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Save a Cownose Ray, Take a Walk

Cork Gaines over at RaysIndex posted his newest 12 Days of Raysmas "wish", and it goes a little something like this:

On the fifth day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, FIVE players with at least 25 home runs...

That's quite a bit of homeruns for a team that was quite dependent on them last year - at least 23% of the total runs scored were from the longball, and that's just assuming all were solo shots.

Overall the Rays finished 3rd in the AL with 187 home runs, trailing only the Yankees and the White Sox, despite only two players with more than 20 home runs. However, if the Rays expect to compete in the AL East in 2008 and finally escape the cellar and make a run at the playoffs, they will need more consistent production from the middle of the lineup.

See, this is where I'll respectfully disagree with Cork, he himself admits the team finished third in the American League with their large amount of homeruns, but then goes on to say if we're going to make a playoff run we'll need more consistent production, that's astutely correct. However, winning has little to do with the amount of homeruns we hit, in fact the two teams ahead of us represent the perfect example that the correlation between homeruns and wins is lacking. Let's look at the top ten teams by homeruns:

Milwaukee 231
Philadelphia 213

Cincinnati 204
New York AL 201
Florida 201
Chicago AL 190
Tampa Bay 187
Texas 179
Cleveland 178
Detroit 177

Only the teams listed in bold reached the playoffs or were within five games of doing so, and only Milwaukee was in contention, with the Tigers sitting eight games out. Roughly four teams of the top 10 homerun hitting teams were in contention. Now let's take the top 10 teams in on-base percentage:

New York AL .366
Boston .362
Colorado .354
Philadelphia .354
LA Angels .345

Detroit .345
Cleveland .343
New York NL .342
Atlanta .339

Oakland .338

Eight of the top ten on-base percentage ranking teams made the playoffs, eight! The Rays sat at 14th overall with a .336 on-base percentage, not too bad. Kenny Williams and the Chicago White Sox ranked dead last in on-base percentage, despite being a top ten ream in long balls hit, did their offense suffer because of it? Of course, and here are the top ten teams in runs scored nearly mimic the on-base percentage list:

New York AL 968
Philadelphia 892
Detroit 887
Boston 867
Colorado 860
LA Angels 822
Texas 816
Cleveland 811
Atlanta 810
New York NL 804

The Rangers are the only team represented that didn't land on the top 10 in OBP but did land on the homeruns total. Again the Rays were middle of the pack at 15th with 782 runs scored, the White Sox were 28th with a measly 693 runs scored.

There are some positives of homeruns over say, walks, for instance you're guaranteed at least one run when you hit one, where as a walk doesn't guarantee anything besides a baserunner, you make the highlights more often - after all when was the last time a non-Barry Bonds player was shown on Sportscenter walking instead of hitting a homerun? And of course chicks love the long ball, so for those ballplayers who want groupies this is the way to go.

Unfortunately all hitters are prone to going into a slump, and those homeruns aren't homeruns in every single ballpark, fortunately for the majority of the top run scoring teams four balls is a walk no matter where you are - let's not confuse that with four similarly located pitches always being a ball, different strokes for different umps after all.

While I like Cork's idea of an improved offense, say more top ten-ish than middle of the pack-ish, I'd rather see five players with on-base percentages over .360. Last year only B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena complete the feat, Akinori Iwamura (.359) and Carl Crawford (.355) came close, the next highest players, Brendan Harris and Greg Norton, have both recently departed. From there you have to dig all the way down to Jonny Gomes .322 to reach a current Ray, and after that all the way down, past Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, to Dioner Navarro at .286 for the next highest on-base percentage.

Simply the sixth highest Ray made an out more than 70% of the time. For comparisons sake the Yankees and White Sox's sixth highest on-base percentage was .356 (Giambi) and .317 (Dye), clearly that speaks well for the Yanks, and should make the guys at SouthSideSox cringe a bit, but they all ready know this.

So while I really don't have a wishlist - outside of changing the DRB logo to a picture of Andy Cannizaro or any other mediocre player, and getting a lefty from the Mariners, oh and of course Josh Paul's book showing up on my doorstep, I do hope the Rays give us five players with OBPs over .360 and therefore giving us a more consistent, productive, and slightly less entertaining offense.