Feast or famine. Downpour or drought. All or nothing.
These are all terms that have been used to describe the Rays offense this year. Perhaps no one embodies this better than Carlos Pena and his all-or-nothing swing: What's going to follow is probably either a strikeout or a home run, and not likely in between.
The natural question then is whether or not this is a perception that is true or merely a manifestation of baseball's randomness combined. Let's see.
The natural step is to look at a team's standard deviation in runs scored per game. For those less statistically inclined, standard deviation is a measure of, on average, how far data points are from the mean in a set. Basically, a high standard deviation means a team's offense is widely spread (all-or-nothing) and a low standard deviation means a team is more consistent.
*For the purposes of this calculation and the rest of the article, all games where more than 10 runs were scored were treated as 10 run games, otherwise the 17 and 18 run games really messed with the numbers.
At first glance the Rays offense appears to be only slightly more widely distributed than the Red Sox and Yankees offenses. Simply looking at standard deviations, while a great measure of spread, isn't quite an accurate descriptor of the definition of "inconsistent" that most people have in mind: the ability of an offense to disappear on any given night.
This graph contains a somewhat more intuitive revelation: When it comes to being restricted to 1 run or less, the Rays are victims far more often than their Yankee and Red Sox counterparts. The graph ends up intersecting for all three teams, however, at 4 runs, meaning that all 3 of the AL East titans get restricted to 4 runs or less equally often. So while the Rays get restricted to 1 run more frequently, the Red Sox and Yankees get restricted to 2 and 3 runs far more often.
The other point of note is that getting restricted to 1 run appears to be more of random variation than a repeatable skill. Compare your 2010 Rays with this other team with a very similar offensive composition:
|2010 Rays||2009 Rays|
|1 or Less||17%||12%|
|2 or Less||24%||23%|
|3 or Less||34%||44%|
|4 or Less||47%||54%|
|5 or Less||58%||64%|
|6 or Less||69%||71%|
|7 or Less||75%||79%|
|8 or Less||83%||85%|
|9 or Less||90%||88%|
The 09 Rays were limited to 1 run a mere 12% of the time, a number almost identical to this year's Red Sox and Yankees. Given that the 09 boys were more or less the same team and that every offensive player replaced has been a significant improvement (except the replacement of Ben Zobrist with Ben Zobrist), there's reasonable evidence that the getting 1-run or less'd is not expected to continue at this rate. The myth of the All or Nothing, while not busted, will get a "Plausible, but unlikely."