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Tampa Bay Rays say shortstop Bartlett has value that is hard to measure

PORT CHARLOTTE

For any of the Internet bloggers or hundreds of message board posters who had issues with shortstop Jason Bartlett's selection as the Rays' most valuable player last season, manager Joe Maddon has a few choice words of his own.

"We don't win last year without him playing shortstop. Period," Maddon said Wednesday. "It's pretty simple — it just doesn't happen."

Stats-possessed critics clamored about everything from Bartlett's lack of offensive production to his 16 errors to his subpar zone rating and range factor to his low VORP (value over replacement player). The Rays counter that Bartlett's true value was in contributions that can't be quantified but made him very qualified for all accolades received.

"You can't always go to a number," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "I go on plays made. And he changes the game. Instead of a base hit, it's an out. Instead of a double, it's a single. Things like that are huge for the success of the team, and with his defense he contributes in such a substantial way. So he's crucial to our success."

Infield/third-base coach Tom Foley said Bartlett, 29, is the perfect example of the player who has to be seen on a daily basis to be appreciated.

"And it's not just his defense," Foley said. "He had some big clutch hits, some key stolen bases, he runs the bases great. You've got to see a player like that. He's not going to put up the big home run or RBI numbers, he's not going to be in the paper all the time going 4-for-5 or with a hitting streak. But the feeling from the coaching staff and the rest of the players is that when he's out there, we're a damn good team."

There are some numbers to support that: The Rays were 78-47 when Bartlett was in the lineup (76-46 at short, 2-1 at DH), 19-18 when he wasn't.

Bartlett isn't much for controversy, but he heard some of the criticisms about his election, and again when he got a fifth-place vote in the AL MVP balloting.

"There are some people that say 'Why?' and 'How did he get that?' but that's out of my control," he said. "I'm glad some people saw what I could bring to help out a team, and it's not all about the numbers. That makes me happy, and I'm sure there are other players out there that are in my boat that do the little things and help a team win and they don't get credit for it."

The little things Bartlett does — on the field, at the plate and on the bases — are big. Even more important is the stability he brought to their infield after being acquired with Matt Garza in the looking-better-all-the-time-deal for Delmon Young. "Calming," Foley said. "You basically know when the ball's hit, it's an out."

And it's not just a glove story. Bartlett's .379 average against left-handers was the best in the AL. His nine steals of third were second most. His .389 August average was a team record. His .286 overall average — despite a .209 April — trailed only Derek Jeter (.300) among AL shortstops.

Bartlett said he doesn't get too concerned with the numbers. "The things that people say that make me feel good are that I helped the team, that I helped the infield, that I helped the pitching staff," Bartlett said. "That's what I take pride in."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

The detractors

What some of the bloggers were saying about Bartlett's election as Rays MVP:

FireJoeMorgan.com:

"I know, I know, he's supposed to be a very good defender. But let me say some things about Jason Bartlett: He's missed like 30 games this year; he's hit three fewer home runs this year than Carlos Zambrano; he's eighth on his own team in VORP; and he plays on the same team as Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton."

Big League Stew:

"Just ask yourself — When's the last time you or anyone said, 'Wow, that Jason Bartlett really is leading the Rays to the promised land. I sure like watching him play. He's the key to this team'?

"No, go ahead. Take your time. I'll just be over here writing Mr. Longoria an apology."

JoePosnanski.com:

"Jason Bartlett ranks 11th among 'everyday shortstops' with an .825 zone rating.

"Jason Bartlett ranks 12th among 'everyday shortstops' with 4.22 range factor.

"Jason Bartlett ranks 17th among 'everyday shortstops' with a .969 fielding percentage.

"Jason Bartlett scores a minus-1 on the Dewan Plus/Minus fielding system, meaning he has made one fewer play than the average shortstop in baseball this year.

"The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Jason Bartlett the Tampa Bay Rays' most valuable player in this magical season of 2008.

"Your honor. The defense rests."

A case for the defense

Jason Bartlett had a big impact on a defense that allowed 273 fewer runs than the previous year, the third best improvement in history. How he compared to other AL frontline shortstops:

Stat Bartlett Rank
Fielding pct. .970 7th
Errors 16 T4th
Range factor 4.21 6th
Zone rating .827 3rd
Assists/
9 IP
2.54 7th
Putouts/
9 IP
1.67 1st
VORP* 13.4 6th

* Value over replacement
player. Sources: Stats, Inc.; Baseball Prospectus

Tampa Bay Rays say shortstop Bartlett has value that is hard to measure 03/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 6:44am]
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