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The Rays can get better against right-handed pitching

It's been a frustrating start for the Rays against right-handed pitching, but it isn't time to panic

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While it's still a little early to make too much of split numbers, the Rays have mashed left-handed pitching and been woeful against right-handed pitching. In fact, the Rays wRC+ against righties is good for third-worst in baseball.

Data From Fangraphs PA BB% K% BB/K OPS BABIP wOBA wRC+
Rays vs. LHP 307 5.9 22.5 0.26 .778 .296 .339 124
Rays vs. RHP 630 7.8 27.8 0.28 .650 .261 .285 85

And when isolated against only starting pitchers, the discrepancy widens. According to Baseball Reference, the Rays have posted a .620 OPS against right-handed starting pitchers, and an .822 OPS against left-handed starting pitchers.

The Rays weren't great against right-handed pitchers last season either, and made a concerted effort to balance out the roster this offseason. The good and bad news is that many of the players the Rays expected to hit right-handed pitching haven't yet produced much.

In spite of the poor numbers, there's plenty of reason for optimism a month into the season.

Ian Malinowski put together regressed split projections for the Rays before the season started, and I used his projections in the graph below to highlight some of the Rays under-performers against right-handed pitching through 26 games.

Data From Fangraphs wOBA vs RHP Projected wOBA vs. RHP Current BABIP vs. RHP Career BABIP vs. RHP
Logan Morrison .128 .320 .152 .259
Brad Miller .235 .324 .200 .286
Desmond Jennings .255 .304 .258 .284
Evan Longoria .289 .315 .260 .293

What really stands out on this chart is how bad Logan Morrison has been.

The Rays could of course drop Morrison and play Steve Pearce every day, as many in this community have argued. Pearce hit a home run against right handed pitching every 18 plate appearances in 2015, compared to Morrison's home run every 21 plate appearances. Pearce grades out as a better defender at first base, and owns a career .316 wOBA and 96 wRC+ numbers against righties, compared to Morrison's career .326/106.

But 2016 represents a small sample size, and Morrison is bound to improve. When he's on, he adds more against right-handed pitchers than Pearce does, at a position from which the Rays need production. He's never been a great hitter, but he's going to be a lot better than what he's been so far this year.

Another positive is that all four of the above are going to get better simply by their BABIP regressing towards its mean. In fact, Tampa Bay's .261 BABIP vs. RHP is only one point above the Yankees for the worst in baseball; the MLB average is around .295. Only two Rays have BABIP vs. RHP numbers above .281. Even some Rays who've been good against right handed pitching have been "unfortunate":

Data from Fangraphs 2016 wOBA vs. RHP 2016 wRC+ vs. RHP 2016 BABIP vs. RHP Career BABIP vs. RHP
Corey Dickerson .358 138 .237 .343
Kevin Kiermaier .342 126 .268 .307
Steven Souza .329 116 .281 .305

It's been a frustrating start for the Rays against righty pitching, but now isn't time to panic.

Maybe the front office would take a mulligan on letting Jaso walk, or bringing in Morrison, but even with the current roster, this team projects to do better against righties than they have in the past, and than they are doing right now.

This team has holes, and may need another piece or two to really contend, but this offense is balanced, and we are likely to see better production moving forward.