A few days ago, Andrew Friedman sat with Todd Kalas during the game and discussed the 2014 Rays disappointing season. Take a look, and then lets circle back to discuss.
- First off, Frieds always manages to make me feel good. He's methodical. He's clearly thought things through, and he says exactly what he means to say in a calm, measured way. Moreover, he basically shares my point of view about baseball, only with more experience, more wattage, more time, more resources, and much more money. For a stat nerd, listening to Friedman is like speaking in a special echo chamber that sends your voice back to you as a rich, operatic baritone.
- "There's sequencing, and some randomness." Ding, ding, ding! I love a man who will admit to the existence of luck. I would contend that it's the single most important concept in sabermetrics -- realize that not everything is meaningful, and try to discover what is.
- Okay, but is Friedman right? Can we blame unfortunate sequencing for our lack of runs? Not so much. The statistic wOBA is the best measure we have of offensive performance in a context-neutral environment. The Rays team wOBA was .306, which is tenth out of the 15 teams in the American League. In terms of runs scored, the Rays were thirteenth, so that's slightly unlucky but not by all that much. If we instead use wOBA which adjusts for park (Tropicana Field favors pitchers), we see that the Rays placed eighth, and were exactly an average offense. That's not really good enough on the whole for a team with championship aspirations, and it's not just a matter of not hitting with men on base. Actually, the Rays hit slightly better with men on base (101 wRC+) than with the bases empty (99 wRC+), although they were worse with men in scoring position (96 wRC+).
- The sequencing that helps a team score runs isn't quite the same as the sequencing that helps them win games, and in that regard, the Rays were unfortunate/un-clutch (clutch is not a predictable skill). In low leverage situations, the Rays were the the second best team in the American League, with a 109 wRC+, meaning that they were 9% above average. In high leverage situations -- those that most matter for winning a game -- they were 12th best, and 12% below average, with a 88 wRC+. Such an un-clutch performance, while not predictable and likely not representative of skill, is a good way to throw a season away, so in that sense, Friedman is right.
- Of course, Friedman said that they need to go back and figure "what was randomness and what's real," and that doing so will help them prepare for the offseason. That doesn't just mean looking at how hitting creates runs. It also means examining each player performance, and evaluating whether their level of play was indicative of what should be expected going forward. Friedman said that being out of the race early has given the front office a head start on preparing for the offseason. That may or may not translate into a busy offseason, but I trust that the decision making process will be sound, even if the decisions turn out to suck. The man who will shrug and say that he doesn't know the answers yet is the man most likely to find the answers.
- Regarding the David Price trade, Friedman said, "That was the bet that we made. We felt strongly that we would get more in July than we would in the offseason." That's intuitively obvious, but Friedman has more information than the rest of us, as he actually knows what was offered by each buying team in July. It does say something interesting, though, about the team's decision to retain Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce.
- On Willy Adames: "The ability we had a pretty good feel for, but the makeup, the work ethic, the desire -- those things you don't really know until you get someone and can work with him every day, and those reports have been off the chart." Good. Although, the reports on work ethic and desire for Josh Sale were also allegedly great, so whatever.
- On Grant Balfour: "I will definitely not bet against Grant next year. I think he's going to be really really good. But again, that speaks to the volatility. The stuff's still there, the characteristics are still there. And it's something where that volatility kind of scares us . . . but also gives us some optimism going into next year." Okay. Let's take a look at the characteristics of Grant Balfour's fastball.
That's not identical to the past couple years. There's a little less velocity, and about two inches less horizontal movement, making the fastball pretty straight. It's definitely something to worry about. I wouldn't say that Balfour is done, but I wouldn't say that all of the "characteristics are still there," either. What makes one pitcher successful and another one unsuccessful is often difficult to discern, but the Rays have had unusual success with reclamation project. Grant Balfour is now a reclamation project.