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One More Look at the Tampa Bay Rays' Offense vs. Pitching

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This Saturday, I published an article that posed the idea that the Rays' pitching has been responsible for this recent slide more than the offense. Apparently it's an idea that's stirred up a bit of debate, as sternfan1 and I had a productive back-and-forth on the subject in the comments and it was debated by Erik and Bobby Fenton on this week's edition of The PTBNL. Like I said on Saturday, my gut tells me that our offense is to blame for our slide. We've lost lots of winnable games when our offense only mustered one or two runs, and it was especially painful to watch the Rays struggle to get runners on in those series against Boston and Toronto. 

But...I'll trust my gut only so far without some sort of evidence to back it up. How have the Rays' offense and pitching been performing recently? 

Boston series - Now

2010 Overall













When you let up more runs than you score over any stretch of games, the odds are you aren't going to end up with a winning record - that's just how sports work. And in general, letting up an average of five runs a game is a lot. Last season, only five teams in all of baseball averaged that many runs allowed over the course of the entire season; their average winning percentage was .411. Since 2001, only two teams have made the playoffs while averaging over five runs allowed per game during the regular season - the 2007 Phillies (.549 Win%) and the 2001 Indians (.562 Win%). It's not something that many teams - let alone elite teams - do.

The trick, in my mind, is determining how many runs the Rays should score and allow over the course of the year, allowing us to see exactly where the Rays are currently under/over performing and by how much. Shall we?

As a rough estimate, their offense should be about as good as it was last season once you account for dips from Zobrist, Pena, and Bartlett and bounces from Longoria, Upton, Rodriguez/Briggy/Jaso, Shoppach, etc. Looking at their team wOBA (Weighted On-Base Averages) supports this idea; the 2009 Rays had a .343 team wOBA and the 2010 Rays currently have a .338 team wOBA. If you take their 2010 wOBA and convert it into runs form, it shows that the Rays' offense should have scored 313 runs so far this season, an average of 4.96 per game. So offensively, the Rays have been slightly under-performing during this current streak.

The Rays' pitching, though, is an absolute mess. We know that the Rays' pitchers outperformed their FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching) in the beginning of the year, making their runs allowed per game number lower than it should be. The true talent level of the Rays' staff should be better than last season, with Garza, Shields, Niemann, and Price all growing a year older and Wade Davis replacing the broken Scott Kazmir, but it's unlikely that they will be able to allow four runs or less per game for the entire season. It's possible - four teams did it last season, although they were all NL clubs - but I feel like a 4.15 to 4.30 number is more realistic, especially in the AL East. The Rays' current 4.10 FIP supports this idea, suggesting that with how the Rays' pitchers have thrown, the Rays should have allowed 4.10 earned runs per game.

Where does this leave us? Well, we've got a team with a great offense and a great pitching staff, but the offense is in an ever-so-slight slide and the pitching is letting up a full run per game more than they should. Does this mean that the Rays should be looking for pitching help instead of offensive help? No...but maybe. I think the Rays should be looking at the greatest possible way to improve the team at the least cost. If they inquire about Adrian Gonzalez and the price is too much, then they move on to someone else; the Rays always have Matt Joyce waiting to improve the offense if nothing else. The Rays could also look to improve their pitching staff, trading for someone like Cliff Lee to replace Wade Davis in the rotation. The Rays' pitching is too good to continue pitching this bad for long, but at the same time, the Rays don't have a pitcher in the same category as Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, or Zack Grienke - at least not yet. It would only be a half-season rental with Cliff Lee, but at the same time, the Mariners wouldn't be able to charge as much for him as a result, potentially making him a better bargain than Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder. I'm sure the Rays are looking into all possible avenues to improve, so it comes down to what other teams are asking and how much the Rays are willing to give up. 

The Rays have fooled us into blaming the offense for their troubles by losing all of their games where the offense has only scored one or two runs, but all offenses go through their ups and downs. For example, the Yankees have scored three runs or fewer eight times in the last few weeks, but their record is still 13-5 during that time. By contrast, the Rays have scored three or fewer runs seven times over the same time period, but have a 7-7 record. This is a team that just scored 16 runs this past series and lost two game out of three. It's time we start looking for the pitching to turn it around.