The Rays became the Rays in 2008, dropping the Devil and rising out of mediocrity like a glorious Phoenix. Or something like that. We know they were good teams, and that the previous teams were bad teams, but now we have more composite numbers to back that up!
FiveThirtyEight recently calculated historical Elo ratings for every major league team as part of their Complete History Of MLB interactive graphic.
If you peak inside the Elo ratings for every major league team in baseball history, you'll find the Devi Rays are remarkably bad teams. As that name, the Devil Rays only once found their place above the 2,000th best team in MLB history (thus far).
That team was Aubrey Huff's 2004 Devil Rays, which ranked 1,931st all time with a Composite Elo rating of 1,475. Danys Baez was your closer, Crawford and Baldelli the star outfielders, and Mark Hendrickson the only starter credited with ten wins. Victor Zambrano had nine, and Scott Kazmir was still in the minors.
The 2007 Devil Rays were actually worse with a Composite Elo of 1.466 (2,066th overall), on par with The Hit Show era 2000 Devil Rays at a rating of 1,468 (2,033rd overall). Of course, everything would change with 2008, which would not even be the Rays best team ever.
Here's the full ratings for the Rays:
|Rank||Year||Team||Composite Elo Rating|
|237||2012||Tampa Bay Rays||1558|
|251||2010||Tampa Bay Rays||1557|
|284||2011||Tampa Bay Rays||1555|
|325||2008||Tampa Bay Rays||1552|
|402||2013||Tampa Bay Rays||1547|
|445||2009||Tampa Bay Rays||1544|
|1103||2014||Tampa Bay Rays||1516|
|1173||2015||Tampa Bay Rays||1513|
Only 19 teams have every achieved a Composite Elo of 1,600 or better. The World Series winning 2015 Royals scored a 1,555, which ranks 288th all time. That should give some perspective.
The Rays offense was at it's strongest from 2008-2010, and fell to league average 2011-2012, which should give some perspective to how good the defense was in 2011 (67 DRS as a team), and the pitching was in 2012 (82 ERA- and 86 FIP-).
It's interesting that the 2008 Rays were only the fourth best team in franchise history, but they found success in being the most balanced.
By Fangraphs calculations, the 2008 Rays were the only team to rank in the franchise's top-three rated seasons in hitting, pitching, and fielding, according to their team leaderboards, so it makes sense that 2008 was their pennant winning season. If only the stars could have aligned those other year.s, the Rays may have been a force to be reckoned with.
Also of note: The only franchises to never have an Elo rating higher than the Rays best are the Padres, Rockies, and two-time World Series winning Marlins. On the flip side, the Rays worst team ever, the 2002 edition of the Devil Rays, is only the 96th worst team in baseball history, which is a pleasant surprise.
You can plumb the full Elo ratings here.