Ninety wins; 90 wins if you prefer that aesthetic. Either way you write it, it’s gorgeous. In a season when the pundits were circling like sharks before the season, the Rays went out and posted their best win total since 2013.
It wouldn’t take much to convince most Rays fans that this season was the most invigorating since 2008, as The Future arrived in the form of a (likely) Blake Snell Cy Young; Willy Adames and Jake Bauers walk off homers; and the Rays reclaiming their spot atop Baseball Experiment Mountain. As such, we need to hand out some awards for the 2018 season.
Coach Jr.: Carlos Gomez
Man, this dude was so fun to have on the roster in 2018. He ended up being right around replacement level for the season (but hey, Steven Souza was below replacement level out in Arizona), but that’s not what this award is about. CarGo kept the mood light from day one with Spongebob walk-up music and seemingly an endless number of gif-able moments. If he wants to retire and become a bench coach for the Rays in 2019, I’d be ALL ABOUT THAT.
Mister Grit: Joey Wendle
Ugh. It kills me to admit it, but damn Wendle is the definition of gritty. There’s a fine line between battling against silly stereotypes and just obtusely ignoring the facts. We here at DRB have had the battle in 2018, and the consensus is in: Joey Wendle is a big ball of grit. He’s also deserving of the number two spot in the American League Rookie of the Year race (FOH Yankee fans), and while I can’t help myself from questioning whether he’ll be able to do it all again in 2019, that’s just the type of fuel this Grit Tanker needs to keep proving folks wrong into next season and beyond.
Best Transaction: Rays trade Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz (aka The King’s Ransom)
This has the potential to be one of those moves that’s talked about around Rays campfires in the year 2098 when the franchise is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Here’s a side-by-side since the trade went through:
Chris Archer: 10 GS, 3-3, 4.30 ERA, 52.1 IP, 60 K, 18 BB, 4.00 FIP, 91 ERA+
Tyler Glasnow: 11 GS, 1-5, 4.20 ERA, 55.2 IP, 64 K, 19 BB, 4.38 FIP, 98 ERA+
Eerily similar numbers. Now take into account that the Rays have control of Glasnow for the next six seasons. And that Meadows slashed .344/.396/.771(!) in 27 games at Triple-A after being traded to the Rays (and posted an OPS+ of 117 in his brief nine-game stint at the big-league level to end the season). And that Meadows is still 23 years old. And that Chris Archer is 30 years old and hasn’t posted an ERA below since before Trump even announced he would be running for president. And that Shane Baz is a consensus top-100 prospect. And that I could really go one for another couple paragraphs.
Most Divisive: Matt Duffy
On the one hand, he just hit .294 in his first full healthy season since 2015. On the other hand, his OPS was just .727 thanks to basically no pop — something that’s hard to justify for a third baseman in the modern era.
On the one hand, his defensive value (when accounting for position) was a combined positive when adding the two main varieties of WAR together. On the other hand, did you actually watch him play third base this season?
He can be debated endlessly. Personally, unless Duffy can return to form, just give me Christian Arroyo already.
Best Sneaky Production: Jose Alvarado
Alvarado didn’t ever get tapped as one of the Rays many Openers, and he finished the season with only eight saves despite being a rumored potential closer for most of the season, but he did plenty of amazing things between the first and last inning.
Alvarado finished the season with 64.0 innings pitched, tallying 80 strikeouts to just 25 unintentional walks in those frames. He allowed just one long ball all season, for an ERA of 2.39 and a FIP of 2.27.
While those numbers certainly sound impressive, they need a bit of context to show just how impressive. It was a top-ten non-closer season for a reliever in franchise history, per rWAR, and it’s even more impressive in terms of what he could actually control.
Only five Rays’ reliever seasons have been better, by fWAR, than Alvarado’s 2018 campaign. He might not have gotten as much ink as Ryne Stanek, Sergio Romo, and even Alex Colome (remember him?), but he deserved to.
