The results of the Rays offense has been occasionally painful to watch to start this season, but that may be subject to change. Baseballsavant.com gives fans an ever increasing amount of data to look through, including exit velocity, which may point to some good things to come.
The Rays offense has tried to put the ball in the air more frequently to increase power production.
Fangraphs.com have the Rays with the second highest fly ball rate in MLB at 40.6%. The league average result of fly balls are .217 batting average and .659 slugging percentage for an OPS of .876. A ground ball results in a .240 batting average and .261 slugging percentage for an OPS of .501. This will result in lower batting average, but should come with increased power.
Thus far, the Rays have been more of the former, and that's ok.
How do the Rays results on fly balls compare to other teams?
The Rays rank in the top ten in every category. The Rays are getting much better than average results while having a larger portion of their plate appearance effected. They currently have the third fewest plate appearances ahead of the Indians and Yankees.
The Rays are achieving these results while playing 17 of their first 25 games at Tropicana Field. A place known to suppress extra base hits. The Rays are hitting the ball incredibly hard and that will be key to keeping the results positive moving forward.
Home runs are a product of exit velocity and launch angle. 499 out of 533 (93.6%) home runs hit this season have been hit with an exit velocity of 95+ MPH. The home run per fly ball also goes up significantly to 499 out of 1,576 (31.7%) at 95+ MPH.
How have individual Rays hitters performed on fly balls?
|Steven Souza, Jr.||6||11||5||45.5%||0.167||0.545||2.000||1.455||101.6|
The first thing that sticks out is Steven Souza, Jr.'s exit velocity. His home runs have been absolutely scorched coming in at 102.84, 103.44, 107.25, 109.27, and 112.02 MPH. Souza needs to get more balls in the air. When he's made contact in the air it has been loud and very productive. He won't keep the 45.5% home run rate, but none of his homers have been cheap.
Evan Longoria is putting many more fly balls in play (49.4%) than he has at any point in his career (42.4% career average). He's doing a lot of damage on these balls as his six hits have resulted in four homers and two doubles. This is a necessary adjustment to see a bounce back in power at the expense of average.
Logan Forysthe has been doing nearly everything right at the plate this year and this is no exception. He is hitting the ball extremely hard and gotten corresponding results that would be expected. You could argue he could hit more in the air, but that would only be a minor complaint.
Corey Dickerson has done what he was brought to do and bring a power threat to the middle of the lineup against right handed pitchers. He's currently in a slump, but he's still hitting at a 143 wRC+ level against righties on the season. Only three of his five homers on the season are a result of fly balls as two were on line drives.
Brad Miller has done well when putting the ball in the air. His 94 MPH average exit velocity is good and should give a decent chance for a good portion of his fly balls to leave the yard. His five hits include two homers and two doubles.
Steve Pearce's two home runs have been results of 103.07 and 105.45 MPH exit velocities. Outside of those two he has hit the ball rather weakly when putting the ball in the air. Throughout his career he has been a guy that can hit the ball hard, but have a high amount of weakly hit fly balls.
Curt Casali has not had a problem with hitting the ball hard when he makes contact. He should try to hit balls in the air and just needs to make more contact. His results over the last couple weeks are promising.
Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer are very similar when they hit balls in the air this year. Guyer has been better in other areas, but they have seen similar results from fly balls although Jennings has hit one out and Guyer's lone home run was the result of a 100.75 MPH line drive off of John Danks.
Logan Morrison, Tim Beckham, and Hank Conger have been awful and their results aren't all that much bad luck. Only one of Beckham's five fly balls have left his bat at 95+ MPH. Morrison has only had four reach 95 MPH. Conger's season high is only at 91.79 MPH. They won't stay this bad, but their poor performance has been more a result of weak contact than bad luck.
Where should the Rays offense go from here?
Almost of all of the hitters will produce better results with their fly ball approach. When the ball is hit in the air good things can happen and they have. Souza should hit the ball in the air more than not, as he did last year, but you'd probably like to see an even bigger increase.
The Rays have had really impressive results with fly balls and it's the other parts of their offensive profile that will need to improve as the season goes along. There are pieces and faults within the current offense, but this isn't one of them.