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Who was the Rays best hitter in 2019?

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The Rays had a bevy of good bats this season

2019 ALDS Game 5 - Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There’s a habit among team writers at the end of each baseball season to gather up all the stats, lay them out around us as if they were Rob’s record collection from High Fidelity, and ask ourselves: “What order can I put these in to craft an interesting narrative about the season?”

Now that we’re in the long dark of winter, let’s pick apart every aspect of the season that was in the hopes we might be able to better predict the 2020 that lays ahead.

In looking at the season’s stats, an interesting question arose: “Who was the Rays best hitter in 2019?”

It’s not as easy a question to answer, as the answer changes based on which parts of the season you’re considering. Brandon Lowe, who is a finalist for Rookie of the Year, got off to an insanely hot start before being sidelined by injury. Tommy Pham continued to prove that he was an absolute monster at the plate, continuing to mash hits even with broken bones, and looking every inch the power hitter by they casual eye test, and of course Austin Meadows — in spite of a lackluster downturn midseason — had some absolutely unbelievable numbers, leading the team in home runs, among other statistics. Lowe and Meadows were even All-Stars in 2019!

But who among them was truly the best Rays hitter? To answer that question we need to look at a few different metrics if we’re going to be fair about the answer.

Average

Batting average is such a base-level statistic, because what it tells us is simply how often a player converted an at-bat into a hit. Austin Meadows lead the Rays in this category, with a .291 BA in 591 plate appearances. No one else came close. With players who had at least 200 plate appearances for the Rays in 2019, only Meadows, Tommy Pham (.273), and Brandon Lowe (.270), hit above .270.

2019 AL Wild Card - Tampa Bay Rays v. Oakland Athletics
Tommy Pham #29 of the Tampa Bay Rays is greeted by teammate Austin Meadows #17 after hitting a solo home run in the fifth inning during the AL Wild Card game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California.
Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

wRC+

I’m skipping right over OBP and SLG to wRC+, because it captures all the extra base weighted calculations of OPS but also has park balanced factors, and is generally just an overall better metric of offensive skill. If you’re new to wRC+, it considers 100 to be the “average” MLB player, so any number above 100 is the percentage better that player is than average. In the case of Austin Meadows his 142 wRC+ tells us he was 42% better than the average MLB player. Here, also, he leads the Rays, with the only players over 120 being Pham (121), Lowe (125), and Ji-Man Choi (121). Again this is with a 200 plate appearance minimum, otherwise we’d be giving reliever Oliver Drake the prize for his whopping 473 wRC+

ISO

ISO, or Isolated Power, is a good stat to take into consideration because it solely focuses on hitting events that result in extra-base hits. It’s an imperfect stat on its own for measuring a player’s value, but when we talk about the quality of a hitter, knowing whose bat packed the most punch can be a useful talking point. For example, Mike Trout had an incredible .353 ISO to lead all of baseball in 2019. Meadows, who was 16th overall in baseball, had a .268, and was the only Rays player to crack the top 20. He had 29 doubles, seven triples, and an impressive 33 home runs, which all helped him create that elevated ISO.

BABIP

Now this one is a harder sell over the course of a season, but worth looking at in that it can tell us how likely it is that Meadows (or one of the other batting leaders) might have been having a fluke season.

Brandon Lowe actually lead the Rays in BABIP, with a .377, but it’s also difficult to tell whether or not we can consider this skill or good luck, since it was his first full season in the majors. Meadows, Pham, Choi, Avisail Garcia, and Willy Adames all had a BABIP over .300. Meadows, like Lowe, is so new that it’s difficult to see if this season was a fluke, but Steamer predicts he’ll settle from .331 into a more realistic .303 next year. With Lowe they predict a drop to .308

Divisional Series - Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Three
Brandon Lowe #8 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field on October 07, 2019 in St Petersburg, Florida.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For those who don’t know what BABIP is, it measures Batting Average on Balls in Play, so basically it’s an adjust BA that removes any home run hits from the equation and tells us how frequently the batter’s plate appearances turn into a hit that didn’t clear the outfield wall. BABIP tries to balance how a player does against defense, what their talent level is, and also measures a bit of luck. Ultimately it’s trying to represent how well a player did hitting for contact. It’s also used for pitchers, but that isn’t a factor here.

One statistic we didn’t factor in in this discussion was WAR, because WAR also accounts for a player’s defense, and we wanted to isolate hitting statistics here. Though if we were to include WAR, Meadows leads all Rays hitters with a 4.0 fWAR. Pham (3.3), Adames (2.8), Lowe (2.6), and Choi (1.9) round out the top five, and if we include Garcia to give us the top six, represent the best hitters on the Rays team in 2019.

But, by almost any statistical metric we use, and even with his mid-season slump, Austin Meadows was absolutely the best Rays hitter of the season. With that said, several other players like Pham and Lowe were hampered by injury, so tomorrow we’ll take a look at what might have been if those players went a whole season without being hurt.