The Rays pitching, or lack thereof, has been the source of much chatter among the MLB commentariat since March.
First, the team made clear it was heading into the season without five starting pitchers. It was going to be four starters plus, when needed, a bullpen day — at least into May, when the several off-days in their schedule subsided. Then the Rays would promote their close-to-ready MLB arms.
Tampa Bay stayed with that plan even when Nate Eovaldi’s injury turned a four man rotation into a three man rotation. And when first one, then two, and now three of those near-MLB-ready arms found themselves on the storied Dr. James Andrews examining table.
They further confounded MLB pitching wisdom by opening games with closers and closing with set up guys.
With their best arms out of action and their refusal to play by the unwritten baseball rules, a lot of smart baseball people were just waiting to watch Rays pitching get lit up.
But a funny thing happened over the past month. The Rays pitching staff, supported by a strong defense, was pretty effective. Along some measures, in fact, it was the most effective pitching staff in the majors.
First, hat tip to Mike Petriello for highlighting this today:
You will not believe which pitching staff has baseball's lowest wOBA over the last month.https://t.co/xqKq586Cv1— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) June 14, 2018
Using Statcast data, Petriello finds that the Rays have the lowest wOBA for all major league teams since May 14 (.261). For a deeper dive on wOBA look here and here, but briefly it is a measure that seeks to assess overall offensive production. This number shows that in the past month no team was better at suppressing offense than the Rays.
There may have been other teams better at suppressing runs, or getting strike-outs, or getting wins. But looking at wOBA — one well respected, comprehensive offensive metric — shows that the Rays collectively have been very successful at keeping other teams from generating offense.
Even if you prefer more traditional statistics, the Rays have been good at preventing opposition offense. Their 3.39 ERA in that period was seventh in the majors, and their .221 batting average against led the league.
During this time the team has been without Yonny Chirinos, and missed starts from two starters from the four man rotation (Jake Faria and Chris Archer). Worse still, their defense has been without the best outfield and infield defenders on the team (Kevin Kiermaier or Adeiny Hechevarria).
A one month sample is always a bit arbitrary of course. The Rays look slightly less impressive over the full season, but even with a wider lens they are still holding their own, with a team ERA of 3.89 (14th in the league) and wOBA of .291 (fifth in the league).
Fans eager for a postseason-bound team may find this to be cold comfort. But it’s certainly impressive that the Rays, with few marquee names and a long list of injuries, have been able to piece together an approach that keeps the opposition’s offense in check almost every night.