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A decade of tough Rays

The Yankees are set this weekend to battle the Tampa Bay Rays for first place. Undoubtedly, while a number of experts expected the Rays to be in the race for most of the season, few saw them leading the division through the first month-and-a-half. It could be that the Rays are playing a little above their collective skill-set right now, and the Yankees are continuing to get stronger as injured players return.

But there’s no guarantee the Yankees will be able to beat up on the Rays this season. In fact, over the last 10 years, the Yankees really haven’t played all that well against them, especially away. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. My dad loves to say that the Yankees always struggle against the Rays, and I never really believed him. But now that I’ve sat down and crunched the numbers, I’ve learned that maybe our elders do have some wisdom after all.

Overall Records:

New York’s all-time record against Tampa is 218-152, and you’d think that 58.9 winning percentage is a realistic record to keep against a historically awful team. But since 2010 the Yankees are just 85-83 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Basically .500. What!? Now sure there were a few mediocre Yankee teams in there from 2013-16 (though still above .500 clubs), but there were also 90+ win teams from 2010-2012 and 2017-18. And it’s not like the Rays have dominated this decade. They had a losing record during the middle of the decade with 90+ win teams in 2010-2013 and 2018. In fact, the Rays only finished ahead of the Yankees in the division twice since 2010.

To add further perspective, the Yankees are 88-86 against Boston since 2010, a consistently better team recently, including the two-game sweep of them earlier this season.

Home vs. Away:

One of the biggest struggles over the last decade for the Yankees has been Tropicana Field. The Yankees simply haven’t played well there in the last 10 years. Since 2010 the Yankees are just 36-48 at The Trop. That doesn’t bode all that well for this weekend. However, their home record of 49-35 is much better.

But if you sift back through the last 10 years, the Yankees only had a winning record in Tampa once: a 6-4 record in 2015. Otherwise, there’s one 5-5 record with other seasons ranging from losing records of 4-6 to 2-7. Alternatively, they’ve had three losing records in the last 10 years against the Rays at Yankee Stadium: 2010, 2013, and 2014.

Splits:

So where are the problems in Tropicana Field vs. Yankee Stadium? Let’s pick a few years where there were stark record differences and look at some numbers.

2012

In 2012 the Yankees were 6-3 against the Rays at home and 2-7 against them on the road. The 2012 team was the backend of what was left of the 2009 World Series run: a pretty good team that won the AL East and finished with a 95-67 record.

But while their OPS was .807 at Yankee Stadium, it was a paltry .668 in Tropicana, good for second to last among parks they played in. Well, that’s fair: Tropicana is a much more favorable park for pitchers, while Yankee Stadium is a top hitters park. But then you look at the pitching and the Yankees stunk there too. They pitched to a 3.67 ERA and 1.21 WHIP at Yankee Stadium – middle of the pack – but pitched to a horrid 4.72 ERA and 1.48 WHIP at Tropicana. It’s here you can see the difference.

The Rays pitched to a 2.81 ERA and 1.10 WHIP at home vs. a 4.32 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in New York. Their offense wasn’t anything special that season, hitting to a .694 OPS at home and an even worse .627 OPS in New York. The story here? The Yankees couldn’t pitch or hit well at Tropicana. And while the Rays couldn’t hit much either, they pitched much better at home.

2014

Let’s look at a year where the Yankees finished 5-5 away against the Rays, their second-best of the decade, and 3-6 at home in 2014, their second-worst home record this decade.

The Rays had a .802 OPS in Yankee Stadium that season vs. New York’s .706 OPS. They hit to a .684 OPS at Tropicana and the Yanks hit to an even worse .578 OPS. The Rays pitched to a 3.42 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in Florida vs. New York’s 4.16 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Meanwhile, they pitched to a 3.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in New York compared to the Yankees’ 3.66 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

So even though the Yanks finished .500 in Tropicana, they still struggled to pitch or hit well on the road, and their offense struggled to produce in New York.

2018

What about last year’s 100 win team? They were 6-3 at home against the Rays and only 4-6 on the road. The Yankee pitching splits were much more in line with the pitching/hitting friendliness of the parks: a 3.21 ERA and 1.10 WHIP away vs. a 3.93 ERA and 1.30 ERA at home.

The Rays also pitched well in St. Petersburg with a 3.23 ERA and 1.11 WHIP vs. a 4.32 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in New York.  The Yankees hit much better at home last season, with a .819 OPS at home vs. a .723 OPS at Tropicana. The Rays hit way worse at Yankee Stadium that season: a .609 OPS, but a little bit better than the Yankees down south: a .746 OPS. The difference here came down to home field hitting, and the Rays’ poor pitching in New York.

Specific Players

To further illustrate, there are a number of Yankees who continue to struggle at Tropicana Field. Brett Gardner, a career .735 OPS player, only has an OPS of .688 in Tampa. Aaron Judge has an OPS of just .605 vs. his career .961. Both Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez‘s batting average down there is just .182. Mark Teixeira had an OPS of .802, which is 67 points lower than his .869 career OPS.

A number of Yankee pitchers struggle there too for whatever reason. Masahiro Tanaka holds a 4.66 ERA down there. Luis Severino has a 3.46 ERA and 1.35 WHIP; higher than his otherwise typically dominant numbers. Hiroki Kuroda had a 6.00 ERA across 30 innings. CC Sabathia has a 3.68 ERA with a worse 8-9 record.

Takeaways

So what’s the takeaway? Well, the Yankees have often been outhit and almost always been outpitched by the Rays at Tropicana Field, while occasionally reciprocating that feat in the Bronx. Do they just hate playing in a dome? On turf? Well, that’s a point worth considering since their record in Toronto since 2010 is similar at 35-48. But it’s still a bit surprising to see the Yankees struggle against what was generally a worse overall team during the last decade. There’s always a little bit of home field advantage in baseball, but the Rays pretty consistently outpitched or outhit the Yankees in Tropicana during the last decade.

The Yankees first play the Rays at The Trop this weekend, so it will be another test for a team that’s faced a lot of adversity already in 2019.

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