CLEVELAND — The revival of the Rays offense didn’t originated from a threat-laced demand, nor a scream-filled session behind closed doors, or going actually old-fashioned, tables of food being turned over in the clubhouse for result and attention.
Rather it began with an observation by striking coach Chad Mottola. Which resulted in a discussion with supervisor Kevin Cash. That stimulated a deep-data dive by the personnel to offer confirmation. And, eventually, the structure for positive-framed interaction to resolve it with the gamers.
In attempting to find out why the Rays had such a fallow July, Mottola began considering things they had actually done so well over the very first 3 months of the season, when they roared through April at a record rate and sported robust numbers through June, balancing 5.63 runs a video game, striking .265 with an .801 group OPS in assembling a majors-best 57-28 record.
Then in July, they all went cold, balancing 3.62 runs, striking .216 with a .673 OPS, going 8-16.
Mottola began focusing on swing choices, particularly early in counts. Without sharing the specifics of their internal report, he stated the modification from April-June to July was plain.
“Long story short, we were getting too aggressive in certain counts,” Mottola stated. “And it was pretty black and white. So it was an easy message.”
How to provide it was very important. He didn’t summon the gamers for an unique session, nor produce a sophisticated discussion. Instead, at a late-July pre-series advance conference to review the challengers’ pitchers, Mottola informed them what they had actually been doing so well, how they had actually avoided it in going after pitches, and the effect it had.
He brought hard copies that revealed the cumulative distinction, and separately for those who asked. Extra copies were taped to the indoor batting cages as subtle suggestions, and still are, upgraded with the current information for gamers to see and compare.
“It was more count-based, more swing decision-based rather than result-based: ‘This is what we were doing earlier in the year, and this is what we need to get back to, and this is what we’re doing now,’ ” Mottola described.
Words, then action
The difficult part was getting them to change without losing aggressiveness in other counts.
“It’s almost more of a subconscious thought,” he said. “By no means go in there and be passive. That’s the last thing we want to do. But it’s balancing. If (our hitters are) leaving the zone very often, the league adjusts, and we need to adjust to those things back and forth.”
Of additional concern, the struggles — which more than coincided with facing well-armed teams such as the Phillies, Braves and Rangers — were spreading to just about all the hitters (except Yandy Diaz) and impacting their approaches.
“I don’t want to say you’re ever in the at-bat chasing the numbers … but you get a little too excited, trying to create the damage rather than sitting back and letting the pitcher,” Mottola said.
“I think that was more of human nature of getting a couple games of not getting those same results individually. And that’s real. When you’re having the performance that everybody’s having — the home runs and the runs scoring — and it goes away for a game or two, you start pressing. And, unfortunately, it stretched about a month long.”
It takes time
In asking the players to be more patient with their swings, the coaches and staff knew they had to do the same in expecting to see improvement.
“There’s information out there saying that we had changed from our first months of maybe expanding (the strike zone) on pitches in different counts, here and there,” Cash said.
“And I think Chad did a good job of kind of sitting the guys down, reminding them. And that doesn’t happen overnight. You can hear it, but it takes a little time for it to come together.
“But I’m happy that it did get through.”
That seemed to be the case, as the Rays in August averaged 6.08 runs a game, hit .281, averaged 1.4 homers and posted an .820 OPS. Plus, they hit a franchise single-month best .338 with runners in scoring position, compared to .197 in July.
Wear and tear
Plus, there was the “it’s baseball” aspect, the traditional knowledge which frequently shows real that the six-month length of the season basically requires there to be down extends, both separately and jointly.
And for much of the Rays players, that was July.
“It’s difficult to state precisely what (it was),” said veteran Brandon Lowe. “I think everyone understands we had a down month. But that’s just kind of what happened.
“With the season that we have and how long it is, and how taxing it is on the body, to say that we’re going to keep up the offensive numbers and production that we had for the first two or three months … just eventually you’re going to slump. You’re going to hit balls hard and you’re going to get out.
“It just so happened to happen to everybody the same time. But I think as we’re seeing, everybody’s kind of come out of it the same time as well. August (was) a good month, we’ve been playing good baseball, and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
A team effort
Mottola likes what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, with more of a team-oriented, pass-the-baton approach.
“You see guys not pressing in trying to do the job that at-bat,” he said “We’re accepting walks, we’re accepting getting deeper into counts. It’s one of those things that you see the exhale.”
As a result, the vibe, and the collective confidence, from early in the season is starting to come back. “A little bit,” said Jose Siri, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “It’s starting to feel like that.”
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