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Tampa Bay Rays need to strike out less or walk more

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Rays like to do the math.

And as they sift through statistical permutations and algorithmic anomalies looking for ways to improve their inconsistent and impotent offense, there is one basic equation that doesn't add up.

They either need to strike out less or walk more.

The Rays have been among the American League's top "fan clubs" even during their 2008-10 run of success, ranking first or second each of the three seasons in strikeouts. But they balanced that with free passes, ranking among the top three in walks each of those seasons.

But this season, not so much. While Rays hitters have struck out the second most in the American League, they've drawn the second-fewest walks, a significant decrease — down nearly 30 percent from 672 last season to a projected 478 — that is a major reason for their offensive issues.

"To our culture," manager Joe Maddon said, "it's very important."

Less clear is what, if anything, they can do about it because they say the drop-off is more the result of having different players than players doing things differently.

"Sure, I'm concerned about it," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned because of the fact that the number is so different.

"But … we're not talking about anything different or teaching it any differently. In fact, we're probably actually talking about it more because of the fact that we have to learn how to do it."

Part of the problem is the players they no longer have, veterans such as Carlos Peña, who was good for nearly 100 walks a season, and Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett, who drew about 50 each for the past two seasons.

And another is that in their place are less-experienced (and less-patient) hitters such as infielders Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac, who don't walk much, and outfielder Sam Fuld, who can but doesn't. Plus, opening day first baseman Dan Johnson wasn't and replacement Casey Kotchman isn't.

Stacking the numbers worse, several returning players, such as B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist and John Jaso, aren't walking as much as they have in the past.

Not coincidentally, the Rays are on pace for a nearly 17 percent drop in runs from last season.

"We scored so many runs last year, and a lot of that had to do with us getting on base via the walk. And we lost some of that culture, particularly with Carlos," Maddon said. "We don't have the same DNA we've had the past couple years with those big numbers."

Convincing young players, especially those battling for playing time, to walk more can be hard. Also a factor is an overall sense that many of the Rays' hitters, from Evan Longoria on down, are trying to do too much and pressing at the plate.

Maddon calls it patiently aggressive. Shelton prefers selectively aggressive. Either way, it's as much a matter of getting the hitters to swing at the right pitches as it is not swinging at the wrong ones.

"It's not as much about trying to get more walks. It's accepting the walks," Maddon said. "It's about not expanding your strike zone, about organizing your strike zone and making the pitcher come to you.

"When you permit the pitcher to throw to a wider plate by just chasing (pitches) — whether up, down, in or out — that makes them a whole lot better pitchers. And that takes away from our ability."

Said Shelton: "It's important for us to walk more, but it's more important for us to stay within our hitting zones and swing at the right pitches. And when we do that, the walks will come."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Walk this way

Rays hitters aren't walking nearly as much this season, and it's a big reason they're on pace to score a lot less than in the previous three. Here are their walk, strikeout and run totals, with league rank:

Year Walks Strikeouts Runs

2008 626 (2) 1,224 (2nd) 774 (9th)

2009 642 (3rd) 1,229 (2nd) 803 (5th)

2010 672 (1st) 1,292 (1st) 802 (3rd)

2011 183 (13th) 455 (2nd) 256 (9th)

Projected: 478 1189 669

Tampa Bay Rays need to strike out less or walk more 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 10:39pm]
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