Rays Offense Can Receive Boost With Better Pinch Hitting In 2014

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have led the league in pinch hitting appearances since 2008 and will rely on that facet of the game once again in 2014. The offense could use a boost with an improved performance.

Gene Budig and Alan Heaps penned a story for the Wheeling News Register about American fascination with lists and rankings. In their article they note that if you were to Google the words "Most, Best, & Worst Lists" you will get roughly 730 million results.

I would bet that most baseball fans enjoy rankings and lists as most of the best debates surround one or the other. I know I am no different from the rest when it comes to lists and rankings as I thoroughly enjoy them. One of my favorite past-time activities to get me from the end of the baseball season to spring training is watching episodes of Prime Nine on the MLB Network.

The show will take just about any facet of baseball and introduce a list of the Top 9 performers. Most recently I was watching the show on the Top 9 Pinch Hitters of All-Time. The narrator opens with this statement:

"One of the most difficult things to do in baseball is to pinch hit. Imagine sitting cold on the bench the entire game and then suddenly being asked to grab a bat and get a hit. Often in a clutch situation against a fresh arm out of the bullpen."

The pinch hitters that made the list had to "produce with that consistency over a decent period of time" and "they needed more than an iconic moment in a pinch hitting role." The best pinch hitters in the modern era according to the Prime 9 list were John Vanderwal, Lenny Harris, Johnny Mize, Gates Brown, Jerry Lynch, Cliff Johnson, Smoky Burgess, Matt Stairs, and Manny Mota.

I started to wonder on a more regional level who has had the best individual pinch hitting seasons for the Rays. The following list represents the best Rays individual pinch hitting seasons for those with a minimum of 10 pinch hit appearances and sorted by OPS.

Player Year PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Matthew Joyce 2010 13 1 0.375 0.615 0.875 1.490
Gabe Kapler 2009 15 2 0.273 0.467 0.909 1.376
Ben Zobrist 2009 14 3 0.308 0.357 1.000 1.357
Paul Sorrento 1998 12 2 0.222 0.417 0.889 1.306
Bubba Trammell 2000 15 3 0.286 0.333 0.929 1.262
Luke Scott 2012 12 1 0.417 0.417 0.833 1.250
Travis Lee 2005 21 2 0.476 0.476 0.762 1.238
Midre Cummings 2004 10 0 0.444 0.500 0.667 1.167
Robert Fick 2004 17 1 0.333 0.412 0.733 1.145
Sam Fuld 2011 21 0 0.400 0.571 0.467 1.038
Marlon Anderson 2003 18 1 0.353 0.389 0.588 0.977
Russ Johnson 2001 21 0 0.333 0.500 0.467 0.967
Kelly Shoppach 2010 12 0 0.333 0.500 0.444 0.944
Bob Smith 1998 13 0 0.364 0.462 0.455 0.916
Randy Winn 1998 13 0 0.417 0.462 0.417 0.878
Jason Tyner 2003 13 0 0.364 0.417 0.455 0.871
Eduardo Perez 2005 20 1 0.250 0.400 0.438 0.838
Russ Johnson 2000 12 0 0.417 0.417 0.417 0.833
Aaron Ledesma 1998 12 0 0.333 0.333 0.500 0.833
Willy Aybar 2010 30 2 0.269 0.333 0.500 0.833
Carlos Pena 2012 12 1 0.200 0.333 0.500 0.833
Steve Cox 2000 25 0 0.333 0.440 0.381 0.821
Terry Shumpert 2003 19 1 0.167 0.389 0.417 0.806

Full List Available (Link)

After looking at the Rays individual members I wanted to know how do the Rays do as a team when it comes to pinch hitting. Since most teams struggle with pinch hitting the data presented below represents how the Rays did and for perspective the data for the American League average is presented as well.

