A good friend likes to mention that year after year the Rays have failed to live up pre-season projections at the plate. He likes to allude that Derek Shelton is the reason for this and that the Rays should be actively searching for a replacement. I just happen to have the preseason projections from three reputable sources (Zips, CAIRO, PECOTA) and over last winter I set about making a composite form of all three. When you get three different perspectives you'll generally end up with one optimistic, one pessimistic, and one more realistic. When you combine all three your composite should end up being closer to reality than any of the three projection systems.
This isn't just theory. I looked at all hitters with 100+ PA in 2012 and used a statistical tool called Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) to compare the batter's actual wOBA to each of the projection systems wOBA and the composite's forecasted wOBA. Here's how each performed:
The hypothesis bears out with the Composite projection having the least amount of error, though ZIPS is not far behind. PECOTA trails further back and CAIRO is well off the pace. The purpose of all this is to build confidence in you, the reader, that this Composite projection is reliable and suitable for comparison with actual results.
I put this up on Twitter yesterday, but had not realized how fast the plagiarists can move in this day and age. The below chart shows actual plate appearances, wOBA, and weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA). It then goes on to show what the Composite projected wOBA was and then uses that figure and actual plate appearances to output an expected wRAA (xwRAA) compared to the league average .315 wOBA for 2012. Lastly, I looked at the difference between expected and actual (dwOBA) where positive numbers show the batter out-performing expectations and negative numbers showing the opposite. I did the same for the actual and expected wRAA figures (dwRAA). Without further adieu, it's time to start running:
Who loves you and who do you love, indeed. Overall, the Rays underperformed their expected wOBA as a team by .006 points. With that number of plate appearances to those particular players we would have expected a .323 wOBA and instead got one of .317. This gap might not sound like a lot, but it's the difference between roughly 12 runs above average (actual) and roughly 43 runs above average (expected). That 31ish run gap is close to 3.5 wins and the Rays fell short by three wins so you can understand some of the frustration. It's not all doom and gloom as Zobrist and Keppinger outperformed and vastly outperformed, respectively, projections. You can throw all the catchers in there as Gimenez, Lobaton, and Molina did better than expected, and Elliot Johnson was another nice surprise. Longoria might not have played as much as we'd like, but even he outperformed his already lofty expectations.
The issue comes down to the guys that failed to live up to projections, particularly those that were well below where you would have expected. Upton and Jennings were below, but not by a ton. Joyce was even further to the left on the continuum matching Fuld and Guyer (7 big, fat PAs for the chaperone). Guys brought in like Francisco, Conrad, and Roberts were well below what you would expect in mostly small samples, but welcome to the AL East, they country strong round here. The other guys that were brought in, the ones before the season even started show to be a real anchor, however.
The Rays brought in Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, and Will Rhymes for a bunch of money, a lot of money, and almost no money, respectively. Luke was expected to have a .328 wOBA which would have been good for 4 wRAA at his actual number of plate appearances. Instead he put up a wOBA of .310, good for -1.5 runs in actuality. A swing of 5.5 runs from expected to actual. Rhymes wasn't brought in to mash as evidenced by his .297 expectation, but he fell well short having a wOBA of .260 another swing of 4.5 wRAA from what you would hope to get and what actually walked through the door.
The last guy is the real doozy, however. When you couple lofty expectations with abject failure you're usually staring at a pretty wide gap. Well Los was expected to put up a wOBA of .344. If he did that then he'd be contributing just over 15 runs to our offense. Close to two wins in this modern, lower scoring environment. Instead he went out and put up a line of .306 actually costing the team 4.7 runs for an actual spread of 20 runs, or over 2 wins. In fact, if you take Pena out of the entire equation, we start to see a team that underperformed, but not nearly as badly:
Without Pena we now see that the Rays actually scored 16.6 runs above average while being expected to be at 27.5. This is still a difference of basically 11 runs, but that amount is much smaller than the 31 that we saw with Pena falling all over himself. You'll also notice that the wOBA difference is now down to .002. This is a very small difference with Ryan Roberts (-8.4 wRAA), Sean Rodriguez (-7.9 wRAA), Luke Scott (-5.5 wRAA), Will Rhymes (-4.5 wRAA), and Matt Joyce (-4.5 wRAA) as the most disappointing players.
It's easy to throw blame around that Derek Shelton is the prime cause of an oft inept lineup, and yes the Rays did under-perform relative to projection, but the bulk of their shortcoming came from veteran players that were brought in to aid the offense and ended up treating any good fastball as if it had AIDS. I'd like to see Mr. Shelton finish out his contract, though I think he should be open to being more flexible with his philosophy. Instead of trying to mold every batter into a power and patience machine there should be some guys like Keppinger that are given free reign to go after a pitch if they feel that they can do something with it, even if it's not the exact pitch and spot that he was looking for.
Shelton will probably oversee a worse offensive performance next year as Upton leaves and whether Keppinger stays or goes he shouldn't be counted on to hit this well. I'm sure plenty will look to blame him for an offense that doesn't score 4 runs, at a minimum, every game, but that's all part of having a thankless job.