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2006 DRaysBay Awards

Introduction

Over the past month, you have spoken. On October 13th, as part of the plan for the ill-fated Season in Review series, I began the first annual DRaysBay Awards, a compilation of numerous awards to be voted on by the fans to honor those performers who served the team well for the previous year. Obviously this year, the choices were very limited.

The awards are the first of their kind for the Devil Rays online community. Never before had we the opportunity to mass collectively and vote for the people we thought deserved recognition. Sure the Tampa Bay BBWAA has their four awards, but they are limited and are closed to the fans. What we wanted to do here was give every Rays fan an opportunity to vote for the outstanding performer in a variety of categories across the spectrum. Fans would not only be voting for on-field choices, but also for awards dedicated to the media covering the Rays, and other awards signifying the Best Moment and Best Transaction. I unveiled the awards on October 13th, and for the past month, you have been voting for the award winners.

Rest assured, the awards were not forgotten about, and we are ready to crown the winners here. I consider the awards a great success, we had very good voter turnout in all of the categories, and certainly enough to give the awards a ring of credibility. I am very proud of the concept, so much so that I plan to bring them back next year with better organization and a few improvements. Nonetheless, this was a great start, and I thank all of you that participated.

This is kind of a long article with a fairly large table detailing the winners, so you will see all of the winners along with a brief bio of the winner after the jump. Congratulations to all who won.

Happy Birthday

Before we delve into the awards head-first, I just want to go ahead and wish Rays DH Jonny Gomes a Happy Birthday for Wednesday. Hopefully Gomes' 26th year in existence is better than his 25th, in which he got off to a hot start but then encountered a shoulder injury that made him ineffective for most of the season before finally forcing him on the DL at the end of the year. But here's wishing Jonny a happy 26th, and we hope that he will return to mashing the baseball next year for us, with a healthy shoulder.

Player Awards

Team MVP

The 2006 regular season left little doubt about which Devil Ray player was most valuable to his team, and Devil Ray fans affirmed that lack of doubt in overwhelmingly naming Rays LF Carl Crawford as the team's 2006 team MVP. Crawford finished with 66% of the vote, while Scott Kazmir and Ty Wigginton finished a distant second and third place, respectively. Also getting votes were Rocco Baldelli and Greg Norton. Crawford continued to climb the ranks of stardom, surviving the Rays' midseason trade purge and being a constant all year. He hit .305/.348/.482 over the course of the season, all career highs, while stealing 58 bases, which was one off of his career high. Crawford absolutely took off in 2006 after a record five hit game in Toronto in late May in which he scored five runs and hit two home runs while collecting four stolen bases and eight total bases. He absolutely took off after that on the way to fifth straight season with improvement from the last across the board. Especially key to Crawford's success this year was newfound patience at the plate. He upped his walk total from the previous year by ten despite 34 fewer plate appearances. His improvement meant increased trade interest, and rightfully so. Crawford is a bona-fide star who will continue to improve. His future looks very bright.

Pitcher of the Year

In terms of uncertainty, the competition for Pitcher of the Year made the MVP race look like a nail-biter. Scott Kazmir absolutely ran away with the Pitcher of the Year award, garnering 83% of the possible vote. Very far behind in second place with 6% was Jamie Shields, while Ruddy Lugo received 4%. Mark Hendrickson, Shawn Camp, and Jae Seo each received 2% of the vote; however this award clearly belonged to Kazmir. The Rays ace lefty made 24 starts in compiling a 3.24 ERA. He was injured for most of the last two months, ending any reasonable hope of a Cy Young run (that and Johan Santana), but nonetheless, his improvement since the 2005 All-Star Break has been remarkable. Had Kazmir kept his strikeout rate for 16.1 more innings, he would have qualified for all the pitching titles and would thus have finished in first place in the majors, by a pretty sizable margin, in strikeouts per nine innings. He also improved his walk rate, and although his home run rate saw a bit of a rise, he was without a doubt the best Rays pitcher in 2005, due not only to merit, but sheer lack of competition. Still, he should be the ace of this staff for many years to come.

Roberto Hernandez Award

This award, given to the team's best relief pitcher from 2006, was a little bit tighter of a choice, but still one that was won by a solid margin. Ruddy Lugo took home the cake this year with a stellar season in his rookie campaign, drawing 44% of the vote to Shawn Camp's 24%. Seth McClung finished in third place with 11%, while Brian Meadows and Travis Harper garnered 6% of the vote. Token votes went out to Dan Miceli, Jon Switzer, and Tyler Walker. It was a deserved honor for Lugo, who made the team as a complete longshot out of spring training and became its most consistent performer. Lugo finished the year with a 3.81 ERA, succeeding by limiting the gopher ball and generally not being very hittable, to make up for a low strikeout rate and high walk rate. No matter the peripheral stats, Lugo got the job done in an otherwise terrible bullpen, and that is why he was honored with this award. Whether subsequent seasons bare subsequent success, only time will tell, but without Lugo the Rays' bullpen in 2006 surely would have been much worse.

