The Tampa Bay Rays starting pitchers induced more fly balls than any other staff in 2016. In fact, their 41.4% FB rate is the highest of any rotation since the 2013 Oakland Athletics, who put up a 41.5% rate. The 2010 San Francisco Giants would be the next team to have a higher fly ball rate at 41.8%.
Luckily for the Rays, those pitchers were able to suppress their cumulative HR/FB rate to one of the lowest in the league at 12.4%. Considering batters tend to hit balls the hardest to their pull side, the Rays were able to keep that HR/FB rate low by allowing the fewest batted balls in the league to the batter's pull side at 37.2%. They were also among league leaders in inducing infield fly balls, which are converted to outs about 99.9% of the time and never advance a runner.
Is it a coincidence they had the highest FB rate in baseball, the lowest pull side rate in baseball, one of the lowest HR/FB rates, and one of the highest IFFB rate? With a starting rotation full of fly ballers and the best center field defender in baseball, it's very possible the Rays planned accordingly by implementing a pitching strategy to maximize their potential to induce weak batted balls. It's also probably something they scout for in trades and develop in the minors.
For comparison, let's take a look at the Rays starting pitchers from the 2016 season and how they performed in this department compared to the 2016 league averages.
Taking this from the top, Chris Archer is not a fly ball pitcher, but he had a home run problem despite being able to keep batters away from their pull side. Pop ups have never been a huge part of his game, but the HR rate should settle down if he can continue to keep batters off their pull side.
Jake Odorizzi was a fly ball pitcher who did a good job suppressing home runs by limiting the pull side ball and also induced a fair but not quite average number of pop ups. There's not a lot to dislike there.
Drew Smyly was an extreme fly ball pitcher who was nearly average in allowing home runs and pull side batted balls and continued to maintain his excellent career IFFB rate. There is potential for greatness here if he can get that pull rate down a little.
Matt Moore was a fly ball pitcher who did a good job of suppressing home runs by limiting the pull side ball, but could benefit from just a few more pop ups. His numbers are almost identical to Odorizzi's so likewise, they look pretty good.
Matt Andriese was a slight ground ball pitcher who suppressed home runs by doing a great job of limiting the pull side ball and also induced more pop ups than average. He was more heavy on the ground balls in 2015 but even then he did a good job of inducing weak contact when batters hit a fly ball off him. Great all around numbers there.
Blake Snell was a ground baller in the minors but had a neutral season in the majors with low home run, pull, and pop up rates. He wasn't heavy on ground balls due to his crazy high line drive rate of 27.3%. Let's hope he turn those line drives into more weak contact in 2017.
The fly ball heavy rotation made good use of the Rays elite (when healthy) outfield defense while putting less pressure on a suspect infield defense. But with Moore traded to the Giants, extreme ground baller Alex Cobb returning to the rotation, and fly ball heavy Smyly and Odorizzi on the trade block, it seems likely that the rotation as a whole will become more neutral in 2017. That should be fine with an improved infield setup expected to defend better than the 2016 squad.