Most Open Minded: Ryne Stanek
Speaking of Stanek, he’s the man who broke some of the most hallowed records in some of the weirdest ways
He made a lot of what was so cool about this season possible by accepting whatever role Kevin Cash asked of him. He started 28 games, he finished off 10, and he appeared in another 20 games somewhere in between. There’s a very good chance we witnessed the next big thing in baseball, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Stanek, Romo, and the rest of the Rays’ relievers being so open to participate in the Great Experiment.
Don’t You (Forget About Me): Daniel Robertson
Remember this guy? The dude who was leading the Rays in WAR when he went down in early August with a season-ending thumb injury. The dude who had a wRC+ of 127 in 88 very-breakout-looking games in 2018. The dude who flashed an impressive batting eye (12.6 percent walk rate), and a glove that played at every spot in the infield, plus left field (he even pitched!). He’s already my pick to be the official Rays Breakout Player of 2019, but the real Rays heads already know he has arrived.
Late Bloomer: Ji-Man Choi
Choi made his Rays debut on July 11 of this season as a 27-year-old who had been worth -0.3 WAR in his 72 previous MLB games. From that date on, he slashed .269/.370/.506, flashing awesome power, a strong batting eye, and pulling this shit off:
There is also baseball happening tonight, and the walk-off celebration was FANTASTIC pic.twitter.com/I4yT3nNOEX— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 11, 2018
His appearance also led to this:
Good Problem to Have Award: C.J. Cron
Through the most of the first five months of the 2018 season, C.J. Cron was an everyday starter. Then Jake Bauers got called up, Choi arrived and did the damn thing, and it made Cash’s everyday decision at first base/DH a lot more difficult. Mind you, Cron was still hitting very well (134 wRC+ in September), but he was missing out on those everyday at bats. Similar to Stanek and Romo, however, he trusted Cash and The Process (it’s almost time we co-opted this from the 76ers and become “Process: MLB Edition”), and now the Rays have a great problem on their hands when they’re deciding what they want to do in 2019 and beyond.
Newcomer of the Year: Willy Adames
I already gave my thoughts on Adames in our recent DRB Roundtable. Suffice to say, he won me over.
Breakout of the Year: Blake Snell
Offensive Performer of the Year: Tommy Pham/Defensive Performer of the Year: Kevin Kiermaier
Ok, here are a couple that are a bit more controversial. Pham because he only came over to the club at the trade deadline, and KK because he (yet again) played fewer than 100 games. However, when you actually think about it, there are really no other answers. Sure, Wendle’s .300 season was a fitting end to his rookie season, but do you really think Wendle is a better offensive performer than Pham?
That's 32 straight games where the #Rays Tommy Pham has reached base. Terrific run to end the season.— Neil Solondz (@neilsolondz) September 30, 2018
And yes, Carlos Gomez made some great plays in right field, but KK still easily topped him by whatever defensive metrics you choose. Really, it’s just tempting to think about what these two could potentially do in full seasons if both can stay healthy in 2019. Which is certainly not a given based on their two tracks record, but a salivating thought nonetheless.
Most Improved: Mallex Smith
Similar to breakout, but Smith was starting from a lower spot. I think if you polled Rays fans before the season, the vast majority of the fanbase would’ve pegged Mallex as a likely roster crunch victim, maybe a fourth outfielder at best. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Rays fan that doesn’t want Mallex International Speedway (MIS) locked into the Rays future. The debate can be had over whether he’s a semi-regular for a playoff team, or if he deserves a full-time starting spot even if the Rays are in the playoff hunt in 2019 (I lean towards the latter), but the onus is no longer on MIS to prove it after what was a wildly successful 2018 campaign.
MIS slashed .296/.367/.406 with 40 stolen bases and a wRC+ better than a handful of All-Stars (117). His defense was shaky at times but seemed to improve as the season went along. Really, given his work ethic, smart approach (see: his note-taking), and positive attitude, it’s no surprise he was the Rays most improved player in 2018, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him continue to improve in 2019.
2019 MLB Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash