By now, you probably have seen this quote from Joe Maddon anywhere from 69 to 420 times but it is relevant to the matter at hand so I am bringing it back into the fold.
"Regarding our plight this year, we have to do it in another way," Maddon said. "We have to get back to the playoffs this year, and it's probably going to require another way."
"We have to go about things differently than the teams we compete against in our division. We can't operate the same way they do, or we would absolutely finish behind them," [GM Andrew] Friedman said. "We have to do things differently, we have to approach things differently. I think we've won two of the last three American League East (titles) and we've never won a winter in that time period."
Grabbing Casey Kotchman on a minor league deal and grabbing six new bullpen members was one example. Recycling talent from Durham more frequently this season than in the past is yet another example as well as Maddon's crazy shifts, lineups, and what not. After watching 20.9% of the games thus far this season, there is clearly another trend going on with the Rays as they have found yet another way to employ a strategy to be successful.
Much has been made about the Rays' struggles in throwing out baserunners this season, but most of that is a visual bias coming from focusing on Rays games. The American League average for pitchers and catchers nabbing would be basestealers is 72% which also happens to be the Rays' success rate thus far in 2011 as they have pegged 10 of 36 runners. The league best belongs to the Oakland Athletics as Kurt Suzuki has thrown out 19 of 37 runners while the league-worst is our old friends in Chicago who have caught just 4 of 32. Something to keep in mind for this week; Cleveland's catchers are second-worst in the American League in preventing stolen bases.
Being league average has never been something the Rays have done as they continually find ways to be better and one way they have done so this season is controlling the running game from the mound rather than from behind the plate. Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso are decent behind the plate when it comes to throwing, but catching a base-stealer is a two-part equation. Both Maddon and Jim Hickey have talked about working with certain pitchers about being quicker to the plate to give the catchers a better chance of throwing out runners but something that has flown under the radar is the improvement of the staff in picking off runners.
This season, the Rays are off to a staggering start in terms of picking off runners as they are already one-third of the way to equaling their combined pickoff total over the last three seasons.
Keep in mind, the season is roughly 21% of the way done so the American League is not running any more or less than they have in the three previous seasons, but the Rays efforts in controlling the running game from the mound have improved. James Shields leads the staff in pickoffs this season as his move has become one of the more deadlier moves to first base for a right-handed pitcher in baseball.
We have talked about how the Rays can leverage the starting pitching talent to help minimize potential risks in the bullpen by working deeper in games as a way of making the most of what you have. The pitching staff speeding up their time to home plate and keeping more baserunners honest with their improved pickoff moves and strategies such as the fake to third and throw to second that was employed in April. These strategies can help buy Jaso and Shoppach an extra tenth of a second or two giving them a better chance of stopping teams from increasing their chances of scoring and are another way for the Rays to implement run prevention strategies.