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Rays' offense needs to get going -- quickly

@juanctoribio
August 3, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- After Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Orioles -- the Rays' fifth straight -- manager Kevin Cash said that they have to credit opposing pitchers, but that the club wasn't "thrilled" with its approach at the plate. During the 0-5 road trip, the Rays' offense scored just 14

ST. PETERSBURG -- After Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Orioles -- the Rays' fifth straight -- manager Kevin Cash said that they have to credit opposing pitchers, but that the club wasn't "thrilled" with its approach at the plate.

During the 0-5 road trip, the Rays' offense scored just 14 runs and was never really in control of putting together a big inning. The biggest inning was a three-run eighth on Saturday against Baltimore, but that was aided by a couple of defensive miscues by the O's.

Through 10 games, the Rays are tied for 10th in the Majors in runs, though a 14-run outburst against the Braves accounts for nearly a third of the 46 runs scored. Tampa Bay is 23rd in the Majors with a .210 batting average and ranks 22nd with a .671 OPS.

Though the surface stats indicate that the Rays' offense has struggled, let's take an even deeper look at why the Tampa Bay lineup has gotten off to a slow start in 2020.

Exit velocity
As a team, the Rays have been struggling to hit the ball hard. On Friday against the Orioles, the Rays had an average exit velocity of 80.1 mph, the lowest since the start of the 2018 season.

Last season, the Rays had just two games with an average exit velocity of 82.5 mph or less. Through 10 games this season, the Rays have four, doubling last year's total. Tampa Bay's exit velocity over the last 10 games is 83.3 mph, which is lower than any 10-game stretch last season.

While exit velocity doesn't always tell the whole story, a player with a higher exit velocity is more likely to find success. Last season, of players with at least 150 at-bats, the Rays had 12 players with an exit velocity higher than the league average of 88.2 mph.

Though in a limited sample size this season, of players with at least 25 at-bats, the Rays have just eight batters with an exit velocity higher than the league average. Tampa Bay also only has five players with a hard hit percentage above the league average. Last season, of players with at least 150 at-bats, the Rays had 13 players above the average.

Yandy Díaz and Mike Zunino have had the biggest dropoff. Díaz's average exit velocity is 86.6 mph this season, down from 91.7 mph last season. As for Zunino, his average exit velo is 85.9 mph, down from 88.4 mph a year ago.

Getting Austin Meadows back in the lineup should give the Rays' offense a boost. Meadows is scheduled to return at some point during the upcoming homestand, even as early as Tuesday's game against the Red Sox. Last season, Meadows finished fifth on the team with a 90.4 mph average exit velo.

Swing and a miss
The Rays are seventh in the Majors with 92 strikeouts. Why? Swings and misses on hittable pitches.

Tampa Bay has 200 swings and misses this season, which is third in the Majors behind the Braves (227) and Tigers (211). Most surprisingly, however, is that 104 of those swings and misses have come on pitches inside the strike zone.

Through 10 games, the league average on whiff percentage is 24.4. For the Rays, only Díaz and Joey Wendle are below the league average. Ji-Man Choi is leading the way with a 38.8 clip, which ranks in the seventh percentile, and is on pace to be the highest of his career.

The luck factor
While most of the Rays' offensive numbers are concerning, even with a small sample size, they have also dealt with some bad luck to begin the season.

Tampa Bay has seven players with a batting average under .200, but five of them have a much higher expected batting average. Kevin Kiermaier, for example, has a .200 average to start the season, but his xBA is .304, which would be the highest of his career.

Yoshi Tsutsugo has the next highest xBA at .276 despite hitting just .200 in his first 34 plate appearances in the Majors. On the other side, Choi and Zunino haven't experienced much bad luck despite hitting well under .200. Zunino's xBA is .085, which ranks in the bottom one percent of the league. Choi's xBA is .133, which ranks in the bottom five percent.

There's still time for the Rays to turn things around, and they believe they will. In reality, there's no reason to panic over a poor 10-game stretch. But in a 60-game condensed season, 10 games is a big chuck of the schedule.

The Rays' offense will have to get going -- and quickly.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.