According to the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Jason Bartlett was the Most Valuable Player of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. According to most everyone else, he wasn't. Justin Inaz's Total Value Listing has him as the sixth most valuable... position player. Joe Posnaski detailed the case against him quite effortlessly here. So, what in the world did the local baseball media that no one else did?
Since I am not a mind-reader, I decided to look at the stats instead (I am far more adept at reading them then tealeaves, minds, or anything else of the psychic variety). Taking a look at Bartlett's year does not inspire great confidence in a team where he is the most valuable player.
At the plate he did not exactly set the world on fire. His slash line was .286/.329/.361/.690. The average AL short-stop posted a .266/.319/.375/.694. So, he was somewhere from average to below-average there. His wOBA was .318, good for a wOBA+ of 95. That is below-average. Over 600 PAs he would be worth -9.8 runs below average. These don't seem like MVP numbers.
When acquired from Minesota, Bartlett was considered a wizz with the glove who would not kill you at the dish. Well, he certainly didn't light it up at the plate, but he definitely did not seem to kill us with his bat. "How was his glovework?" you may ask. Well, according to every defensive metric I could find, it rates somewhere from average to below average. Sean Smith's Averaged Zone Rating Runs from STATS and BIS had him at +.2 runs, about average. He ranked 12th in the Probabilistic Model of Range on BaseballMusings.com. He ranked 19th for short-stops in the Fielding Bible's new rankings (down from 5 and 7 the two previos years).
Looking at Jason Bartlett's 2008, it is very, very hard to see why he was annointed team MVP. The difference between JoePos and others who grilled this selection and the TB BBWAA is the baggage involved at the SS position in Tampa Bay. This is the only explanation I can give for the selection.
Last year, for instance, the Rays trotted out five players to play short-stop: Josh Wilson, Brendan Harris, Ben Zobrist, Jorge Velandia, and Joel Guzman. This year that fearsome fivesome has started a total of 90 games at SS in the bigs, and three of them did not receive a big-league at bat. Perhaps they weren't big league short-stops last year.
Last year, the 5 of them rated out as one of the worst defensive short-stop groups in baseball. They were -18 in Sean Smith's Averaged Zone Rating Runs from STATS and BIS. Throw in the fact that they were as bad per 600 PAs as Bartlett (-9.67 RAA), and you can see just how bad this unit was. The SS position last year for the Devil Rays was worth about -30 runs. This year it was worth -9.6 runs. That is a huge increase.
This is the only explanation I can give for Jason Bartlett as team MVP. The other candidates were all here last year (and mainly put up better numbers) except Longoria. The upgrade from Aki to Longo was probably bigger, but not in the eyes of the TB BBWAA. I think they saw Bartlett as the symbol of the changing of the guard in Tampa Bay.