Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 16, 2008
BASEBALL: Earning Their Rays
Before the season, my Established Win Shares Levels assessment had the Tampa Bay Rays as a 71-win team based on the established major league performance of their roster, and I explained why I was optimistic about the Rays but unwilling to buy into the idea that the most likely outcome for them was 88 or more wins.
Well, here we are at the break, and the Rays until recently had the best record in the game, and even if you assume (as I do) that they are likely to tail off in the second half, they are highly likely to win more than 85 games. How have they exceeded their track record? Let's look at Win Shares through July 10 on the Hardball Times website and compare the pre-season EWSL to the per-162 game pace of the Rays as of that date:
As you can see, most of the Rays' improvement against expectations came from young (25 and under) talent coming together all at once - Longoria, Jackson, Garza, Navarro, Sonnanstine, Upton - the classic recipe for a 'surprise' team. This exploits a known issue with EWSL: it may project rapid improvement from some base of major league success for a young player, and it gives a certain amount of standard credit for a rookie like Longoria, but what it doesn't do (since there's no reliable way to do this at present) is project leaps forward based on minor league numbers. I expect those guys as a group to cool off a bit in the second half, but it won't be a huge upset if they don't, at least in the case of Longoria and Upton; given the unimpressive K/BB ratios of some of the starting pitchers (notably Jackson), I expect less from them in the second half, especially if Jason Bartlett's knee doesn't heal 100%. Either way, though, hats off to the young players who have made so much difference for this team.
Hinske is the one real and unpredictable surprise (none of the people touting the Rays in March mentioned him), but if he tails off that could be offset by Carl Crawford, who traditionally has had a lot of good second halves (career: .288/.327/.428 before the break, .301/.332/.442 after).
By the way, my rough adjustment this year assumed that the average team, historically, gets 38.57 Win Shares from players not on the pre-season 23-man roster I run the numbers from; that should translate to 21.67 Win Shares so far, and the Rays have 26, so they have been only mildly dependent on a better-than-expected showing from guys who came out of the woodwork, some of which is simply the fact that Riggans and Howell have stepped in in place of Paul and Salas.
Honestly, when I added that up, it surprised me; I thought they were more dependent than that on the large number of guys performing well in limited at bats and innings, but some of those have fizzled a bit in recent weeks.