Believe it or not, the Rays were actually above .500 in the month of May. I will admit, I had to go look it up myself because it sure did not feel like a winning month the way the team limped toward the finish line but the team did go 15-14 last month. June has been a series of body blows delivered by the Rangers and now the suddenly red-hot Mariners who are 20-12 in their last 32 games despite having the worst team offense in the month of May in the American League.
If the Mariners can win despite having an offense worse than the Rays, what are they doing right that the Rays are doing wrong as they are now 14-16 in their last 30 games? To better understand that, let’s look back at the month of May and see how the Rays performed on the mound and at the plate.
It goes without saying that the Rays have had their problems in the last two spots in the pitching rotation. Wade Davis had an awful month, Jeff Niemann was hurt, Alex Cobb tipped pitches, and Andy Sonnanstine left his command somewhere back in 2008. Those four pitchers made all of the starts when David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson were not pitching and the results were simply awful. The quartet combined to throw 62.2 innings last month and went 1-5 with a 6.38 FIP, an 11.1 hit rate, a 2.3 home run rate, a 4.5 walk rate, and just a 4.0 strikeout rate.
Davis’s efforts in May were particularly troubling as he won just one of his six starts while allowing nine home runs in 32.2 innings of work as well as walking more than he struck out and giving up 44 hits. Niemann had an injury to blame and Cobb was tipping pitches, but the Rays insistence on allowing Sonnanstine to take turns in the rotation is at best frustrating if not maddening. His three starts in May produced 19 hits, five home runs, and five strikeouts in just over 13 innings of work. If you look at the numbers he has produced since Niemann has hit the disabled list, Sonnanstine has pitched 19.1 innings and has given up seven home runs while walking ten and striking out just six batters.
Jeremy Hellickson may not have looked his best in May, but thanks to a lot of run support and some extreme BABIP and LOB% fortune, went 4-1 in May with a 1.36 ERA while garnering both the Rookie of the Month as well as the pitcher of the month honors in the American League. This, despite the fact the normally sharp Hellickson had a walk rate of 4.1 for the month. Price and Shields combined to put up some rather impressive totals as they combined for 80 strikeouts and just 13 walks, 21 earned runs, and eight home runs allowed in 72.2 innings of work.
The bullpen ended the month with the fifth worst FIP in the American League at 3.98. This season’s bullpen is different from past versions as it is not built upon the strikeout. While the Tigers’ pen led the American League in May with a 9.0 K/9, the Rays’ relievers finished 13th with a 5.8 K/9 and their 67% LOB% was only good for 12th. The good news is the bullpen had the third best batting average against in the league as opponents hit just .233; compare that to the .281 rate for the Twins and the .276 rate for the Orioles to help put that into perspective.
Offensively, it was Matt Joyce's world and we all just lived in it for the month of May. He ended the month with a wOBA just one point behind Jose Bautista's score while finishing second in runs scored, sixth in RBI, and hit 30 points higher than anyone else in the American League. Rather than bore you with more statistical ramblings about the offense, I want to pop-quiz you to see how many you get right. The numbers behind the baseball that led to a 15-14 month of May for the Rays were both intriguing and surprising when constructing this quiz. No peeking!
How did you do?
- 10/10 - I hear the Astros might be looking for a new General Manager
- 9/10 - Submit your application to Slowinski
- 8/10 - Go make a fan post
- 7/10 - The #Rays hashtag should not be your only source of information
- 6/10 - Well, hello there, Steve Berthiaume
- 5/10 or worse - Are you hungover?