Tampa Rays: Your need to know

The Yankees are about to start another series tonight in which they should take two out of three.

The Tampa Bay Rays, they of the dead last in MLB payroll of $46 million ($13 million behind second to last Oakland).  Yes, the white flag waving Rays – Wilson Ramos is gone as is Chris Archer, Nate Eovaldi and most of the concession staff.

The remaining roster only has two pitchers who have logged 100 innings this season, and its best position player is Mallex Smith*.

Tampa is 10th in the AL in runs scored per game, 13th in slugging percentage and they chase more pitches outside the zone than all but four AL teams.

Two out of three?!?  How about a sweep?” you might ask…

Not so fast.  Despite the usual condescension of Michael Kay on the Simpleton Summer Camp broadcast, the Tampa Bay Rays are no joke.  GM Erik Neander, who’s from the Andrew Friedman tree of GMs (add two more names to the list of GMs Yankee fans would rather have than Brian Cashman) has done a brilliant job keeping Tampa not only relevant, but a pretty good team.

Despite the aforementioned lack of resources, the Rays have 60 wins and 58 losses, which would have them within 4 games of a wild card spot in the NL (that’s before any adjustments for strength of schedule).  Speaking of which…

Almost one out of every four of their 118 games this season has been against either the Yankees or the Red Sox and they’re still better than the high spending, high expectation Angels and Nationals.  Hell, they’re seven games better than Toronto and 26 games better than Baltimore.

How do they do it?  Their pitching staff is second in the AL in ground ball percentage and the team is 2nd in turning batted balls into outs.  They keep it in the park and they catch the ball, which keeps them in a lot of games.  Combine that with some creative bullpen and roster management (Sergio Romo got a “hold” a “save” and played 3rd base all in the same game for crying out loud) and you’ll do all right.  Pretty simple.

I’m not about to anoint them as something they aren’t – this is still a team the Yankees should take 2 of 3 from every time they play.  But don’t roll your eyes if that doesn’t happen – this is a professional team.

*Mallex Smith and the silly RBI stat

I’m sure it sounded condescending when I said he’s the team’s best position player, but he’d be the best player on a handful of teams yet has flown under the radar so far this season.

In 2018, Smith has a .370 OBP (5th among AL outfielders), 122 OPS+ (9th among AL outfielders), 2.7 WAR (10th, ahead of all-stars George Springer and Michael Brantley) and plays three outfield positions competently.

What’s interesting, as I’m sure the Simpleton Summer Camp broadcast team will point out tonight, is that he only has 1 HR and 27 RBI.  My guess is that one of the Luddite among them will mention Smith’s “lack of power”.

But he has a .415 SLG – AL league average SLG is .416.  How does one have league average power with only 1 HR?

19 doubles and 9 triples that’s how.  The point of power isn’t to hit the ball over the wall, it’s to advance runners.  Smith does that despite the ball not going over the wall.

What about the small RBI total?

Among 73 AL players with 380 plate appearances only 8 have had fewer runners on base during their plate appearances than Smith has had.  Put that in your RBI pipe, traditional stat fans, because the RBI stat is useless.

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