Earlier this morning I stumbled on this article by Ted Keith over at SI, and found one particular paragraph of particular interest:
Their Pythagorean record, which projects a team's wins and losses based on the number of runs it scores and allows, suggests that the Rays should have the second-best record in baseball, with five more wins than they do right now, yet instead they have the worst disparity between projected and actual performance in the American League.
One could go two different directions with this information; one, there is no reason why with such a high Pythagorean Theory that the Rays can't rebound from a slow start and still reach their originally perceived potential, or, two, the Pythagorean theory fails to factor in the fact that last season's bullpen played above themselves and their subsequent return to earth this season.
So let's do exactly that and look at both sides of the coin:
Argument 1: Several anomalies have prevented the Rays from living up to their supposed potential, and they will rebound from said anomalies in order to reach their Pythagorean Theory projection.
The Rays' stats help make this argument for me; they have a slew of players at or near the league lead in BA (Jason Bartlett .370), RBI (Evan Longoria 55), home runs (Carlos Pena 17), and steals (Carl Crawford 34), so if these trends continue the team can't help but win more games. The Rays have also played fairly well against their two biggest division rivals New York and Boston (10-8), but have played down to the level of some lesser opponents (i.e. Cleveland (3-5)).
This info coupled with the idea that the Rays have suffered a bad case of the injury bug; Aki (out for the season), Bartlett (2-3 weeks), Burrell (2-3 weeks), Longoria, and those who were mentally injured; Scott Kazmir (2-6 weeks (estimated)), and Troy Percival (potentially retired) leaves you wondering exactly how they (the Rays) have managed to even hover around the .500 mark at all.
Optimism, stats, and Pythagorean Theory combined make it hard to argue with the fact that the Rays won't still right the ship, but only time will tell. One thing we know now though is that the time for the turn-around is running thin, and the opportunity for the Pythagorean theory to prove its' relevance is fading fast.
Argument 2: The bullpen was the determining factor in last season's success and their shortcomings will be the undoing of this season's expectations, Pythagorean Theory be damned.
This train of thought basically says that all those offensive stats mean absolutely nothing if the guys out in the 'pen can't finish opponents off, and anyone who was a fan of the Rays pre-2008 can attest to the truth behind this theory. Life as a fan of a team who shows time and again that no lead is safe is pure hell, and with a few shining exceptions so far this season it looks like the patchwork 'pen isn't going to come close to the success they ran into last season.
Not all the blame can fall on the shoulders of the bullpen either, though. The inconsistency of the starting rotation has put the bullpen into some fairly hairy situations so far this season, and has caused them (the bullpen pitchers) to be overused or stretched thin during several stretches this season. A starting rotation that once looked like the envy of the AL East has looked like a shell of its former self and has already been shuffled in Kaz's absence, and looks to be shaken up again due to Sonny's lack of consistency and Price's promotion.
It's been said a million times in the past and here's number one million and one: the three most important things in baseball are; pitching, pitching, and pitching, so unless Upton, Longoria, Pena, and Burrell can all hit 50 homers the pitching would have to drastically improve in order for the Rays to compete, and the opportunity to reach their Pythagorean Theory potential (or minimize the disparity) is unobtainable due to the fact that it neglects to factor-in the unforeseen drop-off in pitching both from the rotation and the 'pen.
Which will it be? Which side of the fence do you fall on? Can the Rays reach their Pythagorean potential or no?