Bottom Half Production

Much has been made about the Rays struggle to consistently produce runs and how the bottom half of the offense is particularly guilty in this area.  Travis and I wanted to check for ourselves to see where the Rays five through nine hitters stood against the competition within the division so we took the most common lineups from baseball-reference.com and compared each team’s hitter based on wOBA. If you are unfamiliar with wOBA, here is a description from the Sabremetric Library:

Not all hits are created equal.  Batting average would have you believe they are, but think about it: what’s more valuable, a single or a homerun?  Batting average doesn’t account for this difference and slugging percentage doesn’t do so accurately (is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no).  OPS does a good job of combining all the different aspects of hitting (hitting for average, hitting for power, having plate discipline) into one metric, but it weighs slugging percentage the same as on-base percentage, while on-base percentage is actually much more valuable than slugging.  To account for all these differences in run values, Tom Tango created wOBA to combine all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but to weigh them in proportion to their actual value.

The table below shows the wOBA – note the Rays’ 8th spot is inflated because John Jaso has spent the most time hitting out of that spot.

Team 5th wOBA 6th wOBA 7th wOBA 8th wOBA 9th wOBA
Rays .291 .336 .299 .399 .350
Yankees .432 .402 .340 .405 .377
Red Sox .340 .374 .378 .290 .340
Blue Jays .415 .311 .346 .342 .370
Average .370 .356 .341 .359 .359

If we take Jaso out of the spot, the Rays hitters are below the average for each lineup spot, which is a rather depressing picture. The Yankees worst hitter in the bottom half has a .340 wOBA which would be the second best hitter for the Rays bottom half. How much does all of this matter? The Rays are have the third best runs scored total in the division – one better than Toronto with one less game played even. Despite all of those home runs the Blue Jays have hit, far too many of them are solo shots. The Yankees and Red Sox have both had their struggles with injuries and slumps. Curtis Granderson and Jorge Posada have been on the disabled list and Mark Teixeira has yet to hit like he does and the Yankees have still scored 314 runs. The biggest surprise is the fact the Red Sox lead the division in runs scored with 318 despite not having Jacoby Ellsbury for nearly the entire season, losing Mike Cameron for awhile, Dustin Pedroia struggling, and David Ortiz having that awful May. Frankly, those reasons are the only reasons the Rays lower half production does not look worse than it does now.

In order for the Rays to keep up with most of the competition, the bats at the bottom have to keep up or the bats have to change. Much has been made of Carlos Pena and him dragging down that production. Since that two-homer game at Yankee Stadium in mid-May, Pena is just 5 for his last 55 with three singles and two home runs. Since May 1st, Pena is hitting just .128/.221/.265 in 117 at bats and while he may still flash a good glove at first base, at some point the Rays must decide if the drag on the offense outweighs his defensive production. B.J. Upton went through similar stretches of offensive ineptitude in the past but his defense in center field was still top shelf and Upton was still a threat on the basepaths, neither of which Pena can claim.  Meanwhile, Dan Johnson is in AAA hitting .328/.418/.661 and leading the International League with 16 homers and 50 RBI.  Given the fact Hank Blalock is hitting a rather unimpressive .225/.279/.325 so far fueling that bottom half struggles, Johnson may be getting a promotion sooner rather than later to see if he can infuse some life into the bottom half of the offense.

We applaud Maddon for tinkering with the lineup frequently over the past few weeks to try to find the best mix of bats to produce runs for the Rays but at some point, it is like rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. The most productive bats at the bottom half of this lineup this season have been the most inexperienced bats in Reid Brignac, John Jaso, and Sean Rodriguez while Pena, Blalock (and Burrell before him), Aybar, and Kapler have all failed to meet expectations. Without the production from the kids, the Rays would not be where they are today as despite all of these offensive struggles in recent weeks, the club still owns the best record in baseball and a two game lead in the game’s toughest division.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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