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MLB playoffs 2020: Scouting that didn’t stop at the stats fuels Tampa Bay Rays’ success

MLB playoffs 2020: Scouting that didn’t stop at the stats fuels Tampa Bay Rays’ success

Chemistry is a word often scoffed at by many baseball analytics people because there is no way to quantify what it actually means or what it offers. But when you speak to Major League Baseball players who have won a World Series, it’s a word often mentioned by those it affects the most — the ones who share a clubhouse.

In a Champagne-drenched clubhouse last year, Max Scherzer was one of several Nationals players who was quick to heap praise on Gerardo Parra — who had been signed by the club in mid-May when the team was struggling mightily — signaling his unifying personality as one of the primary reasons for the Nationals’ turnaround after Parra arrived.

“He brought so much joy,” Scherzer said. “He reminded us all to relax and have fun playing this game.”

The Tampa Bay Rays are among the smallest of small-market clubs, yet they are on the verge of earning just their second trip to the World Series. They have long embraced their formula, mostly because they can’t cover many flaws with a checkbook. Yes, analytics play a significant role in the Rays’ success, something you see by their high number of defensive shifts around the diamond and their popularizing the frequent use of the opener on the pitching mound. But their success is also built on by what happens when the players are all together, which is pretty much every day for hours at a time.

“When we acquire a player, as much work that goes into what he can do on the field, there’s that much on the personality and character,” manager Kevin Cash said. “That’s where scouts come into play and word of mouth comes into play. Getting to know and having relationships throughout the game that you can find some pretty crucial information about how’s his personality. We know we have enough information about how those players can match on the field, but how do they match in the clubhouse?”nfl jersey cheap wholesale china3

Almost out of necessity, the Rays have always been a magnet for the discarded. In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros, Tampa Bay’s starting lineup featured seven players who had been acquired via trade. Only Brandon Lowe and Kevin Kiermaier were original Rays draft picks.

Over the course of the past five years, the team payrolls of the Rays have ranked 28th in MLB twice (including this season), 29th once and last at 30th another two times. Their prorated player payroll this season was $28 million, nearly $100 million less than that of the Yankees ($113 million), whom they eliminated in the ALDS. Yet the Rays’ 40 victories in 60 games was second only to the Dodgers’ 43 wins and their $105 million payroll.

Talent is an obvious must for Tampa Bay to do what it has done over the past dozen years — which includes eight winning seasons — but it’s that culture inside the clubhouse that resonates so much with the ones most affected, the players.

“I think what makes us good is the mentality, how easy it is to come here and play,” said Tyler Glasnow, acquired from Pittsburgh along with 2019 All-Star Austin Meadows in exchange for Chris Archer during the 2018 season. “I think so many of the players here are not necessarily guys that other organizations have given up on, that’s not the right word for it, but they’ve been given a chance here and everyone comes out and plays their heart out. I think they can kind of do what they want with lineups because everyone is so on board with winning. It’s just a perfect storm, I guess.”

The roots of the Rays’ success can be traced to when the franchise hired someone who had never been a big league manager, the nomadic Joe Maddon in 2006. He immediately brought in a counterculture of perspective.cheap nfl jerseys wholesale china

“Joe started that thinking when I was there,” said veteran left-hander David Price, a member of the Rays from 2008 to 2014. “The first thing he told all of us was to be yourself. If you wanted tattoos or piercings, go ahead and get them. I loved it there. Culture absolutely matters inside the clubhouse, one hundred percent it does, and I don’t care what anyone else says about that. It takes chemistry to win, there’s no way around that. Players know this. I’m very happy for what they’re doing. A little piece of me is still in Tampa.”