Rookie of the Year

On a team with eight rookie performers in 2006, the voters certainly had a wide variety of faces to choose from. Thanks to the Rays' flurry of midseason trades, more rookies got more opportunities than ever before. However through all of them, one pitcher that predated the summer trades carried the torch for the team this year, providing a steadying influence in a starting rotation that sorely needed it. Although he was shut down late due to a high innings total, Jamie Shields withstood trade, demotion, and injury by other starters to produce a good season after being called up from Triple A Durham, and was thus honored with this award. Shields made 21 starts with the Rays, and although the 4.84 ERA he put up in that span isn't that great, he was hampered a lot by a mid-summer swoon in which his pitch selection became too predictable. On both sides of that six week slump, however, Shields was excellent. He finished the season with good peripherals; a 7.51 K/9 and a 2.74 BB/9. He struggled a lot with the longball, but as really the only rookie with a decent sample size of playing time and decent results, Shields comes away with the Rookie of the Year award, and a lot of hope for 2007.

Best Prospect

Despite a 50 game suspension, a September call-up, and a year that many describe as mediocre, or even disappointing, Delmon Young was voted as the Devil Rays' Top Prospect for 2006. I suspect that this is probably due to confusion about the award, so it will be modified in some respect for this year. The award was intended to be for the Best Year for a Prospect, but I think most people regarded it as the best overall prospect, which it was not intended to be. That is my fault, and it will be changed for next year. Nonetheless, the mistake award was won by Young, who had a rough year. In April, he threw his bat at an International League umpire in Pawtucket and was suspended for 50 games, and when he returned, he had a subpar season. Young ended up hitting .316/.341/.474 in Durham over the course of his season, and was then called up to the majors in late August, where he had a phenomenal debut series in Chicago and hit .317/.336/.476. He struggled with his plate patience, obviously nothing new, and was generally kind of disappointing for a top prospect. Yet despite the confusion for this award, Young's future looks good and he should be a heavy favorite for the Rookie of the Year award next year as he begins a (hopefully) long reign as the Rays' starting right fielder.

Biggest Surprise

The Rays had several strong contenders for this award, and it was tough for me to choose just one winner. I mean, after the midseason trades, can you imagine how bad this team would be without surprises? Alas, Ty Wigginton came out on top in the voting, winning 40% of the vote to 35% for Greg Norton. Jamie Shields got 14% of the vote, while Ruddy Lugo, J.P. Howell, and Jae Seo each got token votes. Wigginton led the team in home runs and RBI, while hitting .275/.330/.498. He seemed to come through in the clutch consistently all year for the Rays, and was a constant nearly all year for a team that needed it. All this from a player that came into the year behind Sean Burroughs for the third base job. He won, however, by coming to work and getting dirty, winning fans over with his hustle as well as his clutch production.

Media Awards

Paul C. Smith Award

Thanks to inconsistency at the Tribune and, well, Bill Chastain at DevilRays.com, Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times came away as the overwhelming choice for the Paul C. Smith Award that honors the top Rays beat writer in the Tampa Bay area. Topkin walked away with 51% of the vote, followed by Chastain at 15%. Token votes went to Carter Gaddis of the Tampa Tribune, Eduardo Encina, who worked for both Bay Area papers as Rays beat writer, Damian Cristodero of the Times, Dennis Maffezzoli of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Dawn Klemish of DevilRays.com, and Roger Mooney of the Bradenton Herald. Yet even despite the inconsistency across the Bay and the incompetence online, Marc Topkin would have made for a tough challenger any year. He will be entering his 20th year of covering baseball for the Times next year, and readers trust his experience with the Tampa Bay baseball scene, and his straight-shooting opinions in his weekly column. Having won numerous awards for his writing, Topkin continues to be the most trusted source for Devil Rays information. Says Topkin when informed of the honor:

"I'm honored to be chosen by your readers and touched that the award is named after Paul C. Smith, who was admired by many of us as much for what type of person he was as for the work he did."

