Getty Images

The 2022 MLB regular season is more than three months old and the All-Star break is next week. Before you know it, the trade deadline will be here. There's still half a season to play, but several important dates are coming up, then it'll be time to get into the dog days of summer and the postseason races.

With that in mind, our weekly series breaking down various trends across the league continues Wednesday with a look at one contender failing to do the little things, the latest post-Pittsburgh breakout pitcher, and one team's pursuit of home run history. Last week we looked at Matt Olson chasing 60 doubles, the Giants' poor defense, and ex-Rangers having success with the Padres.

Rays failing at the little things

Although they currently occupy a wild-card spot, it's fair to say this has been a disappointing season for the Rays to date. They won 100 games last year and went to the World Series the year before, yet here they sit on July 13 with a 47-40 record. They're on pace to win 87 games, which would be their fewest in a non-pandemic season since going 80-82 in 2017.

The Rays have certainly been hit hard by injuries. Wunderkind Wander Franco will miss two months or so following wrist surgery, plus others like Brandon Lowe, Manuel Margot, and Mike Zunino have missed considerable time. Those injuries have taken a few wins off the club's ledger. So too have Tampa's shockingly poor fundamentals. They've been very mistake-prone.

These last few years the Rays have been among baseball's best teams because they're talented, first and foremost, and also because they excelled at the little things. They ran the bases well and played great defense, and seemed to get into the heads of their opponents with aggressive play. The Rays were more than the sum of the parts.

This year, the Rays aren't doing those things. They're not a great defensive club and they run into way too many outs on the bases. A few numbers:


Baserunning runs (per FanGraphs)

+11.2 (5th in MLB)

-0.2 (15th in MLB)

Extra-base taken rate (first-to-third on a single, etc.)

47% (1st in MLB)

44% (9th in MLB)  

Outs made on the bases (doesn't include caught stealings)

45 (16th-most in MLB)

44 (most in MLB)

Defensive runs saved

+72 (4th in MLB)

+9 (19th in MLB)

Outs above average

+32 (3rd in MLB)

+5 (10th in MLB)

The Rays have gone from being an elite baserunning and defensive team to closer to the middle of the pack. Those advantages on the margins, the things that made Tampa so dangerous in the past, aren't there this year. And yes, the Rays have made one fewer out on the bases this year than they did all last year. Look at the players who've made the most outs on the bases in 2022:

  1. Jose Altuve, Astros: 10
  2. Yandy Díaz, Rays: 9
  3. Randy Arozarena, Rays: 8
  4. Josh Bell, Nationals: 7
  5. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays: 6

Again, that doesn't include caught stealings. Those are outs on the bases when, say, the runner tries to advance on a pitch in the dirt or stretch a single into a double. Those kinds of things. The Rays give away too many outs on the bases and those are rally killers. They're deflating, they kill rallies, and they give the defensive team new life.

"It just can't happen. It's got to stop," Rays manager Kevin Cash told the Tampa Bay Times about his team running into outs this past weekend. "... It's collectively on all of us. We've got to do a better job on the bases.''  

We could even pile on and make the case Tampa's problems with the little things extend to instant replay challenges. The Rays are only 9 for 25 in replay challenges this year, or a 36.0 percent success rate. The MLB average is 48.6 percent. All these tiny little things the Rays were so good at in the past just aren't there this season, dragging the team down. They no longer terrorize opponents on the bases or steal away hits in the field.

The Rays are fighting for a wild-card spot rather than contending the division title because their offense is averaging only 4.17 runs per game, ranking 22nd in baseball. Last season they were second in baseball with 5.29 runs per game. That offensive decline plus the baserunning and defensive issues are a recipe for a big step back in the standings. The Rays are still very good, but they are lacking the elite fundamentals that have been their hallmark the last few seasons.

Kuhl the latest post-Pirates breakout

Chad Kuhl
COL • SP • #41
View Profile

The last few years have not been kind to the Pirates when it comes to pitching. They've watched several arms leave Pittsburgh and immediately level up elsewhere, sometimes looking like entirely new pitchers after a midseason trade. Gerrit Cole is the gold standard for post-Pirates success, but there's also Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove, etc.

