Watchability Throughout Rays History

In my last post I took a look at how we can use win expectancy to get an idea of how much fun a team is to watch. Number 1 Rays fansite BlueSeatLyfe.com user nomoredevil suggested I take a look at just the Rays throughout their history so I did. The Rays are an interesting case because they were so bad for so long and have sustained success more recently providing a clear dichotomy between the then and the now. Does this show up in the data?  Read on to find out:

Fangraphs tracks this data back to 2002 so that’s as far back as we can go, but you can certainly see the two worlds in the past of this one organization. The team spent more plate appearances losing than winning by expectancy until the magical run in 2008.  The seasons of 2002 and 2003 were particularly hard to swallow as the team only was expected to win in 45% and 44% of their plate appearances, respectively. Bear in mind that this includes all plate appearances throughout a game. These are teams that gave up the lead early and never really managed to get it tight again. After narrowing the gap a bit for a few years we see 2007 jump back out to lots of trailing. This was one of the worst run prevention teams in history so it shouldn’t be a shock. They hit well, but your offense is always going to have off days and when your pitching doesn’t ever have a good one you’re going to spend a lot of time trailing.

Then we get up to the Rays Golden Age. Enjoy it because it won’t be here forever, but it sure is fun in the meantime. In 2008 and ’09 the team was expected to win 55% of the time and this isn’t even the highest figure as the past two years have seen 58% of their plate appearances with a positive win expectancy. This year is on par with 2010 and basically right with the past two years. One observation from this is that if you have (really) good pitching you’re in more games by win expectancy because the spread of score is smaller and you don’t need as much offense. If you’re down by five your chances of winning are slim even if you routinely make that up with a powerful offense. Let’s move on to look at what I’m calling the Margins and Middle chart:

Recall that the green represents the percent of plate appearances where the team has a greater than 75% chance of winning while the Red represents the percent of plate appearances where the team had less than a 25% chance of winning. The middle ground represents the percent where the team was between 25% and 75%. These are the plate appearances where the game is still within reach for both teams. Looking back to post-(s)Hit Show and pre-good years we see that the team was spending more than a quarter of the time losing big and less than 20% of the time winning big. An interesting year to look at is 2007. As previously mentioned, despite a could years spent closing the gap 2007 was a step in the wrong direction according to the first chart. In this one we see just how boom and bust they were and not all that different from the 2005 team.

In 2008 they started winning big more often, but even more important they stopped losing big as often. This team had the highest amount of time in the middle, which is probably a big reason we remember it so fondly. The Rays gained a ton of converts that year because the team was either winning handily or in the game. Baseball fans come to expect losses, it’s the nature of the beast, but when the majority of the time is spent winning or at least having a good chance of winning then you’ll see fan interest come around. This has continued since then with even more time spent winning big, though they’ve also spent more time losing big, other than 2012 which was powered by a historically good pitching staff and bullpen. This year compares favorably as we’re winning big as much as we did last year, but the early run prevention struggles are evident with our losing big percentage nosing up to a still very strong 20%.

Lastly, let’s take a look at what I’m misnomering the Decile chart:

The vertical width of each segment for each year represents the percent of plate appearances spent in that bucket. For instance, this year’s Rays team has spent a whopping 17% of their plate appearances with a win expectancy between 90 and 100%. That figure rivals 2011 for best in team history. This year they’ve spent 10% of their time between 0 and 10% win expectancy, which isn’t the best in team history, but it’s damn near. Last year’s team spent only 8% of the time on their deathbed to claim best in team history, but second best was that 2008 miracle team. Again, that team might not have been the best collection of talent, but they were rarely in a position where the game seemed impossible to win. There’s a ton more narrative in there if you choose to extract, but I’ll leave the armchair analytics to the audience, though I’d love to hear what you see in this chart.

The big takeaway here should be that this year’s squad is pretty dang good, and at least on par with the standard of excellence established over the last several years. No fan should use wins and losses as a decision-maker for if they’re going to tune into tonight’s game, but for the more fairweather fan you should realize that this is a very good team that is providing practically free entertainment on a daily basis. I have no idea if this team can win the world series as currently constituted, but if that’s your baseline for happiness then I’m sure you’ve got a closetful of Zoloft keeping you company. Enjoy the rest of the season it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

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About Jason Hanselman

Rays fan.
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