joyce. Their .337 team wOBA is too low and will probably only go up. Also, just as our pitchers weren't as good as their performances over the first month, they're not as bad as they're performing now.

FIP - Last Two Weeks

James Shields

5.86

Matt Garza

5.11

Jeff Niemann

4.08

David Price

5.01

Wade Davis

6.29

There's absolutely no way that's going to continue. None whatsoever. They're all above-average pitchers that just happen to be hitting slumps at the same time. It's unfortunate and some of the problem is based on bad luck (more on that next week), so they'll snap out of it eventually. And once these guys recover and start pitching the way they're capable, the Rays are going to get hot again. Just wait.

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