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OK, the Rays don’t hit into double-plays on purpose. But it does appear that they hit into a lot of double-plays by design. It appears that groundballs are the new Moneyball stat for the Rays.

Much like OBP with the A’s in the book “Moneyball,” and defense with the Rays a few years ago, the Rays appear to have found a new (Moneyball) stat that may be undervalued by other teams, groundballs.

That is, the Rays appear to intentionally prefer hitters that hit more groundballs and pitchers that give up fewer groundballs.

So far this season, the Rays are third in the AL in double-plays grounded into (79) and yet they are dead last defensively with just 50 double-plays turned, 11 fewer than any other AL club and less than half of the double-plays turned by the Orioles (102).

We all know the Rays are good defensively, so there must be another reason.

So, why do the Rays hit into so many double-plays and turn so few? It may that the Rays are taking advantage of the turf at Tropicana Field.

Outside of Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford was the greatest offensive player in franchise history. He also hit into a lot of double-plays despite being a left-handed hitter with speed. The reason? He hit a ton of groundballs. The turf speeds up groundballs and may increase basehits. The downside is more double-plays. Meanwhile, flyballs are generally easy to catch.

Here is a look at the groundball rate for Rays hitters since the current front office took over in 2006. The key numbers here are from the last few years which may indicate a shift in focus by the front office.

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Notice that since 2009 the Rays batters have increasingly become more groundball oriented. That is especially true over the past two seasons.

But if groundballs are good for hitters they must be bad for pitchers. If that’s the case, the Rays would then prefer pitchers that give up fewer groundballs. Let’s take a look.

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Weird. From 2012 to 2014, the batters’ groundball rate went way up and during the same timeframe, the pitchers’ groundball rate went way down.

That can’t be a coincidence.

We don’t have amateur data to see if these are the type of players the Rays prefer in the draft. But we do have data for players added via the minors, trade, or free agency the last few years.

Here are the key batters added to the roster the last two seasons and their career groundball rate. Keep in mind that higher groundball rates may be better for hitters and the AL average groundball rate is about 44.5%…

  • Yunel Escobar, 54.5%
  • Brandon Guyer, 52.6%
  • Kevin Kiermaier, 50.5%
  • Ryan Hanigan, 48.9%
  • Wil Myers, 46.3%
  • David DeJesus, 45.2%
  • James Loney, 43.0%
  • Logan Forsythe, 39.8%

All of them have above-average groundball rates except for Loney (exceptional glove) and Forsythe (versatile defense).

But let’s face it. The Rays front office suits are the masters of pitching and it is that side of the ball where the Rays have excelled.

Here are the pitchers added over the last few years who pitched at least 20 innings over the last two seasons. Keep in mind, lower career groundball rates are better for pitchers under this theory.

  • Joel Peralta, 31.1%
  • Brandon Gomes, 32.0%
  • Jake Odorizzi, 33.1%
  • Grant Balfour, 35.7%
  • Josh Lueke, 38.5%
  • Matt Moore, 38.7%
  • Juan Carlos Oviedo, 39.1%
  • Alex Colome, 41.8%
  • Erik Bedard, 42.0% (33.9% this season)
  • Brad Boxberger, 42.2%
  • Cesar Ramos, 45.2%
  • Chris Archer, 47.2%
  • Fernando Rodney, 50.2%
  • Roberto Hernandez, 51.4%
  • Jamey Wright, 56.0%

The interesting names on this list are the last three, the three with the highest percentage of groundballs. Both Rodney and Wright were very important pieces and yet the Rays let both of them leave in free agency. Remember, Rodney signed with the Mariners for only $2 million more than the Rays gave Balfour and there was no indication the Rays even offered Rodney a contract even though he wanted to come back.

The other pitcher at the bottom of the list is Hernandez who was a disaster with the Rays.

Of course, the downside to more groundballs for hitters and fewer groundballs for pitchers is fewer home runs for the good guys and more home runs for the bad guys. On the offensive side, the Rays are 10th in the AL with 76 home runs and have just one player with more than eight (Evan Longoria, 11). Meanwhile, Rays pitchers have given up the 5th most home runs in the AL (92).

But if we can get past all the double-plays (for the bad guys) and the home runs (for the bad guys), the Rays seem to think this is a strategy that can create more wins. It hasn’t worked this season (yet), but a team like the Rays must think outside the box and that box may have produced the newest Moneyball stat, groundballs.

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4 Comments

  1. Drew says:

    Reading this, I immediately thought about balls in FOUL territory, as it has previously been discussed that the reason for Tropicana Field's pitcher friendly tendencies is partially (or mostly) due to its expansive foul territory. So I did some research on MLB parks and found the foul dimensions for 19 of the 30 current MLB stadiums. Tropicana field has the second largest foul territory of those 19, only behind Oakland (Oakland has an insane amount of foul ground - more than Yankee Stadium and Marlins Park combined). In addition to the artificial turf, more popups will take advantage of foul territory and create more outs.

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  2. Dave L says:

    How do they count line drives?

    Unless you have a Carew or Gwynn or a prime Ichiro you dont want your hitters hitting ground balls.

    The Rays have a collection of mosly mediocre hitters, the last thing you want them to do is hit alot of grounders.

    Unless you are Adam Dunn as a hitter you are trying to hit a line drive. Managers are always excusing the line drive atom ball to an infielder as a bad luck out on a well hit ball.

    Of course we want our opponents to hit grounders, they stay in the yard and with our shifts result in more putouts and DPS historically (if not in 2014)

    As to us 'trying' to hit more grounders? Thats not by design. I don't think you can make a virtue out of it.

    The goal is to hit line drives. The mistakes are ground balls and fly balls(unless they are homers).

    Look again at your Rays pitchers GB ratio. Which year is the anomaly? 2012 with the most grounders. That was the historic record low team low ERA led by Shields in his final year. Because offensive ground balls are relatively bad and always have been.

    Shifts have made ground balls even worse in recent years. And this is the first year shifting by our opponent has hurt the Rays offense as much or more than our own.

    Showing that the Rays hit too many ground balls is tone reason why we are performing so poorly, not because its by design.

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  3. David Spenn says:

    That's probably why we have trouble with RISP, opposed to teams scoring against us with RISP.

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  4. Chris Wise says:

    Does this mean the Matt Adriese, a terrific young pitcher in Durham, has no chance to get called up by the Rays?

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