Don’t Hit The Panic Button… Yet

It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays are off to a disappointing start.

Going into the weekend series in Boston, they boasted the league’s worst record, the 4th worst run differential, the 4th worst team batting average, the 3rd worst on base the worst slugging percentage, and so on. Coming out of the series, things don’t look any better.

It’s no wonder fans are disappointed. It’s no wonder the media laughs at them. I sure hope the Rays’ PR and social media staff get paid overtime.

But if you remember all the way back to 2011, the Rays got off to similarly disappointing start, and the sentiments were similar. They carried the same record 9th game of the season. Scoring 7 less runs than this year’s club though the same number of games.

Now, you’re probably thinking, that team had way more talent, right? Well, yeah, duh. But let’s remember a few things. Prior to that season, the Rays had just lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency. Matt Garza was traded, and the opening day starting lineup included Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac, John Jaso, and the shadow of Manny Ramirez. This was already a team that few believed in, and after an 0-6 (then 1-8) start, fans quickly bought into the nega- tive hype. That team went on to win 91 games, capping the season off in one of the most dramatic fashions in baseball history.

Am I making the argument that this is a playoff team? No, I’m not. But this team is not this bad.

So far, the 2018 Rays have played 9 games. All against the Yankees and Red Sox. While they’re not exactly the Astros, they do make up half of the American League’s 4 elite teams. While the Rays have made most of the games interesting, they’ve been, for the most part, overmatched.

How does that compare to 2011? They got swept by the Orioles in a 4 game series, swept in 2 by the Angels, and went on to lose 3 out of 4 to the White Sox. Those teams would go on to win 67, 86, and 75 games, respectively. None of them made the playoffs. There’s hope here, y’all.

With that said, let’s address the offense. It’s been bad. Strikeouts are barely down, contact has been weak, extra base hits have been scarce, and I can’t point to one hitter in the lineup who looks comfortable at the plate. What gives? Well, for one, we have to think that the Rays bats will wake up at some point. We finally saw in Sunday’s game what can happen when this team can string a few hits together.

There’s also the strength of schedule that I alluded to earlier. It hasn’t helped the Rays’ cause that they’ve had to play their first 9 games against the Yanks and the Sox, not to mention having to face Cy Young contenders in 6 of them. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

After this weekend, the Rays’ April schedule goes as follows:

3 vs White Sox

3 vs Phillies

3 vs Rangers

3 vs Twins

3 vs Orioles

Following another series against the Red Sox in the opening month’s last weekend, we get:

3 vs Tigers

3 vs Blue Jays

2 vs Braves

3 vs Orioles

3 vs Royals

So, the Rays, after a tough first 9 games, 9 of the next 11 series will be played against teams with sub .500 records in 2017.

Kevin Kiermaier will not continue to hit .094. Carlos Gomez will not continue to hit .161. Brad Miller, CJ Cron and Wilson Ramos will find their power strokes. Why? Because they have to. They’re professional hitters. In statistics, the regression to the mean, states ‘if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measure- ment.’ Believe it or not, this happens in baseball. Hot streaks are followed by cold streaks, and vice versa. In the end, good hitters will hit good, and bad hitters will hit bad. The pitchers will find their grooves, the defense will continue to take runs off the board.

In other words, this trend will not continue. If the Rays started 8-1 and everyone was hitting .450, there would be just as much reason to worry. When they do, in fact, regress to the mean, we could be looking at a pretty good run through April and May, a run that will silence the critics. A run that will bring the team, the front office, and the fans, back down to Earth.

If not, then we can go ahead and hit the panic button. But not before we see the results of this run. Not before May 20th. If nothing has changed, then we can panic.

But please, please, not before then.

This, is the extreme variable.

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