A couple Rays of hope in Tampa Bay

Surprising to some, and maybe less surprising to others, the Tampa Bay Rays have found themselves solidly in the Wild Card hunt this year. While the late aughts and early teens brought the Rays success with superstars like Carl Crawford, James Shields, and David Price – who were all eventually priced out in one way or another – this team is finding success with some more unheralded players. While of course the “Extra 2%” teams (give Jonah Keri’s book on them a read) thrived with some bargain barrel pickups (Carlos Pena) and undervalued and post-hype prospects (Ben Zobrist), this is more of the vein the current team has used to find success.

Yet the starkest contrast between the two iterations of the franchise come simply in how they win games – defense and pitching was king the first time, but this time the Rays have turned into an offensive powerhouse. Coming in fifth in the majors in wRC+, the Rays are making the most of the (potentially) juiced baseball, and are using it to push for a playoff spot as we head into July.

Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson are 13th and 14th in fWAR so far, and it’s easy to tell that they’ve been huge factors in the Rays’ success this year. They’ve each increased their wRC+ by over 40 points, two of the absolute largest leaps in the majors, going from league average to elite studs who belong in the All-Star Game (and Home Run Derby!!!), but they’ve done it in different ways.




LoMo has already reached a career best in homers at 24, ten more than he hit last year, while even adding a bit to his average hitting over .250. What we’ve seen him do is start hitting everything into the air, taking his fly ball rate from 34.7% to 46.6%. He has maintained his 50% pull rate, but has started hitting even more to center, going opposite just 15% of the time. Pulled hits have more power, as well as fly balls, and it’s pretty easy to see here where the extra zing has been coming from.

Going a little deeper, he has also improved his patience at the dish. He took a decent 9.3% walk rate to an insane 14.5%. He did this by dropping his chase rates from an average 30% the past few years to a tame 25%. A guy who doesn’t chase and mashes fastballs into the air? That’s a pretty good combo.

Corey Dickerson may not have the gaudy counting stats Morrison has, but he’s been just as good of a hitter. But Dickerson has basically pulled the opposite of what we saw Morrison do, and instead of taking a traditional power approach by going fly ball heavy (as he is known and built for), Dickerson is pounding the ball into the ground over 40% of the time – only the second time in his career he’s passed that barrier (first time was his first 60 plus games in the majors), and highest career mark.

This has led to a hug increase in BABIP, from .285 to .366. This is definitely a high mark, unsustainable for just about any hitter, so some general regression for Dickerson is expected. But he has done a fantastic job spraying the ball around the diamond, being able to work through the shift that many teams love to employ against him. Below is the data graphically:

And, of course, numerically, Dickerson is actually going opposite more often than he’s pulling – 32.7% to 30.7%. That’s the eighth highest mark in the league, and while it might be argued lots of poor hitter are forced to adopt this strategy due to ineffectiveness, Dickerson is sandwiched right between Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera, which is okay company in any stat. This has allowed his average to climb to .318, being a threat every time he is at bat. But his calling card is bombs, and his strong frame has allowed him to still hit 17 out already.

While we’ve highlighted some differences, Dickerson has also improved his plate discipline, although more so in the strikeout department. He’s gone from 24.5% to 20.7%, right around major league average and a great improvement. This allows for still good contact success when his BABIP regresses, just like the spray angles.

But again, unlike LoMo, Dickerson has crazy chase rates. He chases 47.8%, up three points from last season. That’s almost double what Morrison chases. But his o-contact is 74.5%, one of the better marks in the league, and a reason he has been able to spray the ball all over. Look at his batting average heatmap:

While Dickerson is enjoying hot zones all over, down and away he’s just killing it. These are the pitches he has been able to shoot the other way to keep his average up, and a good amount are not in the zone. His ability to stretch down and get to those pitches while still maintaining more than enough power to keep pitchers honest has turned him from a good hitter into a lethal one.

Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison are both leading the Rays back into relevancy, although in different ways. But despite these differences, both have improved greatly as hitters and have become some of the best in the sport. They are a treat to watch, and have established themselves heading forward as more than solid.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.
James Krueger

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