And the Rays Team MVP is …September 23, 2008 at 1:34 am | Posted in Baseball, My Cards, Rays | 1 Comment
One of the amazing things about the great season that the Tampa Bay Rays are having is that they really are a team with no superstars. They don’t have a single hitter batting .300 or better and none of their pitchers has won more than 13 games. The bullpen has been terrific, but the closer (Troy Percival) has been wildly inconsistent and sports an ERA of 4.74. Almost every key player has spent time on the disabled list at some point, including: Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Troy Percival, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, and Jason Bartlett. Through it all, the team just keeps winning. There seems to be a different hero for every game. It is one of those rare times in sports where every player truly cares more about the team’s success than his own.
It was within this context that the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America was tasked with selecting the Team MVP.
If you just look at the statistics, Carlos Pena would seem like a good choice. He has a .378 OBP with 31 home runs and 100 RBI despite being on the D.L. for almost all of June. You’d also have to consider this year’s Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, who has 25 home runs and 82 RBI after spending most of August and September on the D.L. Both would be good choices, but neither were chosen as Team MVP. It might surprise you, but this years Tampa Bay Rays MVP is:
Shortstop Jason Bartlett.
If you’re not someone who watches the Rays regularly, it is probably hard to understand why Jason Bartlett was deservingly selected as MVP. His offensive numbers don’t jump out at you: .282 batting average, 1 home run, 34 RBI, 20 stolen bases. But to an avid Rays fan, Bartlett is clearly the right choice. Here’s why:
- The Rays won when Carlos Pena was injured, and when Evan Longoria was injured. They haven’t missed Carl Crawford. They were fine without Kazmir and Garza in the starting rotation. But, there was one player who they really missed. Remember when the Rays lost 7 games in a row and fell out of first place right before the All Star break? That was when Jason Bartlett was on the D.L.
- Bartlett is simply a spark plug. He sets an example by hustling on every play and he’s the first guy to congratulate a teammate when they’ve made a great play. Coming from outside the organization, he’s had a tremendously positive influence on his new teammates this year.
- Bartlett is clutch. When he comes to the plate in a crucial situation, Bartlett always comes through.
- The reasons for the Rays’ drastic improvement this year have been pitching and defense. Amazingly, the Rays offense will likely finish the season having scored fewer runs than they did in 2007 when they had the worst record in all of baseball. But they will give up almost 300 fewer runs than in 2007.
Bartlett has had more to do with the success of the pitching and defense than anyone on the team. Shortstop is the most important defensive position in baseball. Julio Lugo was an average defensive shortstop when he was with the team. In 2007, the tandem of Brendan Harris and Josh Wilson was awful defensively. Then they acquired Bartlett, who is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game. The guy is like a vacuum cleaner out there. His range is out of this world. If you hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield against the Rays, you’re going to be out. Bartlett has played a huge rule in improving the team’s defense.
As a result, a countless number of balls that would have been base hits last year are outs this year. And that has led to the magnificently improved pitching. Not only is the defense making more outs for the pitching staff this year, but they have given them the confidence that balls in play will turn into outs. In the past, The Rays’ pitchers thought that they needed to strike everyone out, which caused them to throw more pitches and walk more hitters. Now they know that they don’t have to be too perfect, and the fielders will do their job behind them.
Here’s my collection of Jason Bartlett autographed cards. Most of them show him with the Twins, the team that foolishly traded him away (along with Matt Garza) to get Delmon Young and his 9 home run power: