The Rays have trouble scoring runs. That is no mystery. And if there is anything to blame, it is the $40 million payroll.

One of the biggest differences between a $40 million payroll and a $100 million payroll is depth. The Rays have none. There are some solid bats at the top of the order. But once you get past Casey Kotchman the Rays lineup is riddled with guys that probably should by on the bench or in the minor leagues.

Here is a chart that looks at the Rays OPS by position in the batting order as compared to the American League average. For example, on average, American League hitters batting leadoff have an OPS of .709. Rays leadoff hitters have a .696 OPS.

The top three spots in the order are fine. All three are close to league average. Rays cleanup hitters have been terrible. Of course, Evan Longoria missed a lot of time, and since he has been back he has struggled. Still, cleanup hitters (.662) have been worse than AL number no. 8 hitters (.670).

But where the cleanup hitters have failed, the no. 5 hitters (mostly Kotchman) have more than made up for that, hitting (.889) well-above league average (.742).

Where the lineup struggles is the bottom-third. The nos. 7, 8, and 9 hitters are all hitting below the AL averages for those spots. And the no. 9 hitters (mostly Reid Brignac) have been more than 100 points below average.

In fact, the Rays no. 9 hitters have been so bad, that they actually compare quite unfavorably to no. 9 hitters in the National League. And usually, the no. 9 hitter in the NL is a pitcher.

Notice that the Rays no. 9 hitters have a grand total of 13 extra-base hits. Meanwhile, the no. 9 hitters for the average NL team has 15 extra-base hits.

In other words, the Rays are basically giving the opposing pitchers 2-3 batters to save their best stuff each time through the order. And ultimately, the Rays are trying to outscore the opposition with just six hitters. Not an easy task, to say the least.

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20 Comments

  1. Don says:

    Rays have 3 professional hitters.. Kotchman, Damon, Zobrist...
    THe rest are AVg.players at best (including 2011 LOngo&Joyce last 6 weeks)..Who Among these could even make the Yankees/RED SOx teams let alone sit on the bench

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  2. Gus says:

    You are right that this week showed what being cheap does. It loses you games when you have a core group (starters, Longo, Zobrist, Kotchman) team that could be a playoff team

    Within these confines however, I don;t under stand why the Rays haven;t gone to "Option Z": Moving Zobrist to 2B full time and getting another OF in the line-up (Guyer, Des, Fuld, whoever) is the most obvious move. You cobble the SS position between Brignac and S-Rod. This gets one more hitter in the line up.

    Not to get down on the guy personally -- I'm sure Elliot Johnson is a good person and a fine teammate -- but he is the worst player to ever get significant playing time in the field in Rays history. (I give Shoppach a pass because he at least is competent defensively, or so the stats and Maddon lead us to believe). Johnson makes Kevin Stocker look like Honus Wagner. He is looking down the barrell of 30, so this isn't a case of developing a prospect. He can't do the little things right -- he can't lay down a bunt when needed, he runs the bases like it is beer league softball and his fielding is below average -- no speed, the occasional howler, no real arm.

    For the life of me I can't figure out why Elliot Johnson he is getting the starts when "Option Z" is available. Anybody have a guess why they are doing that?

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    • Beth says:

      I'm with you. I don't get Elliot Johnson, either. At least some of the other marginal plays they kept around (Dan Johnson, even Gabe Kapler) had, or once had, an appreciable upside.

      The other thing I wonder about: didn't Zobrist come up as a short stop? I even recall him being the Devil Rays starting short stop at the start of, maybe 2007? His .180 average got him sent down to the minors, replaced by Brendan Harris. By the time he earned his way back up to the majors we already had Bartlett at short and he moved over. BUt I don't recall whether he was any good at short -- and whether he's still an option there.

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      • Gus says:

        You are right he was a glove-first SS in the Astros system, but you are correct his breakout season at the plate coincided with Jason "MVP" Bartlett's arrival, so he never got another shot there, but that would be even better if he could play SS now -- "Option Z-X".

        The only thing I can think of is that he had back issues last year, and they are nursing that by playing him in the OF.

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    • Rob says:

      I think the guy with the most upside we haven't seen yet is Rodriguez. He has excellent range at second base and I am not sure I have seen anyone pivot the double-play faster than he can. Plus, he can hit an occasional HR and is the best bunter on the team. I get that he can't hit the low and away slider and he can't help himself from swinging at it, but this is something I think a good hitting coach can help him fix. He has to do a better job of recognizing the spin on that slider, and it if comes out of the pitcher's hand as a strike, don't swing at it because it will be out of the zone by the time it reaches the plate. He also swings at a lot of balls in the dirt - I firmly believe this is a discipline at the plate issue and the fix can be learned.

      If you put him at 2nd full-time and move Zobrist back to short, you have added some potential pop/speed in your line-up by adding in an outfielder and removing the worst ss platoon I have ever seen in Johnson/Brignac. As bad as they are as hitters, you would think they would be excellent at other facets of the game, but Brignac is one of the slowest guys on the team and Johnson can't lay down a bunt. How in the world does a tall, skinny, lanky ss get away with being so slow? And how a light-hitting career minor leaguer can survive in professional baseball without knowing how to bunt is beyond me.

