The Tampa Bay Rays are off to an 11-3 start. They’re the only team in the vaunted American League East above .500, and they have a five and a half game lead on the second-place Yankees. They have overtaken the Red Sox on FanGraphs’ projected full season standings, and they have surpassed both the Yankees and the Red Sox by Baseball Prospectus’ playoff percentages. They have the lowest ERA (2.27), lowest FIP (2.74), and lowest xFIP (3.33) in all of baseball. As our own JT Morgan wrote this week, they have also been pounding the cover off the ball, with an exit velocity that ranked second in baseball to only the group of goliaths gathered in Gotham. And that was before they went and sent projectile after projectile into the Rogers Centre outfield on Friday night.
I say all that not to put a massive hex on the Rays (although if that happens, please don’t come for me…), but rather to say this: It could get even better!
Right now the Rays offense ranks just 10th in baseball in runs scored, despite how hard they’ve been hitting the ball. The Mariners (the Mariners) have scored nearly twice as many runs (123-69) as the Rays, and while part of that is due to Seattle apparently becoming the 1927 Yankees overnight, another large portion of that is due to the Rays quite poor results with runners in scoring position this season.
So far this season, with the bases empty, the Rays are slashing .264/.327/.446, good for a 111 wRC+ that ranks seventh in baseball. With men on base, they are slashing .272/.365/.446 for a wRC+ of 124 that ranks 10th in baseball.
[Stephen A. Smith descends from the heavens above]: HOWEVAHHHHH!
With runners in scoring position, the Rays are slashing .232/.349/.341 for a wRC+ of 97 that ranks just 19th in baseball.
For those tracking at home, that over 30 points of batting average lost, and over 100 points of slugging lost in the moments that matter most. The result has been that, so far, in 2019, the Rays lead MLB—by far!—in runners left on base.
The Rays are averaging 8.64 runners left on base per game (through Friday night’s game), while the second-worst offense in this regard, the Atlanta Braves, average “only” 7.85 runners left on base per game. That gap is more than the gap from the 29th-place Braves to the 19th-place Red Sox.
Now, this is almost certainly a stretch of bad luck to start the season (although it is worth noting that the franchise has posted a wRC+ under 100 with runners in scoring position each of the past two seasons, finishing 30th in 2017). The best part of this news is that it likely gives the Rays a bit of cover should some of their bats come back to earth a bit. I love Austin Meadows as much as the next guy, but betting on him having turned into 2001 Barry Bonds overnight seems unlikely. However, if the team as a whole starts to pick up the slack with runners on base, when (again: if?) Meadows cools off a bit, it won’t be as noticeable.
The Rays have been off to an absurd start in 2019, beyond what many of us could have imagined. The best part of the start is that there are fail safes like this to provide insurance and hopefully prevent any sort of collapse as the season marches along.
Now go knock on every piece of wood you own to save me from causing a perma-jinx.