We can add Chad Kuhl to the list. The 29-year-old righty spent several years as a middling starter with the Pirates (he missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery) and Pittsburgh cut him loose last offseason after a move to the bullpen didn't take. In parts of five seasons with the Pirates, Kuhl had a 4.44 ERA (seven percent worse than average) and a 4.61 FIP (nine percent worse than average)

The Rockies, another organization not exactly known for standout pitching development, signed Kuhl to a one-year deal worth $3 million soon after the owner's lockout ended, and while he hasn't achieved the heights of Cole or Morton or Musgrove, he's enjoying a career year thanks to a change in approach. Specifically, Kuhl is using a sinker has his primary fastball after leaning on his four-seamer so much with the Pirates.

Chad Kuhl is using his sinker more than in recent years. Brooks Baseball

"I was really adamant about his fastball and where that needed to be. More down than up," Rockies manager Bud Black, a longtime big league pitcher himself, told the Denver Post in May. "I think his stuff is better when it's down, with movement. Then he can elevate the fastball with certain hitters, in certain counts. His breaking pitches were very sharp but not commanded to the point that he needed to in order to win consistently."

Four-seamers up are still en vogue (Cole and Glasnow have used them to great success since leaving the Pirates) but sinkers are making a comeback (Holmes has broken out thanks to his sinker) because hitters are adjusting to high heat, and sinkers run under their swing plane. Almost everything in this game is cyclical. Pitching down was the thing to do for a long, long time. Then pitching up became cool and successful. Now the game is shifting back toward pitching down.

"I kind of fell into that trap," Kuhl told the Denver Post. "Sometime in '17, I started to throw harder and went from this sinkerball guy to somebody that tried to (pitch) a lot up in the zone. It was the sexy thing. But for me to live up there, it didn't make much sense."  

Thanks to the new sinker-heavy approach, Kuhl owns a 4.02 ERA and 4.29 FIP this season, and while those numbers don't jump out at you, remember he is pitching in Coors Field. Once adjusted for ballpark and the league run-scoring environment, Kuhl's ERA is 14 percent better than average and his FIP is league average, which is quite a bit better than his Pittsburgh years.

Two weeks ago Kuhl threw the game of his life, tossing a three-hit shutout against the high-powered Dodgers at Coors Field. It was the 27th single-pitcher shutout in Coors Field history, and only the second since 2016.

The Rockies are 39-49 and eight games out of a postseason spot, so it is no surprise then that Kuhl's name has started to pop up in trade rumors. He is a rental and by no means is he a star, but he looks like a solid mid-rotation starter right now, and those guys can be very valuable in a postseason race. Kuhl represents an upgrade at No. 5 starter for most teams. The Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Mariners come to mind as postseason hopefuls that could use an upgrade at the back of the rotation.

For now, Kuhl is the latest pitcher to blossom after leaving Pittsburgh. He's not Cole or Morton, but he is a solid starting pitcher, and solid starters will run you $10 million a year in free agency, if not more. Kuhl's post-Pirates breakout came at a good time too, right as he approaches free agency. He'll likely find himself with a contender after the trade deadline and with a few more zeroes in his bank account this offseason.

Yankees approaching back-to-back homers record

The Yankees own baseball's best record thanks in part to their home run prowess. The Bronx Bombers lead baseball with 146 home runs, 10 more than any other team (the Braves are the only other team with more than 125 homers), and Aaron Judge leads baseball with 30 homers. Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton are also top 10 in MLB with 22 homers apiece.

Thanks in part to those three, the Yankees have hit back-to-back home runs 13 times already this season. That's one short of the franchise record set in 2009, and five short of the MLB record set by the 2001 Mariners. Last week the Yankees had two sets of back-to-back home runs in a single game, and two weeks ago they hit back-to-back homers in both ends of a doubleheader.

As you can see in the video, two of the 13 sets of back-to-back homers have come against position player pitchers (Ernie Clement on July 2 and Josh VanMeter on July 6), so the Yankees are definitely padding their stats a bit, but position player pitchers are a full-fledged strategy now, not something teams do as a last resort. Those back-to-back homers against position player pitchers are a function of the opportunity created by blasting the opponent's actual pitchers.

Thirteen sets of back-to-back homers in 87 games means the Yankees are doing this once every 6.7 games, so about once a week, on average. There's no real skill to hitting back-to-back homers (the skill is being able to hit homers, not sequencing them together) so this is a fun statistical footnote more than a repeatable skill. One more set of back-to-back homers ties the franchise record. Six more in the final 75 games sets a new all-time record.