The Tampa Bay Rays made headlines yesterday by setting the American League team record for strikeouts by a pitching staff when they surpassed the mark of 1,266 set by the New York Yankees in 2001. While they are extremely unlikely to reach the Major League record of 1,404 strikeouts compiled by the Chicago Cubs pitchers in 2003, their accomplishment is still very impressive nonetheless. To me, what makes the Rays’ pitching success particularly noteworthy is that most of this year’s biggest strikeout contributors were drafted and developed by the very organization they helped set the AL record with.
As a whole, Rays pitchers have combined to strike out 8.41 batters per nine innings pitched this season — the best figure in the American League. Not to take anything away from the two National League teams ahead of them, as both the Brewers (8.64) and the Phillies (8.49) have an impressive collection of pitchers in their own right, but it’s a little easier to rack up extra strikeouts in the senior circuit with all the throwaway at-bats from the opposing team’s pitcher. To make matters even more difficult for the Rays, they play in a division that features some of the fiercest competition in the game. Compare that with the Brewers, who routinely play teams like the Cubs and Astros, and you hopefully see where I’m going with this. Basically, the bottom line is that Tampa Bay pitchers are really good.
Consider the fact that the Rays feature six homegrown pitchers with K/9 rates above 8.0 this year: Jake McGee (11.8), Wade Davis (11.0), Matt Moore (9.0), David Price (8.7), James Shields (8.5), and Jeff Niemann (8.1). It’s fitting that Shields, the most experienced of the Rays just listed with seven full seasons at the Major League level under his belt, would be the one to get the record for his team by striking out Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia in the second innings of last night’s game.
Joining Shields, Price, and Moore in the rotation are fellow homegrown starters Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb, giving Tampa Bay an entire rotation of talent they developed exclusively from within. With the exception of Shields, the eldest of the bunch is Price, who just turned 27 less than a month ago. This is an extremely young group of starting pitchers who should only to continue to get better as they grow together, and it all but ensures Tampa Bay will never be far from competing for a playoff spot.
It’s not like these pitchers are just piling up the strikeouts in a meaningless manner, either; the rest of the numbers will attest to the fact that these pitchers are a very talented group, one that should be the envy of almost every team in baseball. On the season, they rank fourth in the Majors with a combined 19.8 WAR, second in FIP (3.61), second in ground ball percentage (47.8%), and seventh in home runs allowed per nine innings pitched (0.89). They also rank near the top third in walks per nine as well, coming in at 2.93. In other words, Tampa Bay pitchers are doing a little bit of everything, they’re doing it in the game’s toughest division, and they’re doing it largely with players they groomed all by themselves.
It probably isn’t going to be enough to get them into post-season play in 2012 due to no small amount of bad luck — the team’s plus-93 run differential is easily tops among all AL Wild Card contenders. Considering the franchise hadn’t seen more than 70 wins in a single season until 2008, however, it’s obvious their recent effort to build from within is paying dividends wonderfully, and with group of pitchers, it should continue to for some time into the foreseeable future.