Year PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS lgBA lgOBP lgSLG lgOPS
1998 126 3 0.272 0.336 0.404 0.740 0.225 0.309 0.322 0.632
1999 66 0 0.143 0.273 0.250 0.523 0.236 0.326 0.344 0.670
2000 114 3 0.263 0.342 0.384 0.726 0.250 0.344 0.357 0.701
2001 80 1 0.194 0.316 0.284 0.600 0.225 0.311 0.362 0.672
2002 49 2 0.279 0.367 0.419 0.786 0.215 0.298 0.327 0.625
2003 148 3 0.226 0.329 0.379 0.708 0.239 0.329 0.356 0.686
2004 96 1 0.209 0.277 0.314 0.591 0.234 0.321 0.379 0.700
2005 118 4 0.309 0.402 0.443 0.845 0.226 0.320 0.327 0.648
2006 80 1 0.225 0.304 0.324 0.628 0.204 0.282 0.320 0.602
2007 80 1 0.159 0.253 0.217 0.471 0.219 0.303 0.331 0.634
2008 131 3 0.186 0.298 0.301 0.599 0.240 0.322 0.367 0.689
2009 138 7 0.160 0.268 0.361 0.629 0.208 0.297 0.324 0.622
2010 173 5 0.245 0.343 0.422 0.765 0.206 0.304 0.327 0.631
2011 137 1 0.257 0.382 0.319 0.701 0.216 0.298 0.319 0.618
2012 154 4 0.185 0.281 0.333 0.614 0.206 0.289 0.338 0.627
2013 189 1 0.213 0.293 0.302 0.594 0.208 0.300 0.343 0.643

With Joe Maddon's roster utilization it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Rays have led the American League in pinch hitting plate appearances every year since 2008. Unfortunately in this period of time they have only performed significantly above league average in OPS duriing the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

In 2013 the Rays were slightly about league average in batting average (.213) but were below league average in on-base percentage (.293) and slugging percentage (.302). Their pinch hitters seemed to do remarkably well early in the season. Through the first three months of the season the offense received a boost when pinch hitters were called upon hitting a combined .277 (18 for 65).

Unfortunately, like much of the offense in the second half the pinch hitters disappeared hitting just .121 (7 for 58) through July and August. The month of August was particularly frustrating as the team hit just .119 (5 for 42).

They finished September hitting slightly a slightly better .222 (10 for 45) and received their first and only pinch hit home run of the season when James Loney connected for a walk off homer against the Orioles Tommy Hunter to win their last regular season home game of the year. The Rays month by month team pinch hitting data is presented in the table below.

Month AB Hits BA OBP SLG OPS
April 23 6 0.261 0.320 0.304 0.624
May 19 5 0.263 0.364 0.316 0.680
June 23 7 0.304 0.333 0.391 0.724
July 16 2 0.125 0.263 0.250 0.513
Aug 42 5 0.119 0.159 0.167 0.326
Sept 45 10 0.222 0.340 0.356 0.696

The Rays have utilized the pinch hitting role more than any other American League team over the past six seasons and the roster will once again include players like Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, and David DeJesus who will be lifted for pinch hitters late in ball games.

Right handed hitting Sean Rodriguez stands to garner a majority of the pinch hitting duties replacing either Joyce or DeJesus but he'll have to improve in his role after hitting just .125 (3 for 24) as a pinch hitter in 2013.

They will also need more from the left handed duo of David DeJesus and Matt Joyce as well. David DeJesus hit just .143 (1 for 7) in limited time with the Rays but struggled overall with the Rays, Nationals, and Cubs hitting just .083 (2 for 24). Matt Joyce performed slightly better hitting .185 (5 for 27).

The following table details the Rays pinch hitting performances during the 2013 season:

Player PA H BA OBP SLG OPS
Matthew Joyce 30 5 0.185 0.267 0.259 0.526
Sean Rodriguez 29 3 0.125 0.250 0.125 0.375
Luke Scott 25 6 0.261 0.320 0.348 0.668
Kelly Johnson 17 2 0.125 0.176 0.188 0.364
Ryan Roberts 16 4 0.267 0.313 0.267 0.579
Sam Fuld 12 3 0.250 0.250 0.417 0.667
Jose Lobaton 9 1 0.125 0.222 0.125 0.347
Delmon Young 9 0 0.000 0.111 0.000 0.111
James Loney 9 4 0.500 0.556 1.000 1.556
David DeJesus 8 1 0.143 0.250 0.286 0.536
Shelley Duncan 5 1 0.250 0.400 0.250 0.650
Desmond Jennings 4 2 0.667 0.750 0.667 1.417
Tim Beckham 3 2 0.667 0.667 0.667 1.333
Wil Myers 3 0 0.000 0.333 0.000 0.333
Jason Bourgeois 3 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Jose Molina 3 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Chris Gimenez 2 1 1.000 1.000 2.000 3.000
Yunel Escobar 1 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Ben Zobrist 1 1 1.000 1.000 3.000 4.000
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