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10 numbers that need to go in the Rays’ direction this season

ST. PETERSBURG — You were cool with the Tyler Glasnow trade. Been around long enough to understand the rationale.

And you have reluctantly accepted that Wander Franco won’t be popping out of the dugout anytime soon. You were at peace with the back-to-back-to-back elbow operations last year that forced a reshuffling of the 2024 starting rotation, including the loss of All-Star Shane McClanahan.

You barely even blinked when outfielder Jonny DeLuca broke his hand during a spring game against the Red Sox a couple of weeks ago. And now Taj Bradley has tweaked some muscle, Josh Lowe has pulled another and Jonathan Aranda went and broke a finger.

All in all, the Rays could potentially arrive at Tropicana Field on Thursday without 15 of the 26 players who were in uniform for opening day last season. If you’re wondering how that should make you feel, you might consider this:

Optimistic.

No, this is not the best version of the Tampa Bay Rays. Probably not as strong as last season, and hopefully not as dynamic as next season. But if recent history has taught us anything, it is that the Rays usually are prepared for unexpected glitches. Since 2019, only the Dodgers have had more seasons with a .600 winning percentage.

Here, then, are 10 numbers to pay attention to in 2024. If Tampa Bay is on the correct side of most of these numbers, you can start plotting what October will look like at the Trop.

.591

That was Tampa Bay’s winning percentage against right-handed starting pitchers last season. And that was aided by a balanced lineup that included three left-handed hitters (Brandon Lowe, Josh Lowe, Luke Raley) and three switch hitters (Franco, Taylor Walls, Francisco Mejia). Raley has since been traded, Franco is incommunicado, Josh Lowe, Walls and Aranda are starting the year on the injured list and Mejia could be back in Triple A. That puts a lot of pressure on Richie Palacios to pick up the slack as a left-handed-hitting utility player.

194

The Rays set a franchise record with 194 stolen bases in 2009. They could flirt with that record in 2024. With the new runner-friendly rules, the Rays went from averaging 96 stolen bases per season (adjusted for COVID in 2020) from 2019-22, to 160 stolen bases last season. Siri, Arozarena and Josh Lowe are all capable of 30 stolen bases or more. Amed Rosario, if he gets enough at-bats, could steal 20-25.

59

That’s how many games the Yankees won last season without Gerrit Cole on the mound. They were 23-10 (.697) in Cole’s starts and 59-70 (.457) in every other game. With Cole missing at least the first month of the season with an elbow injury, that could dramatically weaken New York in the AL East.

.373

At the time he was traded to the Rays last July, Aaron Civale had a batting average on balls in play (BAbip) of .243, which was Shohei Ohtani/Corbin Burnes territory. When he got to Tampa Bay, his average on balls in play jumped to .373. The rest of Civale’s numbers (better strikeout rate, lower walk rate) indicated he was pitching as good as ever. That suggests he had horrible luck with batted balls finding holes in Tampa Bay. If his BApip returns to his career average of .283, good results should follow.

230

When the Rays won 100 games in 2021, they hit 222 homers. When they won 99 games last season, they broke the franchise record with 230 homers. That is not coincidental. Can Tampa Bay reach the 220-230 level for home runs again in 2024? It won’t be easy. Raley, Franco and Christian Bethancourt combined for 47 homers last season, and those are now out the door. Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, Isaac Paredes, Josh Lowe, Siri and Harold Ramirez all had career highs in homers last season. Tampa Bay better hope that wasn’t a fluke.

.652

Baltimore was remarkably good in one-run games last season with a 30-16 record for a .652 winning percentage that led MLB. Some of that, no doubt, was due to an outstanding bullpen. But baseball history says there is also some randomness when it comes to a team’s record in one-run games, and the Orioles could see a regression. That would obviously be good news for the Rays.

177.2

When the Rays gave Zach Eflin a three-year $40 million deal, there was some concern about his ability to stay healthy. Between 2016-2022 he went on the injured list 10 times with knee, shoulder, back and other problems, missing more than 300 games. In his first season with the Rays, he made a career-high 31 starts for 177.2 innings. Considering McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs all start the year on the injured list, the Rays need Eflin to give them a minimum of 150 innings.

31

The bullpen was clearly a strength for Tampa Bay in 2023. And, yet, the Rays had 31 blown saves, which was tied for the fourth most in the majors. Some of that is due to Tampa Bay using its bullpen more than most teams. Even so, the Rays need to cut down on that number.

25

According to the Fielding Bible (via Fangraphs) the Rays were 11th in the majors with 25 defensive runs saved above average last season. That’s not bad, but it’s not anywhere close to Tampa Bay’s longstanding reputation as defensive wizards. Now, advanced fielding statistics can vary wildly depending on the system used, and teams employ their own version of metrics. But, even based on the eye test, the Rays need to up their game defensively in 2024.

627

That’s the number of days between Shane Baz’s last big-league appearance and opening day. Coming off Tommy John surgery, the Rays want to limit Baz’s innings total, so he’s not going to be active on opening day. But, at some point in 2024, the Rays will need Baz to rescue a patched-up rotation.

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