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      • Beth says:

        Rob, you make an excellent point about S-Rod. He looks tantalizingly like a real ballplayer. He's obviously a gifted athlete with unbelievable reflexes. His fielding could potentially be a plus (he's been moved around quite a bit so we probably don't yet have a fair assessment of what he could do if he stuck with a position). The question is: does he have a real learning curve? he seems to be stuck in the same hitting rut all year (and only marginally better last year) -- swinging at the same bad pitches, little sense of the strike zone. But he does indeed seem like he ought to have the tools to be a solid middle infielder, doesn't he?

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        • Gus says:

          I'm assuming in Option Z that S-Rod is the SS of the future. He has the most upside in my mind as well. Certainly having S-Rod-Brignac playing for 1 spot in the batting order makes them a better offensive team, and I don't think there is a defensive drop off from Elliot Johnson, who isn't as solid as you think he should be, given his age and life in the minors. He ain't Crash Davis, oozing baseball intangibles. And Zobrist is a very good infielder when his back is right.

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  3. Joe says:

    Rays weren't exactly writing checks left and right but I remember this off season for 2 things. 1) the impact guys can now afford their own island, no way we were keeping them and 2) I believe it was the Jays and to an extent, the A's who kept stealing all of our targets. We're lucky Farnsworth has worked out so well because everyone else slipped away from us. Also, can't forget that we lost a very possible impact signing when Manny got caught yet again.

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  4. Dew says:

    This is the game the owners have accepted. No competitive fairness. And we're suppose to pay and go to games like it doesn't matter. The way I feel the Rays are playing with one hand behind there back. Only rookies can put us over the top year after year. Veterans with ability leave for more money. Screw baseball.

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  5. Chris says:

    Given the way he plays with lineups, doesn't this chart really say that Maddon is consistently putting his absolutely worst guys in 7-8-9 slots? That he thinks there's some competitive advantage? What am I missing? Did three guys (Crawford, Pena, and Bartlett) really make all that much a difference?

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    • Beth says:

      Chris, all teams put their worst hitters in those spots. It's simple math -- you want your better hitters to bat more often, so they go first. So you are still comparing the Rays worst hitters to other teams' worst hitters.

      And of course three guys made a difference. Perhaps not so much Pena in 2010 (a bad year for him). But when only 9 guys bat, if you switch out three and replace them with guys hitting 20-40 points higher, or with significantly more power, that's the difference between first place and third place, easily. Keep in mind that the Rays rarely get blown out of games -- they lose by one or two runs. So you don't need a huge sea change in their lineup to make a big difference in W-L.

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  6. Des from Durham says:

    Hey Rays fans, there is lineup help right here in Durham from Yours Truly, as I've passed flavor of the month Guyer is almost every meaningful offensive category. Plus, after watching the Yankees run circles around the Rays, I can add some stolen base potential back into the Rays offense, something painfully lacking from the 2011 team. Good obp, some power, great sb%, great glove. Why in the world am I not up and 15 of my teammates have played for the big club aready this year? BJ is afraid of getting Wally Pipped, so no "sore hamstrings" for Bossman Jr. so far this year.

    I'll even learn to drink vino with Merlot Joe if that is what it takes.

    http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?sid=milb&t=t_ibp&cid=234

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    • Rob says:

      Not that it keeps others from playing, but you do strike out once every four at bats. That's the only reason I can think why you are still down there.

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      • Rob says:

        Let me clarify - the only baseball performance reason. I'm sure the Rays are concerned about the clock ticking once you come up.

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        • Rob says:

          If you did come up Des, this is what I would do:

          Damon (DH)
          Zobrist (SS)
          Kotchman (1B)
          Longoria (3B)
          Joyce (RF)
          Upton (CF)
          Rodriguez (2B)
          Chirinos (C)
          Jennings (LF)

          Throw them out there everyday and see what happens. Just the fact that Shoppac and Bringac/Johnson aren't playing is an improvement. I know that is four righties at the bottom of the order, but who cares! They can't be any worse than the current bottom of the order.

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          • Des from Durham says:

            Des feels a playoff check coming if we could get that lineup in place . . .

            My strikeout rate, while not great, is better than what Upton has given these guys for 5 years, no? My OBP would make me a nice lead off hitter against teams that don't defend the stolen base well, either.

            But I'll bat anywhere and do anything to be a Ray. I'll even be Jim Hickey's designated driver if that's what it takes.

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    • Tom says:

      Hey Des,
      What meaningful offensive category have you passed Guyer in? I see you have 2 more HR's, 1 more triple, 4 more SB's (with a much better SB%) and plenty of more walks but he still has you beat in OBP and Slg.

      That being said I would still take either of you over what we have in LF right now.

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      • Des from Durham says:

        HRs, total bases, runs scored, stolen bases and we are very close in obp because I am a walk machine. Different players, to be fair. We both should be up, but if it comes down to it, I should be up first because I am what the team desperately needs -- speed at the top of the order with some pop and a decent obp.

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  7. It is a wonder the Rays have been competitive for so long, with what they have.

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  8. Jay says:

    Great stat on the pitchers. As depressing as it is, it is funny

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