Paul McCartney said when he first approached John Lennon with the melody and lyrics to the song "Getting Better," (on side 1 of Sgt. Pepper), McCartney sang "It’s getting better all the time." He was happy with his positive, upbeat lyric, but said it was John’s genius to add the refrain "it couldn’t get much worse," which gave the song more tension and depth.
After the Rays helped the Yankees achieve a feat they hadn’t since 1913 – win a game in which they got only one hit – Rays fans could be forgiven for agreeing with John Lennon that it couldn’t get much worse. The team has suffered several disappointing losses.
One doesn’t need a lot of in-depth, sabermetric number crunching to see the problems the Rays faced so far. They lost their two individual leaders in WAR, Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier, to injury. Neither catcher is hitting above .200. The Rays are tied for the team lead in the AL in home runs, but are 12th in OBP. For a team expected to have a strong pitching staff, they are a disappointed 7th in ERA. They are tied for 4th in most errors, and 11th in double plays. The batters don’t get on base enough to take full advantage of their home run power, the fielders make too many errors, and the pitchers haven’t lived up to their promise.
So is the season over? Not quite. Last year at this time the Blue Jays were 23-29, and went on to win the division. Not only is it too early to give up, The Rays’ current record of 22-26, 7.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox, is not a good indicator of the team’s quality this year.
This is a place where some more sabermetric stats would be in order. Baseball Prospectus keeps track of each team’s adjusted standings. That’s how the team should have fared based just on various orders of its statistics.
Prior to last night's loss, based on just the team’s 199 runs scored and 195 runs allowed, the Rays should have a .500 Record of 24-24. The third order analysis, based on the underlying individual player stats, shows the Rays with a 28-20 record, right behind the Red Sox in the AL East race. That’s an argument that if the Rays keep playing like they’re playing, they should start piling up more wins without any change in personnel.
What about personnel changes? You may point out that last year’s Blue Jays acquired David Price, Troy Tuluwitzki, and LaTroy Hawkins for the stretch drive. Even if they don’t make any trades, the Rays will be upgrading their talent over the next two months.
Brad Boxberger is activating from the Disabled List on May 31. Logan Forsythe is taking ground balls and could return soon. After the Super Two date passes in June, the team may bring up phenom Brett Snell. Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley are expected to be ready to pitch in July. Kiermaier should also return by the end of the summer.
We should also expect that hitters like Dickerson, Casali, and Conger, that are hitting around and under .200, should start hitting for higher average, and that the starting staff should also start pitching like we expected, deeper into games.
These are the times that try fans’ souls. It is tough watching a pitcher like Jake Odorizzi lose a perfect game and a one hitter. But it’s way too early to give up hope, especially when the stats show that the Rays can expect to get more wins, playing at their current level. It will get better, and not just because it couldn’t get much worse.