The Tampa Bay Rays' offensive production is truly mysterious, especially given how clueless their bats can look at the plate.
Brandon Morrow, though a solid young arm, isn't exactly Tim Lincecum. Still, his performance against the Rays on Sunday was among the most dominant in recent memory.
It was the fifth time that the Rays have been one-hit this season, and it was the seventh time that they've been held to two hits or fewer.
The fact that the Rays have scored more runs than any team outside of the AL East this season, along with their strong pitching, has obscured the statistical anomaly that is their run total.
They hit for terrible batting averages, aren't particularly clutch, and don't have great power numbers.
Worst of all, pretty much every member of the lineup is having a "down year."
Conventional wisdom for the past three or so years has been to say that Tampa's youngsters were only going to get better and that their farm system is "so stacked" that they will continually reload with young bats and pitchers. That may look to be the case for the arms, but not so much for the hitters.
Remember when Bossman Junior Upton hit .300 and crushed 24 bombs in 2007, his first full season? Since, his batting average has gone down each season, landing him at .233 in 2010. The home run totals have never neared that either.
What about in 2009, when Ben Zobrist was anointed as the game's best utility player? Then, his OPS dropped .200 points in 2010. Or Dioner Navarro being an All-Star catcher in 2008, before hitting around .210 for the two subsequent seasons and losing his job?
Speaking of hitting .210, that's about how slugger Carlos Pena is doing. All-or-nothing sluggers aren't a rare breed in baseball, but they normally hit around .240. His .210 average is .029 lower than Yovani Gallardo has hit this season, and his power numbers have dropped off, too. Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler are hanging out with Pena and Navarro in club-.210, and while Jason Bartlett is a little better at .238, that's .082 below what he hit last year when he was an All-Star.
The newest round of Rays kids, Reid Brignac and John Jaso, have been better, but both are hitting in the .260s with average power. They aren't game-changers.
The offense has been carried by Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford, and even those two haven't been better than they were in 2009. If Crawford is out the door after this season, the Rays will be in serious trouble.
You'd think that the Rays were making up for their awful batting average with power, but they aren't. They rank 16th in the league in home runs.
Maybe the Rays are a particularly clutch team? Nope, they have minus-0.66 clutch factor, and a minus-0.45 WPA/Li (win probability added per situation importance) — both below average values.
Could the Rays be unlucky, putting a lot of balls in play with nothing to show for it? The mystery continues, as they rank among the league's worst in strikeouts, contact and line-drive percentage. Their BABIP of .298 is just about at the league's average too.
Very little in the numbers can explain Tampa's run production. The Rays do draw a lot of walks — the most in the league at 10.5 percent of plate appearances — and they are very fast, leading the league in bunt hits and stolen bases. They're among the leaders in doubles, likely because they've been able to turn some singles into two-baggers — but none of this should really be able to explain being third in runs.
The answer, most likely, is hidden in their poor clutch numbers. Basically, the Rays are the sixth-worst situational hitting team in the majors in terms of win probability subtracted, but they are also sixth-best in win probability added. That adds up to being relatively un-clutch, but they do have a lot of positive moments.
Still, the Rays are scoring far more than they should be. While that seems to have somewhat stopped in their current slump, it shouldn't have been happening in the first place.
When there is no factual explanation for a pattern, you can only assume that that phenomenon will come to an end.
Expecting otherwise for the Rays just wouldn't make any sense.
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