The incredible collective performance of the Rays’ pitching staff has been a popular topic of discussion as of late. Everyone seems to agree that Pitching Wins Championships because that is what some grizzled old guy in West Tampa told them once.
I don’t know if pitching actually wins championships or not. I do know that we wouldn’t be flirting with another October run without this pitching staff. But here’s the thing, is it possible that the Rays pitching staff is also responsible, even just a little bit, for the Rays stunning offensive struggles?
Crazy right. I pitched this idea to my lovely wife about a week and a half ago and she shot it down on takeoff. She thinks it’s ridiculous. So, I write this under a cloud of suspicion.
Nevertheless, the thought came back last night while watching Peyton Manning command a huddle. Peyton is one of those athletes that commands his teammates’ respect. But, his teammates are also a little afraid of him. They know he’s good. They know he is going to hold them to a high standard. But, most importantly, they know that falling out of his favor is a death knell because management is always going to take his side.
Can you say the same thing about our pitching staff? Can you say it about any single member of our pitching staff? Isn’t it possible that the Rays’ pitchers are just too nice?
The starters — the cornerstones upon which the entire franchise is built — seem like an incredibly friendly bunch. David Price is certainly the team’s clown prince. He is the leader of all thing fun-and-games that makes the Rays perfect for sports. James Shields is also just as likeable. Check out the dugout cutaways most nights, Price and Shields are sitting together leading all the pranks. The rest of the rotation is comprised of mice. Talented pitchers, and nice guys, but less than intimidating personalities.
The bullpen is similarly vanilla. The vast majority of the Rays’ relievers are journeymen that rarely have the ability to intimidate major leaguers and JP Howell, the long-term presence down the right-field line, is an admitted clown.
That leaves just Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth. Both have the scowl but neither seems particularly interested in being anything other than one of the guys.
Why does any of this matter? It might not. But the Rays have lost an astounding 11 games in which this pitching staff held the opposing offense to 1 run or 2 runs. Isn’t it possible that this can be explained by the pitching staff’s odd combination of talen, success, and personality?
Think about it from the perspective of the Rays’ hitters. Most of those 11 losses have been littered with wasted opportunities with runners in scoring position. That can be explained by a lack of focus in key situations. The Rays hitters know that their pitching staff is likely to hang up another 0. They also know that a poor at bat with RISP, followed by a ‘my bad’ in the dugout, will likely make everything ok with the laboring staff. So, why would they press?
Isn’t that little bit of fear necessary? There is a fine line. Too much fear and everyone starts resenting the team leaders. But a little fear might be the thing missing from the Rays clubhouse.
Is this crazy? Can I both compliment the Rays for not taking themselves too seriously while also chastising them for not being serious enough? Is my, gulp, wife right about this theory?