Are the Rays for real?

The Tampa Bay Rays are currently in first place in the AL East. This was definitely not predicted to be the case at the start of the season. However, here we are over thirty games into the season and the Tampa Bay Rays are first in their division. Many would consider the AL East to be one of the top divisions in baseball too. So the fact that the Rays sit atop of one of the best divisions in baseball speaks volumes about them.

Now, the Rays have still had a little bit of help to get to this point. Their two competitors in their division (the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees) have both started slowly getting out of the gate. More the Red Sox than the Yankees as the Yankees have had to deal with a lot of injury problems up to this point. However, I don’t think much of anyone predicted such a poor start from the Red Sox. Even though the Ray’s competition hasn’t lived up to their hype, you can’t disregard the Rays for what they’ve done.

What stands out most about their success is that their success hasn’t been marginal, it’s been big. As of current, they lead the league in run differential. You can take a look and see that the Rays are outperforming the teams that are considered to be the best in all of baseball.

Data vis ESPN

Run differential has also been known to be a pretty significant indicator as to if success is sustainable or not so considering the results, the Tampa Bay Rays are good.

To elaborate more on run differential, let’s take into account the 2018 Seattle Mariners season. Last year, the found success that wasn’t exactly expected. The finished with 89 wins and were just on the outside of a playoff spot. Many would think that the Mariners would then be a team that would be looking to add a few key parts in the offseason to hopefully push them over the edge and make the playoffs for the upcoming season. However, that’s not what they did by any means. You can read about the franchise’s disassemblement last offseason back in an earlier post about the franchise and why they didn’t try to compete this year. Their reason to make that choice was simply that they knew their success was not sustainable. They finished the season with a -34 run differential which is by no means usually translated to success. The 2018 season for the Mariners was an outlier and they knew it too. So, they didn’t try to push to make the playoffs but instead knew that they needed to rebuild and to try a more sustainable approach to success.

Now, after going off on what may seem to be a totally unrelated tangent, I want to tie the 2018 Seattle Mariners to the case of the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays. I believe that the Rays success is sustainable because they do have a big and positive run differential. If they didn’t, I would be skeptic about how long I might predict their success to last but by the numbers they are putting up, I definitely think that it’s going to last a while.

There is one other big indicator as to why the Rays are so good. They lead all of baseball in xFIP which if you’ve read this blog before, you know I find to be one of the best measurements at determining how effective pitchers are. For the teams that do lead in xFIP, it’s not a direct translation to success as you can see below there are a few outliers but it is a big part to a teams success.

Data via FanGraphs

In addition to how the Rays success is sustainable, I also wanted to mention how the organization put itself in this position to compete. Last year right before the trade deadline, the organization traded Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz in return. There wasn’t much opinion when the trade first broke as it appeared to be an insignificant even deal between two teams that weren’t expected to take part in any upcoming playoff race. This was true all throughout last season but now it is almost the exact opposite.

Austin Meadows was a highly talented prospect but I would consider him to be outperforming expectations for where he is at in his career and how young he is. He currently has an xwOBA of .408 which ranks 17th best in all of baseball. I don’t think many expected such a high level of performance out of him in his second season in the MLB.

Tyler Glasnow is also performing above expectations. Glasnow wasn’t a big part of the trade and also was not ever supposed to be as good as he is right now. Currently, he ranks fifth best in the league among qualified in xFIP according to FanGraphs. This I am sure the Rays didn’t ever expect when they traded for him last summer. They did see something in him though that nobody else did and what that may be is just a whole other article. Simply put, Tyler Glasnow is outperforming expectations and right now, he looks like one of the best pitchers in baseball.

The Tampa Bay Rays are playing like one of the best teams in all of baseball right now. This success may not have been expected but it’s here and I believe that it’s here to stay. All numbers point in the direction that this run may be sustainable and I agree. The only thing standing in the way are the two giants in their division, the Red Sox and the Yankees. I hope that this metaphorical David vs Goliath situation plays out in favor of the underdog but it may be hard based on what they’re up against. If the Rays continue though to keep playing how they have been then I think they’ll be just fine. The Rays are for real.

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