There has been a lot of talk recently about the first-place Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays, and with good reason. It is a young, exciting team with some excellent pitchers and everyday players. There has been a lot of speculation about this team's chances of contending for a playoff spot this season and as much as I don't hate the Rays I'm not a believer in them this year. To quote Wolf from Pulp Fiction, "Well, let's not start sucking each other's [Popsicles] quite yet."
I examined the last eight teams to reach the AL playoffs (so the 2006 and 2007 fields) and looked at six important stats: Runs scored/game, team OPS, runs allowed/game, starter's ERA, bullpen ERA, and K/BB. Here is what I came up with:
The best for each category is highlighted in green, while the worst is in orange.
As you can see the Rays have by far the worst offense of the nine teams that I examined and a very poor K/BB ratio. This is usually a good indicator of how effective a pitching staff really is, although it's not the only one. Only the 2007 Yankees were worse in this department but they were also the most prolific offensive team that I looked at. However in terms of ERA and runs allowed Tampa Bay is one of best team of the nine. While I believe their starters will continue to be exceptional (the addition of Scott Kazmir will balance out the non-James Shields starters regression) I don't think that the bullpen will keep it up. The main culprits in the area are Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival. Wheeler has a career 3.96 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, not bad numbers for a journeyman reliever but in 2008 he's throwing like he's Dennis Eckersley, posting a 1.29 ERA and 0.81 WHIP while leading the club in appearances (18). It's hard for me to believe that this 30-year-old Warwick, RI native will continue to be lights out. As far as Percival goes, he's been outstanding, having only given up 4 runs all year (and 3 of those came in one game). He has a 2.40 ERA and 0.60 WHIP. The ERA isn't far off his career clip of 3.01 but this is hardly the All-Star Troy Percival of the early 2000's. I think he'll have a solid, solid year but I don't see him being an elite closer.
Regardless of what their bullpen might do, I think their main weakness is their offense. They have a couple quality bats in Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and BJ Upton but Evan Longoria is just a rookie and can't be expected to carry any serious load. Also, count me among those who think Erik Hinske will fall back to earth. This team is going to have a problem scoring runs and I just can't see them sticking around for the long haul.
Anyway I wish the Rays the best, I really do. I think 80-85 wins is a definite possibility but there is a lot of baseball to be played and there are a lot of quality teams that will give the Rays problems down the stretch. I expect Tampa Bay to regress a fair amount.
I just wanted to give a bit of perspective to the debate.
Oh, and they have some really lame uniforms. Seriously, they have the same logo on their home and road jerseys.
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7 months ago