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The Rays have mastered the hitter’s platoon

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One of baseball’s best offenses is a carefully calibrated creation.

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (right) celebrates after scoring on a home run by second baseman Brandon Lowe (left) against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning of game four of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have long used platoons to get more out of every roster spot than most teams around the league. In 2021 the Rays took this to another level and have the second highest scoring team in the league.

Platoon Rates

% of PA with the Platoon Advantage

Team Advantage
Team Advantage
Diamondbacks 67.7%
Tigers 66.8%
Rays 62.1%
Pirates 61.2%
Mets 60.3%
Giants 58.1%
White Sox 57.9%
Guardians 57.7%
Mariners 55.7%
Twins 55.5%
Brewers 55.5%
Rangers 54.4%
Cubs 53.9%
Phillies 53.8%
Orioles 53.7%
Athletics 52.7%
Padres 51.9%
Royals 51.6%
Nationals 0.5%
Red Sox 50.9%
Reds 50.6%
Braves 49.8%
Dodgers 49.6%
Rockies 47.7%
Angels 46.6%
Marlins 46.6%
Astros 45.1%
Yankees 45.0%
Cardinals 44.7%
Blue Jays 38.1%

The Rays posted the third highest plate appearance percentage with the platoon advantage in the majors at 62.1%. Getting the advantage is only matters though if you can take advantage of it as we see the other four teams in the top five all ended up in the bottom eight in runs scored.

The Rays absolutely smashed opposite handed pitching no matter which side of the mound the opponent threw from. The Rays left handed batters hit .254/.337/.469 and put up a 123 wRC+ against right handed pitchers that was good enough for second in the league behind the highest scoring offense in the league Houston Astros (129 wRC+). Right handed batters didn’t disappoint with a .276/.351/.483 and put up a league leading 131 wRC+ vs left handed pitchers.

The Rays combined hitters to elite production when they had the advantage. When they didn’t have the advantage they hit much worse.

Left handed hitters put up a .199/.271/.314 line and put up a 67 wRC+ against left handed pitchers that was bad but only came in tenth worse. Due to the number of left handed hitters on the roster they had the second most plate appearances in a lefty versus lefty matchup at 807 plate appearances that represented 13% of the overall plate appearances.

Right handed batters fared better than their left handed teammates when they faced the platoon disadvantage. They hit .219/.296/.378 and put up a 90 wRC+ that was good for 18th in the league. However they were able to limit this to the second fewest plate appearances in the league at 1550 or 25% of the team’s plate appearances. They weren’t terrible, but were rather mediocre overall.

Looking forward to 2022

The Rays are scheduled to bring back all their left handed batters except for Joey Wendle next season. Brandon Lowe (161 wRC+), Ji-Man Choi (139 wRC+), Brett Phillips (138 wRC+), and Austin Meadows (137 wRC+) will make sure the Rays have a thick lineup against right handed hitters.

Wander Franco (96 wRC+) is a switch hitter whose strong side of the plate has been from the left side in the minors. It would be wrong to characterize this as bad considering his age, but I would expect his hitting from this side to show improved numbers in 2022.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays infielder Wander Franco (5) and shortstop Taylor Walls (6) talk during the first inning against the Boston Red Soxat Tropicana Field.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Walls is another switch hitter (79 wRC+) who struggled at the plate in his first cup of coffee. I expect we’ll see a more aggressive hitter than the very passive hitter we saw in 2021. I don’t expect a lot of offensive contributions but he’ll be a strong defender with a bat you’ll tolerate.

Kevin Kiermaier (104 wRC+) has been a trade candidate for a couple years now. It’s unknown if he’ll make it to Opening Day but should he he’ll be fine contributor offensively but like Walls will be in the lineup more for the glove than the bat.

Francisco Mejia (104 wRC+) will continue to split time with Mike Zunino behind the plate. It’s nice having two catchers you don’t mind getting the bulk of the playing time should something happen to the other.

There are also quality prospects in the minors with an ability to hit from the left side in INF Vidal Brujan (S), OF Josh Lowe, and INF Jonathan Aranda.

If something falls into their laps I’m sure the Rays would look to upgrade anywhere they can, but the left handed side of the offense seems to be filled with high quality contributors that will be difficult to upgrade.

On the right side of the plate most of the damage was done by Mike Zunino (243 wRC+), Wander Franco (181 wRC+), Randy Arozarena (153 wRC+), Yandy Diaz (126 wRC+), Francisco Mejia (113 wRC+), and Manuel Margot (112 wRC+) against left handed pitchers.

Zunino and Franco ran extremely hot and should see a sizable drop as their results regress to the mean. So we’re going to need to find some more offense elsewhere.

The Rays picked up Nelson Cruz (98 wRC+) and Jordan Luplow (93 wRC+) at the trade deadline, but Cruz became a free agent and Luplow was traded to the Diamondbacks. Though they didn’t contribute a lot to the Rays in the regular season the Rays are on the lookout for right handed bats to add to the lineup.

Cole Mitchem brought up some potential targets for the Rays last week. A right handed bat or two in a small role is going to be the biggest need the Rays look to fill once the lockout ends.

The Rays offense was positioned to be an offensive force entering the 2021 and they delivered. Now they look to improve as they build their offense around the young superstar Wander Franco.