Before the season, every projection system known to mankind was wildly bullish on the Tampa Bay Sun Rays. PECOTA led the way, forecasting the Rays to win 89 games and allow 220 fewer runs than last year.
A few analysts have balked at the predicted run prevention, citing how few teams in history have lopped 200 runs allowed off their total from one season to the next. Joe Sheehan is the latest.
I know it's usually not smart to expect teams to flout historical trends, but let me pose a hypothetical example. A team--we'll call them the Mephistopherays--wants a complete overhaul. They change the team nickname, the uniforms, and trade every single player on their team away, starting from scratch with an entirely new lineup and pitching staff.
Should we be surprised if the new team bears little statistical resemblance to the old one? Certainly not. While they're still the same franchise, the new players can be expected to perform like they have in the past, not like the guys they replaced.
Now, that's an exaggeration, but it's not completely different from what Tampa has done. They've added Matt Garza, Troy Percival, and Dan Wheeler to their pitching staff, ditching some dead weight along the way. They've completely overhauled the defense, getting rid of some legendarily bad gloves and replacing them with superior ones. The guys they did keep include Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford, two above-average fielders.
Most teams don't improve by 200 runs allowed, but most teams don't go through that kind of overhaul. It would be silly to expect an infield of Brendan Harris, Josh Wilson, and B.J. Upton to improve by 50 runs defensively over last year. The Rays aren't doing that. They're hoping Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria can be 50 runs better than the guys they ousted, and that's not so unlikely at all.
As Sheehan points out in the article, the Rays are on pace to allow 654 runs this year. They won't do that--April scoring always lags behind the other months, and the league as a whole is scoring fewer runs than expected this year--but I'd be surprised if the number exceeds 750. And while I don't think Tampa will keep up their current 93-win pace, I'd be surprised if they don't win 84.