Best Broadcaster Award

The Rays are lucky to have many great broadcasters calling the action day in and day out during the season. The TV crew has been with the team since day one, the radio crew does a great job and is coming up on their third season, and I can only assume the Spanish radio crew does well (No hablo Espanol). However, in the voting for the best broadcaster this year, the choice was clear. Receiving the winning total with 37% of the vote was former St. Louis Cardinals ace and TV color man Joe Magrane. He was followed in second by his play by play cohort Dewayne Staats, who had 25%. Rich Herrera of the radio crew finished in third with 17%, the TV team's Todd Kalas finished in fourth with 11%, while token votes went to the radio crew of Dave Wills and Andy Freed, as well as Spanish radio's Enrique Oliu. Magrane won because viewers loved his corny sense of humor, he made even the worst of games entertaining so that we always enjoyed the telecast, if not the outcome. The chemistry that viewers loved between Staats and Magrane was evident, as the two combined to take 62% of the voting. Says Magrane of the "honor":

Thanks for the feedback Rays fans. I hope you'll be watching next year when we try something different...speaking in complete sentences! Looking forward to '07, Best regards, Joe M.

David Bloom Award

The Bloom Award, so named for the founder of this blog and the original Rays blogger, is given out to the best writer in the Rays blogosphere. We are lucky to have several great choices, and I am flattered to have come out in second with 11 people having voted for me. And only one of those was my mom. Still the Bloom Award goes to Cork Gaines of Rays Index, who had a strong six month run at Rays Index before taking a hiatus following the conclusion of the season. Luckily he is back, posting twice this week. He finished in first with 33%. Finishing in second was Patrick L. Kennedy of DRaysBay (hey, that's me!), while a tie for third place was between R.J. Anderson, also of DRaysBay, and Jay Bradley of RaysBaseball.com. In a close race, Jim Wisinski, also of RaysBaseball, finished one vote behind the two of them, while Jake Larsen of DRaysBay finished one vote behind him. Sam Kilay of RaysTalk finished one vote behind Jacob, while Joe Aiello of Rays of Light finished behind him. It was a close race, and the diversity of the voting indicated that we have many great Rays bloggers to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but congratulations to the winner, Cork Gaines of Rays Index.

Other Awards

Best Transaction

In a year filled with many trades from new Rays General Manager Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, Rays fans had many choices to choose from for their "Transaction of the Year". In the end, however, the trade of Aubrey Huff to Houston for Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot came out ahead as the best transaction by Andrew Friedman of this past year. Coming in second was the trade of Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall to Los Angeles for Dioner Navarro and Jae Seo, and finished behind that was the signing of Ty Wigginton. The Julio Lugo trade, the Joey Gathright trade, and the Danys Baez trade got token votes. Still, the winner was the Huff trade during the All-Star Break, in which the Rays sent the franchise's all-time leader in many offensive categories to Houston for fan favorite Ben Zobrist and top pitching prospect Mitch Talbot. Great trade indeed. There were many deserving choices here that got Andrew Friedman the trust of most Devil Ray fans, and hopefully we see most of the prospects gained in those trades develop into productive major leaguers this year.

Best Moment

On the other hand, the Rays' 101 loss season last year left very little good to glean from the year. The losses started to pile up in the second half, leaving many a frustrating night for Rays fans. However for one week in early July, the Rays escaped that. The team won three of four from the Boston Red Sox at home in a series that made many a season. An overwhelming 87% of the votes had particular plays or games in that series as the top moment of 2006, with Scott Kazmir's complete game shutout garnering 46% of the vote. Carl Crawford's steal of home in that series took 41% of the vote. Also getting token votes was another play that came against Boston, Greg Norton's walkoff home run later in the year, while Crawford's 5 for 5 day in May at SkyDome also got a vote. Delmon Young's home run in his major league debut got one vote, and the back to back home wins against New York in the final home series got two votes. The consensus from this voting however? Rays fans hate the Red Sox, and they love when the team gives them things to cheer about in games (especially home games) against them.

2006 DRaysBay Award Winners
Player Awards
Category Winner 2nd Place 3rd Place
Team MVP LF Carl Crawford SP Scott Kazmir IF Ty Wigginton
Pitcher of the Year SP Scott Kazmir RP Ruddy Lugo SP Jamie Shields
Roberto Hernandez Award RP Ruddy Lugo RP Shawn Camp RP Seth McClung
Rookie of the Year SP Jamie Shields RF Delmon Young Two Players Tied
Prospect of the Year RF Delmon Young SS Reid Brignac 3B Evan Longoria
Biggest Surprise IF Ty Wigginton IF/OF Greg Norton SP Jamie Shields
Media Awards
Category Winner 2nd Place 3rd Place
Paul C. Smith Award Marc Topkin, SPT Bill Chastain, DevilRays.com Carter Gaddis, Trib
Best Broadcaster Award Joe Magrane, TV Dewayne Staats, TV Rich Herrera, Radio
David Bloom Award Cork Gaines, Rays Index Patrick Kennedy, DRB Two Nominees Tied
Other Awards
Category Winner 2nd Place 3rd Place
Best Transaction Huff to HOU trade Hendrickson to LA trade Ty Wigginton Signing
Best Moment Kazmir two-hitter vs BOS Crawford Steals Home vs BOS Back to Back Wins vs NYY