Talk about the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff generally devolves into a debate about the use of the Opener. The emphasis on their innovation obscures the fact that their pitchers have a lot of talent.
When trying to compare stats with Rays pitchers by splitting them into starters and relievers it isn’t so clear cut. However the goal is what should be the same as it should be for most teams. Getting the best results out of your 12 to 13 roster spots.
By any measure of results the Rays have put together the a staff that looks like one of (if not) the best in Major League Baseball.
Through 36 games the Rays pitchers lead the majors with a 2.87 ERA. Even their 3.01 RA9 (runs allowed per nine innings, a stat that includes all unearned runs) is better than the second best 3.35 ERA posted by the Cincinnati Reds.
Isolating the pitchers from the rest of the team, the Rays also boast a 3.30 FIP and 3.62 xFIP, both of which lead the league.
By almost every metric the Rays pitchers have excelled. They’ve gotten here by posting the league’s highest 27.3% strikeout rate while posting the fifth lowest 7.9% walk rate leading to a league best 19.5% K-BB%.
It also has to do with the contact they give up. Much has been made about the Rays offense ability to post big exit velocities, but a key part of the success of the Rays pitching staff has been their ability to limit exit velocity.
In a league that averages an 88.3 mph exit velocity the Rays pitchers have posted the lowest average exit velocity in baseball at 86.2 mph, well ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres at 87.0 mph.
The lack of impact contact has helped the Rays post the second lowest 0.90 HR/9, 33 overall homers.
Rays pitchers have done everything you could ask for this year. They strike out batters. They limit walks. When they allow contact it usually isn’t a batted ball you would expect to induce damage.
Which brings us to today.
This weekend Rays pitchers face the New York Yankees, the only team that has hit the ball harder than Rays to this point. The Yankees 9.9% walk rate ties them for seventh in the league and their 22.1% strikeout rate is ninth lowest in the league.
Rays pitchers face a tough test.
It’s strength versus strength, and something has to give.