Over the past couple of weeks we’ve taken a couple looks at trends on the offensive and run prevention side of the 2018 Rays. Today, let’s use The Baseball Gauge to look at some over the macro, roster-level trends for our lovable boys in blue for the past season.
Youth Rules the Day
By overall age, there was only one team younger than the Rays in 2018 - the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rays average age of 27.4 was exactly one year younger than the club’s average age in 2017 (28.4), and the youngest Rays team since the 2008 squad. This shouldn’t come as a shock, we said it all year, the youth movement is officially upon us.
This was true on both sides of the ball, as their hitters ranked fifth-youngest in baseball (27.5), and their pitchers ranked fourth-youngest (27.3). Only one team (San Diego Padres) had a lower average tenure among their 2018 players than the Rays (again, the Padres), so for a team that “never plays the kids,” they did a lot of playing of the kids in 2018.
“The biggest single thing that has lifted people out of poverty is free trade”
One of the most fun tools at The Baseball Gauge is the tool that compares roster construction by WAR. There five different categories that The Baseball Gauge uses to determine roster construction: Draft, Trade, Free Agent, Amateur FA, and Other.
By comparing where a team ranks in these five categories, an astute fan can learn a lot about an organization’s approach to team building, at least over the past few seasons.
Let’s take a look at where the Rays rank in each of those categories:
Draft: 12.0 WAR, 21.2% (18th)
The Rays rank right in the middle of the pack in terms of percentage of 2018 WAR that came via the draft. At first blush, this seems low. “The team was playing the kids,” right? Isn’t that what we just agreed to.
Of course, WAR from draft and playing the kids are necessarily correlated. Recall that “kids” such as Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, and even Daniel Robertson came over to the Rays via trade. Even though they spent time in the Rays system, they weren’t drafted by the Rays.
It turns out very few teams garner tons of value from players they actually drafted.
In the least surprising takeaway from this entire experience, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only team to collect more than half of their 2018 WAR from players that they actually drafted. The Cardinal Way lives on.
Over half of the Rays Draft WAR total in 2018 came from Blake Snell (7.5), with Kevin Kiermaier (2.5), Ryne Stanek (1.6), and Brandon Lowe (0.7) contributing as well.
Trade: 26.0 WAR, 57.3% (1st)
No team drew a higher percentage of their overall value from trades than the Rays in 2018. In fact, no team in 2017 had as high a percentage either. (The 2015 Padres were the last team to top 60 percent.) This has been a running trend for the Rays. The 2016 Rays were the last team with a higher percentage of overall value coming from trades, and in that 2015 season, they ranked second to the Padres.
In fact, it’s not hard to find a trend when looking at the teams at the top of this column. It’s perpetually the Tampa Bay’s, the Cleveland’s, the San Diego’s, and the Oakland’s of the world who reside atop this leaderboard.
The teams who can’t compete on the open market for free agents need to rely on their savvy (and potentially the immediacy that big-market teams will trade with) to swindle the larger market teams into trades that provide the lifesblood for future iterations of the Rays, A’s, etc. And over the past five seasons, no team has done it better than the Rays. This past season they got significant contributions from: Joey Wendle (4.3), Mallex Smith (3.5), Daniel Robertson (2.6), Tommy Pham (2.6), Matt Duffy (2.4), C.J. Cron (2.0), and Willy Adames (2.0).
Notice a trend there? That’s basically their entire lineup.
In fact, on the pitching side of things, only one pitcher the Rays traded for tallied more than 1.0 WAR in 2018 (Wilmer Font, hilariously). But honestly, trying to tie any sort of analysis to the 2018 Rays pitching is a massive challenge, the sport of baseball has really never seen anything like what the Rays were doing with their arms in 2018. However, there is one minor trend that we’ll get to in a second.
Free Agent: 4.7 WAR, 13.7% (27th)
Not surprisingly, this category is basically the inverse of the last. The teams near the bottom are Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Seattle, all comparatively small markets.
What’s most surprising here is how even the big market teams don’t really get all that much from their free agents. The leader in raw WAR from free agents in 2018 was the Arizona Diamondbacks (her?), and they got only 15.4 WAR from free agents. That’s more than 13.0 WAR less than Cleveland, the top team in raw WAR from trades (28.8) got from their trades. It’s also more than 11.0 WAR less than the top team in raw WAR from the draft, Colorado, got from their draft classes (26.4).
As for the Rays, it was a smattering of pitchers (highlighted by Nathan Eovaldi) and 1.9 WAR from Wilson Ramos that totaled their WAR from free agency in 2018.
Amateur Free Agency: 3.4 WAR, 7.8% (16th)
The Rays were once again middle of the pack here, and there isn’t a whole lot to analyze.
The one minor trend that appears is that most of the Rays amatuer free agent focus appears to be on pitching (Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, and Yonny Chirinos). No team other than Atlanta (and to a certain extent, Texas) relied heavily on this aspect on team building in 2018, and the Rays were no different.
Other: -0.0 WAR (30th)
We don’t need to spend too much time here. This is players who came to the team via Purchase, Waiver Claims, MiLB free agency, etc. Only one team really built their team at all in this manner, with Philadelphia collecting 11.0 WAR this way (although it was not immediately obvious just how when going to their team page).
The Rays have had a lot of success poaching talent, especially young talent, from contending teams over the past five years, and that wave of talent is beginning to crest. This is hardly going to melt your mind in terms of discovering something new, but it’s still interesting to see the raw numbers and just how successful the Rays have been employing this strategy.