A few weeks have passed since Dave Cameron wrote about the Rays’ offense and its affinity for hitting with runners on. They’re now hitting .284/.357/.435 with men on – which gives them the seventh best OPS in that predicament – and .236/.316/.390 without anyone on – seventeenth best. Most of the success with runners on has been locally attributed to new hitting coach Derek Shelton’s “GTMI” mantra; standing for Get The [Man] In. Yes, a mantra.
Steve Slowinski recently looked at the difference in results and there’s some interesting tidbits that come out from all of this if you dig deep enough. For instance, while researching this post I found out that the Rays have the second lowest percentage of double plays batted into given their numerous opportunities – behind only San Diego — but I think one thing is missing from the numerous analyses out there and that’s a focus on the batting average on balls in play.
The team’s BABIP is .308, but the individual breakdowns shed more light on why the Rays are struggling without men on. Below is a look at the BABIP and the projected rest of season BABIP for the regulars, excluding those with fewer than a full season’s worth of plate appearances for obvious reasons (namely, complete regression to league average without taking minor league track record into account skews the numbers):
Player To Date RoS Delta Pena 0.207 0.263 0.056 Navarro 0.213 0.263 0.05 Aybar 0.242 0.272 0.03 Barty 0.266 0.314 0.048 Upton 0.272 0.318 0.046 Kapler 0.291 0.274 -0.017 Zobrist 0.363 0.305 -0.058 Craw 0.366 0.335 -0.031 Longo 0.373 0.318 -0.055
The Rays have had a few batters outperforming their expectations by quite a bit, but they also have four players expected to gain BABIP success from here on out compared to their first two months of the season. Revivals by Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton* in particular would be a much welcomed sight to the lineup. Both have become increasingly aggressive under Shelton, with Pena swinging at 43% of first pitches seen and Upton at 42% (good for third and fifth most in the American League with Crawford at seventh). Jason Bartlett’s struggles are notable too, since he was the fulltime leadoff hitter until just days ago, with manager Joe Maddon inserting Zobrist into the leadoff spot versus righties.
Nevertheless, the talk about needing to acquire more bats may be premature. For one, there’s potential BABIP regression on the way. But more importantly, outfielder Matt Joyce should be in the majors at some point in June and catcher Kelly Shoppach isn’t too far behind. Joyce figures to take a roster spot from either Sean Rodriguez (who would go to Triple-A) or Hank Blalock (who would go wherever bad baseball players go) meanwhile Shoppach should spell the end for Dioner Navarro. Navarro and Rodriguez are the only two Rays with wOBA below .290, so it’s not like Joyce nor Shoppach have to be world-beaters in order to mark improvement either.
*Upton in particular has looked lost at times. Most notably swinging through fastballs at an unhealthy rate. And yet, for all that talk, he’s walking more than 10% of the time and is third on the team in ISO, behind only Willy Aybar and Longoria. That speaks somewhat to the disappointing power production from Pena, but also to Upton’s strength resurgence, since a .180 ISO is closer to his 2007 career high — when he hit 24 home runs – than the 2008-09 versions of Upton, who battled with a torn labrum and hit 20 home runs combined.
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