My headline is honest.
When we write, we try to write from a posture of being "informed." We may express opinions, but these are founded in solid information, often grounded in advanced analytics. An author might drop analytics in a table, but it comes with having learned something new and in an attempt to explain.
Right now, I don't know what to explain.
As we on the masthead have kicked around stats and exchanged discussion points this month one thing is clear: we don't know what's going on with this Rays team.
Below are a couple things I've wanted to write about, but I simply don't know what to say:
1. What's wrong with Steve Geltz?
Seriously, we have no freaking clue. The movement on his pitchFX, the use of his pitches, the velocity he exhibited in game, his leverage usage, were for the most part completely in line with expectations.
And yet, something was wrong. His pitches were not as effective as they once were. Now that he's been sent down to the minors, perhaps the answer is more clear holistically, but this plagued me for weeks. Last year he was Atlas in the Rays bullpen. Now he's Epimetheus.
2. What's wrong with Chris Archer?
My answer to this question is still "nothing" -- but is that blind hope? Archer has allowed 12 homeruns already this season. We are 11 starts into the year and he's already allowed 60% of last year's total. That skews the data a bit. The strikeout rates are the same as expected, but his walk rate has risen 3% overall.
Consequently, his FIP sits at 4.75, but watching him pitch I'm not sure anything is wrong. As if it's just a couple mistakes not going his way. The problem is that our Ace is not pitching Ace-like, but he's certainly not bad.
In some ways this might even be "normal Archer" as his zone rate has dipped below 45%, in line with his career average. Last season he had a zone rate of 47.2% and saw more success. That makes sense, based on the eye test it would seem Archer is pitching behind in hitters more often than not.
As for what PITCHf/x might declare, his zone rate has been consistently 48%, in other words, hitting the zone more often than called, but Archer has dipped this season to below 46%. That's a subtle difference. I can't tell how much it matters. I don't know what's wrong with Chris Archer, and that seems like grasping for straws.
3. What's wrong with Matt Moore?
When the year began, the regained confidence on the mound and improved velocity post-Tommy John surgery were breaths of fresh air. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and his ERA is an ungodly 5.31. The Rays even skipped one of his starts to get him more centered.
Worst of all, he's just not getting deep into games. As opposed to the strategic "quick hook" that the Rays deployed last year, it seems that starters genuinely need pulled this year, and none moreso than Moore.
With so many great arms en route to the majors (Snell, Schultz, Faria, Guerrieri, Pruitt) does he need to be shifted to the bullpen? Where is Matt Moore going to be most effective?
Photo Credit: Kim Klement -- USA Today
4. Can we just blame injuries?
Yes: Last year's platinum glove winner Kevin Kiermaier is on the sidelines with a broken hand. Last year's team MVP Logan Forsythe has a fractured shoulder blade. Last years AL leader in saves needed surgery before the year began.
But players will return, and others will improve. Furthermore, the Rays have been winning far less games than anticipated.
Nearly a third of the way into the season the Rays have already scored 201 runs and have allowed 201 runs. That would peg this Rays squad as a .500 team, so it's likely this team cannot stay afloat.
|Boston Red Sox||302||226||76|
|Toronto Blue Jays||221||216||5|
|Tampa Bay Rays||201||201||0|
|New York Yankees||192||213||-21|
Furthermore, this team has an offense that's quite alive!
And when you use deeper methods to look at the number of runs scored, the number of runs that should have scored, and the individual player performances, as Baseball Prospectus provides, the Rays expected win totals only improve. Losing this many games appears to be more of an anomaly than not.
|AL East||Wins||Losses||Actual Win Percentage||First Order||Second Order||Third Order|
|Boston Red Sox||31||20||.608||.638||.649||.639|
|Tampa Bay Rays||22||27||.449||.500||.556||.564|
|Toronto Blue Jays||27||26||.509||.510||.535||.550|
|New York Yankees||24||26||.480||.453||.450||.467|
5. How do you write about a team with "good" offense?
The Rays lead the American League in long balls and are one of three teams in baseball with 70 home runs. Only the Mets have more at 71. All around, the Rays are performing five percent above average with a 105 wRC+ and that's fine. The Rays are also batting a .238 AVG, which is not enough.
Their run differential for the season is positive, which is good, but it sits at a mere four runs, which explains all the losses. The Rays averaged five runs per game against the paltry A's and only won one game. Then again, the Rays averaged ten runs per game against the Blue Jays and swept them.
When the season began, I would have described the new Rays roster as "last year's team, but with offense!" More nuanced, I guess it's "last year's team with less consistency and more power."
But that still doesn't explain everything. The Rays are in last place in the division, and watching these games, that feels right. That doesn't jive with being a "good" offense, right?
6. Honestly, what is wrong with this Rays team?
And what the hell am I supposed to say when Jake Odorizzi pitches a one hitter against a division rival, and this team still loses the game. Tampa Bay has lost 7 of the last 10 games, falling to four games below .500 and to the bottom of the division at seven games back of Boston.
There are two teams above .500 in the division -- Baltimore and the Red Sox -- both by eight games or more. They could run away with this thing before the All-Star break, and that's a depressing thought.
But a successful season is not our of reach. This division is enough of a bloodbath that the Rays still stand a chance. Something, however, needs to change.
I just don't know what that something is.
Where is Maddon's snake charmer when we need him?