Rays improving at plate with two strikes
Maddon seeing results in moving runners behind in count
TORONTO -- With Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay ahead in the count, 0-2, in the first inning of the Rays' game on Monday, left fielder Carl Crawford didn't panic. He got his bat on the ball and tapped a grounder up the middle for a single.
That's exactly what Rays manager Joe Maddon likes to see from his hitters. For Maddon, one of the keys to Tampa Bay's success at the plate this year has been its ability to come up with hits with two strikes against them.
"Our two-strike batting average has been great," Maddon said. "I've been really looking at that because that's always been a point of contention with me in the past. I think if you really look into why we've been a better offensive club, as much as anything I really like the two-strike batting average."
Last year, Tampa Bay hit .260 as a team, with an on-base percentage of .260 and a slugging percentage of .422. This year, after getting out to a slow start to the season, the Rays' .357 OBP leads the American League and their .277 average and .465 slugging percentage are second only to the Yankees.
Since 2008, the figures with two strikes have risen from .182/.268./297 to .213/.293/.346. According to Maddon, that's a big reason for the Rays' improved offense.
"That's a really big deal for me, because the league average is .190," Maddon said. "We had guys who were .190 or less."
Maddon said he feels players have become too willing to accept strikeouts, and that it's important for them to be willing to make adjustments with two strikes.
"There's not a whole lot of concern about strikeouts. Well, I disagree with that. I think when it gets to two strikes you can be a lot more productive," Maddon said. "You get to that third strike -- move the ball. Even if you move the runner 90 feet, it gives us a better chance of scoring. I've always preached that, and we've gotten better."
The league average is .190, said Maddon, adding players don't want to choke up or make adjustments, thinking they would "rather strike out because it's more machismo. I don't get it.
"You're wasting these opportunities with two strikes by not being willing to make any kind of an adjustment. I don't get that, quite frankly. For anybody -- I don't care how big of a power hitter you are over there -- make an adjustment, man. Move the ball."
Maddon said Crawford and shortstop Jason Bartlett have been two of the players contributing the most to the team's numbers with two strikes. Crawford is hitting .269 in two-strike scenarios, and Bartlett an impressive .337.
"Carl's numbers are way up with two-strike batting average. So is Jason Bartlett. Way up."
Maddon also attributes the Rays' hot hitting to their ability to work the count and force pitches to throw a lot of pitches to each batter. He hopes the team's young batters will continue to see more and more pitches and hit with two strikes in the coming years.
"We're back up to four pitches per plate appearance, which I really like," he said. "I'd like to, over the course of the next couple of years, really set the standard with regard to our two-strike approach and put the ball in play while we're seeing the most pitches."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.