As the end of the 2012 season approaches for the Tampa Bay Rays, it has become time to look into who the Most Valuable Ray has been this season. The Rays have had quite a number of excellent individual performers over the season, but one player has seemingly been more important to the Rays success than any other in 2012.
Early in the season, Zobrist struggled, with a batting average as low as .189 on May 4th. Since that time, he has perhaps been the best hitter in the Rays lineup this year of any player with over 300 at bats, posting a .271/.378/.471 batting line, with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs. He had nearly as many walks (95) and strikeouts (101), and helped to shoulder the offensive burden when injuries ravaged the lineup throughout the middle of the season. After beginning the season playing primarily at second base and right field, he took over as the Rays shortstop due to the continued offensive struggles at the position. Zobrist has actually acquitted himself well there, playing solid defense while continuing his offensive production.
Keppinger, meanwhile, has been exceedingly valuable with his versatility. Originally platooning at second base, he moved over the third after the injury to Evan Longoria before getting injured himself. He went back to third after his injury, then began playing more at first base when Longoria returned. Despite the positional changes this year, Keppinger is hitting .328/.371/.444 with 9 home runs. His batting average would lead the American League if he had sufficient plate appearances. Not bad for someone that most teams seemed to consider a platoon player before this season.
Third Place: David Price
David Price has had a phenomenal season, going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA and 205 strikeouts and only 59 walks in 211 innings of work. These numbers alone merit consideration for the Cy Young Award, but Price has been much more than that for the Rays this year. With the first half struggles of James Shields and the injury to Jeff Niemann, Price was a rock in the rotation. He was also a stopper for the Rays, as the team was 11-4 in games he started following a loss. After flashing his potential in 2010 and 2011, Price appears to have finally taken that next step towards becoming a bona fide staff ace.
Second Place: Fernando Rodney
Rodney has had, literally, a season for the ages. Signed off the scrap heap after turning in two seasons that were mediocre at best, he has posted a 2-2 record, 46 saves, and a 0.61 ERA. Rodney has allowed a total of five, yes five, earned runs all season. He has allowed only one (ONE!!!) over his last 42 appearances. In 73.1 innings, he has walked 15 batters while striking out 74. While the bullpen was continually imploding at the start of the season, Rodney continued to excel, providing desperately needed stability to a relief corps that was in a continual state of flux over the first month of the season. Rodney has also implanted himself firmly in the discussion for the AL Cy Young Award, giving the Rays two legitimate contenders for the award. Normally, this would be enough for the MVP, and would have been, if not for….
First Place: Evan Longoria
Even though he has played in only 71 games this season, no player has had more of an impact upon the fortunes of the Rays this season than Longoria. He has produced his usual solid offense, batting .285/.363/.498 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs in 263 at bats. Aside from a rough patch at the start of the season, he has provided typically solid defense at third. Yet, his true value lies much deeper than his statistics indicate. With Longoria in the lineup, the Rays are 44-24. Without him, they have gone 44-47. The offense scored approximately 3.5 runs per game, as their production plummeted without Longoria’s powerful bat in the lineup.
Evan Longoria has likely had more of an impact upon the fortunes of the Rays this year than any other player. As such, it is fair that he be recognized as their Most Valuable Player.