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Rays best-ever series, Part V: 2B-3B-SS

No suspense in the 3B and 2B nominations so let’s skip to SS

MLB: AUG 14 Rays at Rangers Photo by Albert Pena/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images

We continue our mission to determine the best season from a Ray at each position around the diamond. Already annointed: Price, Rodney, Navarro, and Peña.

Today we’ll be doing things a bit differently, however.

If we had followed the pattern we have laid out so far, there would be five candidates for the best-ever season from a Rays second baseman in this piece, then in a week or so, the same deal for third base. Here’s the thing, though: Both of those positions are dominated in Rays history by one player at each spot.

For second base season, the top five by fWAR are all Ben Zobrist seasons, and five of the top six by rWAR are Zobrist (only Logan Forsythe’s 2015 managed to break up the monotony a bit). At third base, the dominance is even starker. Evan Longoria has all nine of the top third base seasons by rWAR, and eight of the top nine by fWAR (this time it’s 2004 Aubrey “Huff Daddy” Huff who breaks up the reign of terror).

So, we’re going to do super-quick polls right here for those two spots because they are basically just choosing which is your favorite Zobrist/Longo season. (I’ve included the Forsythe and Huff seasons for all you contrarians.)

Poll

Which season from a second baseman was the best in Rays history?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    2009 Ben Zobrist
    (44 votes)
  • 15%
    2011 Ben Zobrist
    (13 votes)
  • 11%
    2013 Ben Zobrist
    (10 votes)
  • 5%
    2014 Ben Zobrist
    (5 votes)
  • 15%
    2015 Logan Forsythe
    (13 votes)
85 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which season from a third baseman was the best in Rays history?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    2004 Aubrey Huff
    (2 votes)
  • 30%
    2009 Evan Longoria
    (26 votes)
  • 46%
    2010 Evan Longoria
    (39 votes)
  • 7%
    2013 Evan Longoria
    (6 votes)
  • 13%
    2016 Evan Longoria
    (11 votes)
84 votes total Vote Now

So, this article is actually being hijacked for the shortstop analysis, since that is the only remaining infield position that requires actual debate. Let’s meet the candidates for the best season by a shortstop in Rays history:

Best seasons from Rays shortstops

Name Year G R HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR rWAR
Name Year G R HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS fWAR rWAR
Julio Lugo 2005 158 89 6 57 39 0.295 0.362 0.403 109 -5 4.6 4.3
Jason Bartlett 2009 137 90 14 66 30 0.320 0.389 0.490 136 5 5.2 6.2
Ben Zobrist 2012 157 88 20 74 14 0.270 0.377 0.471 137 0 5.8 5.7
Yunel Escobar 2013 153 61 9 56 4 0.256 0.332 0.366 98 4 3.6 3.2
Brad Miller 2016 152 73 30 81 6 0.243 0.304 0.482 111 -14 2.0 1.6

The biggest quibble Rays fans may have would be leaving off 2004 Julio Lugo in favor of 2016 Brad Miller. By both main measures of value (fWAR and rWAR), 2004 Lugo was worth about two wins more than Miller, but I went with Miller for a few reasons. First, I like diversifying the candidates as much as possible. It’s more fun to compare players than to compare different seasons of the same player. While Miller’s stone hands were certainly a defensive minus for the Rays, moreover, I’m not sure he and Lugo were a full three wins different on the defensive end, as the metrics suggest. In a vacuum, 2004 Lugo was the better of the two, but for this breakdown, we’re going with 2016 Miller.

That said, he’s certainly not quite on a level with the rest of these seasons. Sure, he had the highest home run total (by a significant margin), but his mediocre walk rate and high strikeout rate made it that his overall offensive production (the key to his candidacy) was still eclipsed by both Bartlett and Zobrist, when going by wRC+.

Speaking of Zorilla, his is the other candidate that might stir a bit of debate. FanGraphs qualifies his 2012 season as a second base season, but he actually played more games in right field (71) and second base (58) than shortstop (47). Zobrist was certainly good enough to play every day at short and probably would have the best-ever Rays season from a shortstop if that was what Maddon had asked of him, but for our purposes here, he has to be eliminated since only about a quarter of his production actually came when he was a shortstop.

That elimination opens up a nice window for Bartlett. While Escobar’s 2013 season was, by all measures, a season of defensive excellence, both his OPS+ and wRC+ were under 100 that season, a no-go for the best-ever series (as I learned when the fans voted down my modest Molina proposal).

Lugo has a decent case against Bartlett; he played 21 more games and produced more on the basepaths, but Bartlett had a bit more pop in his bat, and that 2009 season will always stand out as one of the great one-season breakouts in Rays history. It’s grabbing my vote. What say ye, DRB readers?

Poll

Which season from a shortstop was the best in Rays history?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    2005 Julio Lugo
    (3 votes)
  • 82%
    2009 Jason Bartlett
    (115 votes)
  • 6%
    2012 Ben Zobrist
    (9 votes)
  • 2%
    2013 Yunel Escobar
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    2016 Brad Miller
    (8 votes)
139 votes total Vote Now