Although the Rays opening win streak has ended, there is no doubt they have started the season off strong. They tied the record for most consecutive wins to start the season, they lead the MLB in many offensive and defensive categories. As of Saturday, they even have more homers than runs allowed.
What’s the secret sauce?
There are many things that have gone right, but I think it’s the Rays depth that is noteworthy.
The Rays are known as a team that uses all 26 men — there are no bench warmers seen only during blowouts. Nonetheless we can identify players who are clearly the Rays core, and those who could be called the secondary players. It’s worth talking about how the secondary players have been able to make this team excellent. By secondary players I refer to the ones that are not key bats, or arms, however at the same time they give the team the leverage to rely on them.
Last year the Rays lacked players that could replace the injured guys, however, this year those secondary guys have taken a step forward. Is too early to make stat comparisons because of the sample size, so we should talk about trends that often are more reliable in a short sample size.
Josh Lowe has been key to the Rays’ success, he is starting more than 90% of games when they are facing an RHP. Josh has been able to translate his good momentum from Spring Training. One of the biggest concerns about Lowe was his struggle to hit big league velocity. In the offseason, Lowe made a couple of adjustments, and it seems that he has made some progress. He still works extremely well with the breaking ball; both homers this season came against the breaking balls. In the future, he may establish himself as one of the best breaking ball hitters in baseball.
Luke Raley is another guy who has all the support from the Rays’ coaching staff. Last year he struggled offensively, he wasn’t able to show all his offensive tools. This year Raley has been able to exhibit its two main offensive tools. He looks more comfortable going after fastballs; so far this season he has 4.2 wFB (runs above average against the fastball), and a 7.32 wFB/C (runs above average per 100 pitchers) All of this because he shortened his swing, which is now more compact as he moves toward the baseball.
The bullpen overall has looked solid, however, one of the biggest question marks was Kevin Kelly who was selected in the Rule 5 draft. Kelly is starting to play a bigger role in the bullpen. What makes him special is his arm delivery, and when you pair it with his sweeper he creates nightmares for right handed batters. Kelly’s sweeper has impressive movement, the pitch executes a perfect 3 to 9 movement with a sweeping action. Kelly has pitched just 8.2 innings but he ranks 96th percentile in hard hit%, and 99th percentile in average exit velocity.
The Rays have excelled in almost every aspect of the game the first couple of weeks, but more impressive how everybody contributes to the team’s success. The secondary players have been as important as the starters, because when the stars need a rest day, or an IL stint, they are ready to step up and make the big play. If the secondary players keep over performing their 2022 campaign the Rays will keep winning.