As the Tampa Bay Rays sit by and wait for the winner of the Wild Card Game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to see who they’ll face in the ALDS, this seemed a good time to make several designations.
These designations are essentially awards that are team-specific for the Rays for the 2021 season. Unlike most teams, the Rays lack a truly standout player who dwarfs his teammates in production.
On the offensive side, there are two awards to be presented, one to the Most Valuable Player (MVP) and the other to the Rookie of the Year among position players.
For pitchers, the same breakout will exist for the Pitcher of the Year and the Rookie Pitcher of the Year.
Rays MVP Award for the Rays goes to Brandon Lowe
It seems odd to designate a player for that title when he had only a .247 batting average for the season. But Lowe’s 39 home runs and 99 RBI helped to give him a Runs Created total far higher than that of his top competitor, Randy Arozarena.
Lowe had a Runs Created number of 101.9 compared to Arozarena’s 88.6.
Many in the baseball world are in love with the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat, so we took a look at that, too. Again, Lowe was ahead of his main competitor, who again was Arozarena. Lowe’s 4.8 put him clearly ahead of Arozarena’s 4.2.
Lowe’s late-season flourish did not hurt his case, either. From September 20 through October 3, he hit .390 with five home runs and 14 RBI over 10 games. His spree included a three-homerun game against the Yankees on October 2.
No matter how we looked at it, Lowe was the top choice, and for that, we have named him the Rays’ MVP for 2021.
Rays Rookie of the Year goes to Randy Arozarena
There seems little doubt about the Rays’ Rookie of the Year for 2021, unless you wish to extrapolate a partial season into whole-season numbers. Arozarena, he of the massive 2020 postseason, played in 141 games for the Rays this season, hitting 20 homers while also stealing 20 bases. His .274 average and 145 hits (the most for an AL Rookie) also leads some to say he should win the award for the league.
The true heart-breaker perhaps is the case of Wander Franco. Franco played in only 70 games for the Rays and was off to a slow start at the major league level. But once he hit his stride, he was off to the races.
Franco posted a 3.5 WAR in only 70 games. From August 21 through the end of the season, Franco hit .343, with 35 hits in those 25 games. Had Franco played 162 games and maintained his pace, his WAR would soar to 8.1 and make him the odds-on favorite to win the league award.
That is in no way intended to diminish Arozarena’s contributions to the Rays, which have been tremendous.
Rays Pitcher of the Year goes to Andrew Kittredge
On the pitching side, it was very difficult to discern which pitcher was most successful, so the first thing we did was take Tyler Glasnow out of the running. Although he firmly established himself as the Rays’ new ace, he did not pitch again after suffering an injury in mid-June.
He ultimately ended needing Tommy John surgery, which is expected to make him miss the entire 2022 season. It was difficult to give the award to a pitcher who missed half the season, no matter how well he had pitched until his injury.
That left us with a choice between Shane McClanahan and Andrew Kittredge. It is not common to name a reliever as Pitcher of the Year, but Kittredge had a 9-3 record with a 1.88 ERA in 57 games, all but three out of the bullpen.
McClanahan stepped up and became the new ae of the staff when it was needed. The rookie went 10-6 in 25 starts, with a 3.43 ERA.
By a razor-thin margin, the Pitcher of the Year Award goes to Andrew Kittredge.
Rays Rookie Pitcher of the Year goes to Shane McClanahan
Fortunately for the Rays, other pitchers stepped up to capably fill the void. This included Shane McClanahan, the Rays’ Rookie Pitcher of the Year. The Rays were heavily dependent upon rookies this year, and that included McClanahan, who made his major-league debut during last year’s playoffs. For the season, McClanahan went 10-6 with a WAR of 1.6, easily putting him atop the Rays’ other rookie pitchers.
The focus now is on the playoffs. With a successful season behind them, the Rays must now look to the future and winning their first World Series. It will be interesting to see their final roster decisions for the ALDS.