The Rays don’t have a single pitcher in the qualified top 30 on FanGraphs this year. Their best pitcher by fWAR ranks 46th overall out of every pitcher who threw in MLB this season.
That pitcher is old friend Tyler Glasnow, who had a 1.2 WAR.
Their offense was led by Brandon Lowe, who ranked 16th in fWAR among qualified players. He’s also the only player they have in the top 50.
This is not a team of stars. It’s not even a dominant team. They rank 9th in team offensive WAR and 8th in pitching WAR across MLB.
The one place they stand out is on defense, where they lead the league in defensive WAR, UZR/150, rank 8th in Plus/Minus, and rank 5th in Defensive Runs Saved (one behind the Pirates, who don’t fare well in the other categories.)
As a team, the Rays are good. They’re obviously good enough to make it to the World Series, eliminating some tough teams along the way.
But there’s nothing you can really point to individually to show why they are good.
It’s a bit easier with the Dodgers. They rank 3rd in offense, 5th in pitching, and rank at or near the top in Plus/Minus and DRS (while ranking lower in UZR and WAR on defense).
The Dodgers have the third best offensive player in the league in Mookie Betts. He’s trailed by Corey Seager, who ranks in the top 30.
Tony Gonsolin leads the pitchers, ranking 21st this year, but they’ve got Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias in the top 50.
For perspective, the top pitcher on the Rays would rank 4th on the Dodgers this year. The top two offensive players on the Rays would rank second and fourth on the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are the type of team you expect to be here. You can point to something to show why they’re one of the best in the league. A top offense led by an MVP candidate. A top pitching staff led by three pitchers in the top 50. Rating well on certain defensive categories seems more like the icing on the cake than a key feature.
The Rays are here because they’ve got a deep team. The Dodgers have nine offensive players with a WAR above 0.5 (which could be pro-rated to the equivalent of a 1.5 WAR in a full season). The Rays have eight offensive players above that mark. Those Rays players make up 9.4 WAR. The top nine Dodgers make up 12.7 WAR, or 9.7 WAR for the eight players after Betts.
Take away Betts, and the top eight position players on both teams had about the same value this year.
On the pitching side, the Dodgers had nine pitchers with an 0.5 WAR or better. The Rays had eight. The Rays pitchers combined for 6.5 WAR. The Dodgers combined for 7.7 WAR. Remove Kershaw and you’ve got two pretty even teams with their top eight pitchers.
It obviously helps that the Dodgers can afford Kershaw and Betts. That means affording Kershaw, even when he’s not the absolute best in the league, and affording the trade cost for Betts, and a long-term commitment to extend him.
But do the Rays show that you can still compete without those massive expenses?
And as Pirates fans, do the Rays give you hope that Ben Cherington can take the current organization and build a winner in this league with the right additions over the next few years?
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