How did things go so wrong? Before the season started Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA numbers projected the Rays winning the AL East. Sportwriters and pundits said the Rays, with their strong young pitching and added offense, should, at the least, be in the wild card hunt.
We know that didn’t happen. The Rays disimproved, as Casey Stengel used to say, every month. After their victory against the Yankees on July 29, the Rays are only one game under .500 since the All Star break. That still makes for a 7-16 record for the month.
Trade winds have swirled around the Rays since it became apparent they would not contend in 2016. As of this writing, the Rays haven’t made any deadline deals this year; however, before making any trades, Silverman and the front office staff need to answer one key question:
Have the Rays evaluated their current talent accurately?
Everything hinges on that question. If the baseball analysts in the Rays’ basement were correct, the Rays core talent remains strong.
Many players are having off years, but the average age of the pitching staff, according to Baseball Reference, is 24.5, and for the entire team is 28.1. That’s young enough that they can be expected to regress toward their mean and improve in 2017. If the Rays believe in their pre-season talent evaluations, they shouldn’t make any trades, unless they are overwhelmed.
There’s some evidence that the Rays, with their current MLB-bottom payroll of a little over $72 million, did not do a great job maximizing their player value.
Spotrac, which tracks mlb payrolls, publishes what they call a Value Index. That ranks players based on their production and salary. The players who are performing well beyond what they should be doing, based on salary, are ranked toward the top.
The Red Sox have 3 stars in the top ten. Spotrac lists Mookie Betts 1st, Xander Bogarts 5th, and Jackie Bradley 7th (Wil Myers is 6th, by the way). Evan Longoria, the first Ray on the list, doesn’t appear until number 22. After Longoria, there’s another long wait before the next position player, Brad Miller, at 81.
Fans and outside analysts are not in the room with the analysts, breaking down tape. We don’t watch throwing sessions in the bullpen, know who’s giving their all in practice, or is good in the clubhouse.
We believe the professional coaching staff and sabermetricians on the Rays staff are doing their best to refine their analysis of the current players and their trade prospects.
If they see the players giving great effort, perhaps we can chalk off this year to bad luck and injuries. If that’s the case, then the team should not dump players and salaries this weekend for whatever they get. Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly and Matt Moore may have great value to come.
However, if the Rays decide they made mistakes evaluating talent, then look for a flurry of deadline deals over the weekend as the Rays dump players and salaries for prospects and cash. It all comes down to how much the front office believes in their evaluation system.