Confident in core, Rays look to fix offensive woes

Confident in core, Rays look to fix offensive woes

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andrew Friedman isn't exactly sure what happened to the Rays in 2014, but the executive vice president of baseball operations is already looking under the hood to make sure things are right heading into '15.

Friedman addressed the media during a Tuesday news conference at Tropicana Field that included Rays manager Joe Maddon.

Whatever happened to the Rays in '14, Friedman noted: "I think it's on all of us."

In other words, players, coaches, the front office and the manager all share the blame for a campaign that did not meet expectations.

Long before the final out of the season was recorded in Cleveland, the offense stood out as the area most needing to be addressed in the offseason. And that was the area most discussed by Friedman Tuesday.

On the whole, offense was down around Major League Baseball in '14. The average number of runs scored per game came in at 4.07, which ranked as the lowest average since 1976 (3.99). The league batting average was .251 -- the lowest since '72 (.244), the .386 slugging percentage was the lowest since 1992 (.377) and the 0.86 home runs per game figure ranked the lowest since 1992 (0.72).

"Obviously offense is down throughout the league, a very suppressed run-scoring environment," Friedman said. "So we have to look at it differently. We have to come at it with as fresh of a perspective as we can so we can to figure out how we can put ourselves in the best position to score more runs than we allow.

"... If we score 200 runs and allow 160, it doesn't matter. It's about that balance between the two and putting yourself to be in position to be playing competitive games in September.

While offensive numbers were down throughout baseball, the Rays' offensive numbers were a notch below.

The Rays scored just 612 runs, the lowest total in club history, placing them last in the AL and 27th in the Major Leagues. Perhaps most telling was the fact the Rays led the Major Leagues with 1,193 runners left on base, making them the first team to lead the Major Leagues in left-on-base and have a team batting average under .250 since the 1969 Giants.

"We weren't bad at all in terms of creating opportunities," Friedman said. "We just weren't nearly good enough at converting. And so we're going to spend a lot of time at getting into both aspects of that and making sure that we feel like we can put together a 13-man offensive group that can create enough opportunities yet also convert enough to be really good. It's hard to put your finger on exactly."

Despite the accrued numbers that led to the club's 77-85 record, Friedman allowed that as far as "our core players," the Rays feel "really good about the guys that we have."

Thus, he said the front office will scrutinize what happened in '14 to become more informed as they look forward to '15. That translates to looking at players as individuals -- what they bring to the table -- and how they complement each other. That will lead them into an examination philosophically of offense in general and toward the changes they feel they must make.

The Rays also suffered a power outage in '14. That lack of power was particularly noticeable at Tropicana Field where the Rays hit just 51 home runs, which tied them for the third-lowest home total in the Major Leagues.

"[Power is] one area that certainly came in below than what we expected," Friedman said. "We expected that we would have greater power production than we ended up having. And just like everything we're going to do when reviewing the season, none of it is to make excuses. We're all disappointed with what happened this year. But it's really important to get into each thing specifically to appreciate as we look ahead to inform us going forward about how to make the best decision.

"So looking back, certainly an area that we underperformed from what we expected. And look ahead to a scenario where we need to do a better job of having more power in our lineup."

Though the Rays had a down year offensively, the pitching proved to be outstanding as personified by the 22 staff shutouts, which were the most by an AL team since the '72 Athletics. And Rays starters pitched to a 3.48 ERA, the sixth-lowest ERA by an AL team in the past 25 years.

Still, the ball just seemed to bounce the other way for the Rays in '14. And, in Maddon-speak: "It was just an awkward year."

According to Friedman, "every offseason takes its own life form," and he stressed that he and his cohorts will be doing their due diligence to make sure that '15 does not become a repeat.

"We feel that we have the core talent in place to be really, really good next year," Friedman said. "And now we need to spend time kind of tweaking the roster and focusing on different aspects of it to put ourselves in a position to break camp next year with a realistic chance of playing competitive games in September. And as I sit here right now, I feel really confident about our ability to do that."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.