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How the Rays will rebound in 2017

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have played much better lately. Does that mean they’ll play better next year?

In The Baseball Book: 1992, Bill James named seven factors that can predict a team’s chances of improving on a season’s record. They are:

1. Relapse; Teams which improve one year tend to relapse the next year.

2. Minor League Strength: A team with a strong AAA affiliate will tend to be better than a team with a weak AAA affiliate.

3. Pythagorean Theory: A team which wins more games than predicted by its ratio of wins to runs scored and allowed will tend to decline the next season.

4. Ratio of Runs Scored to Runs created: A team which scores more runs than predicted by the runs created formula in one season will tend to decline next season.

5. Won – Lost record: Winning teams tend to decline; losing teams tend to improve.

6. Late season performance. Teams that play poorly late in the season tend to perform worse the next season.

7. Team age: Old teams tend to decline. Young teams tend to improve.

We can use these as a guide to see if the 2017 Rays will be able to provide a better record than the 2016 iteration.

How do the Rays stack up?

1. As Casey Stengel might have said, the Rays disimproved on last year’s record. That indicates a chance for improvement in 2017. Positive

2. The Durham Bulls were not a strong AAA affiliate. They finished third out of four in their division with a 64-80 record and .444 win percentage. Negative

3. The Pythagorean Theory is a strong indicator for better performance next year. The Rays record at this writing is 64-85, but their Pythag suggests it should be 72-77, an 8 game improvement. Strong Positive.

4. The Rays have only scored 3 more runs than their wRC estimates. The Rays scored 654 runs vs a wRC of 651. That’s virtually equal. Neutral.

5. The Rays will have a losing record for 2016. That indicates a probability for improvement. Positive.

6. Their second half record is 30-31; a .492 winning percentage. That’s a big improvement over their first half winning percentage of .386. A strong finish over the last two weeks could make September their best month of the year. Positive.

7. The Rays’ average age of 27.8 is the second lowest in the league. Only one regular this year was 30 – Evan Longoria. The pitching staff by itself is even younger, averaging 24.1 years old. The Rays may not get younger next year, but at the average age of 27.8 means they’ll have several players entering their prime years of production. Positive.

Five of the seven indicators show positive signs for next year. The only one that’s clearly negative is the performance of the Durham team. However, many Rays farm teams performed well or even got into the playoffs, and the top prospects that are likely to contribute next season only played the majority of their seasons in Double-A.

Based on these indicators, it looks likely that the Rays record will stand an excellent chance to improve in 2017, even if they don’t make any significant moves during the off season.

If they can manage to add players with better on-base percentages, and get stronger performances from their pitching staff, the Rays could return to contention.