How does that old saying go? Raypril showers bring May regressions spurred by peripheral statistics? I'm sure I've messed that up somehow. Either way, unless you've decided to ignore April baseball altogether, you're likely aware that the Tampa Bay Rays are partying like it's 2008 and are off to a fast start. They're atop the AL East at the moment and there's no shortage of glowing pieces being penned about the reason for the Rays success. Like this one!
The Rays' 19-7 record is built on pitching, and lots of it. Tampa came into the week with the best team earned run average in the American League at 2.97, and the starting pitching has been particularly dominant with a collective 2.63 ERA.
The Rays' run differential is plus-70. For a bit of perspective, only three AL teams had a greater run differential than that for the entire 2009 season -- the Angels, the Yankees and the Red Sox -- and none of the three are particularly close to the Rays this year. In fact, the Angels and Red Sox both have actually allowed more runs than they've scored.
Wow, that is mighty impressive. But what Hickey, the author of that Fanhouse piece, fails to mention even once in his article is defense. FOR SHAME I SAY!
Now, you may be wondering why it would be necessary to mention that. Well for one, while the Rays may be leading all of MLB in ERA, they also sport the worst ERA/FIP differential in all of baseball to boot. The gap is over a run. In short, their starters aren't this good, but rather they're being boosted by some ridiculously good play behind them. Is it any coincidence that the Rays also lead the league in defense according to UZR? Doubt it!
Defense: it's the new hotness. Allowing average pitchers to overachieve since nineteen dickety two.