ST. PETERSBURG — A more formal ballot will be cast in a few weeks for the annual BBWAA award voting, but a choice right now for the MVP of this Rays team is surprisingly interesting.
Something can be said for Chris Archer, which reflects the way he stepped up after the rotation was decimated by injuries and emerged as an All-Star, a Cy Young candidate and an ace, helping the Rays not just on the day he pitches but the other four with his example-setting hard work and burgeoning leadership.
Something can be said for third baseman Evan Longoria, which rewards how he navigated several stretches where he was admittedly lost at the plate to do a decent salvage job on his season, hitting .273 with 19 homers and 67 RBIs.
And something can be said for Logan Forsythe, which really is saying something.
But here we are, 139 games into his first season getting the chance to play every day in the majors, and there Forsythe is ranking not only among the Rays leaders in most key offensive categories but in the top five among all American League second basemen with a .287 average, 16 homers, 57 RBIs, an .817 on-base plus slugging percentage. And he has done so while sporting one of the steadiest, if not quite golden, gloves.
Going by fangraphs.com calculations, Forsythe has the second best WAR (wins above replacement) rating among all major-league second basemen, his 4.2 tied with Detroit's Ian Kinsler and trailing only Cleveland's Jason Kipnis.
Not bad for a guy slated for platoon duty — and the lesser share, as the right-handed hitter — until a late spring injury sidelined Nick Franklin and made Forsythe the starter.
"You could argue he's made the most of an opportunity more than anybody on this club this year," manager Kevin Cash said.
Ask around the Rays clubhouse how Forsythe has done it, and the word you hear most consistently is consistency.
That's applicable in many ways. To his playing time, which provides the calm and confidence of knowing he will be in the lineup pretty much every day. To the mechanics of his stance and swing. To his approach, his mind-set, even his answers to the questions about why and how he has done so well.
"I'm going to go back to the consistency," Forsythe said. "It's just that I'm happy that I'm healthy, that I'm being consistent and that I'm helping the team out."
Forsythe, 28, wasn't a very good player last year (.223-6-26) when he came over as part of a seven-player trade with the Padres that is probably underrated as one of the Rays' best, also netting now All-Star closer Brad Boxberger and rookie starter Matt Andriese for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn.
But Forsythe learned some valuable lessons, such as how to tailor his workouts to stay injury-free for a full season for the first time and how to develop a pregame routine that prepared him the same for whatever opportunity arose. That his best 2014 success came during a stretch when he played regularly motivated him going into this past offseason to find a way to be even more ready.
"What I asked myself was how can I have that success without that consistent playing time," he said. "So that's what I focused on, just trying to improve on being consistent and improve on a routine."
Part of it was mental, and part physical, specifically settling on the best set of mechanics and sticking with them. Working out during the winter with former Ray Ben Zobrist near their Nashville-area homes, Forsythe would send videos to Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, who offered suggestions, and they agreed to remain, well, consistent.
Forsythe acknowledged there were times when he wondered if the bubble would burst, if he would suddenly cool off and slide back, but he would quickly dismiss those thoughts with another of his go-to moves, focusing only on that night's game or the current series. (He claims the only one of his stats he knows for sure is home runs.)
As well as Forsythe was doing, the Rays in late July did suggest a change, as they did to other hitters, urging him to become more aggressive earlier in counts, especially as he was hitting in the key Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the order. He said he is still "fighting it at times" — drifting from too aggressive to too passive — but the results have been noticeable, an increase since July 26 of 25 points in batting average and 62 in OPS, the upgrade in slugging offsetting a slight drop-off in on-base. His performance on the nine-game road trip showed it, with a .417 average, eight extra-base hits and an American League player of the week award,
"He's a guy that was extremely patient, and it probably worked for him for a long time," Cash said. "But where he's hitting in our lineup and what we needed him to be, we needed him to get out of his comfort zone and get more aggressive and look to impact the ball, and he's certainly done that."
Most opportunistic? Most improved? Most valuable?
For now, how about most consistent?
"It's kind of a relief to actually be able to show that this year," Forsythe said. "That's kind of the opportunity I wanted, just to be able to play like this, not only offensively but also defensively, and be that consistent guy. So that's what's been more fulfilling than anything."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.