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Did Randy Arozarena have the best 2021 of any Ray?

Rays Tales | With nominations for two top awards, and a third expected, the multi-talented outfielder is getting some attention. Plus, rumblings.
Among the finalists for Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and one of the favorites for AL Rookie of the Year, outfielder Randy Arozarena has a chance to collect the most hardware of any Ray this awards season.
Among the finalists for Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and one of the favorites for AL Rookie of the Year, outfielder Randy Arozarena has a chance to collect the most hardware of any Ray this awards season. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 5, 2021

Maybe we were wrong about Randy Arozarena.

Catcher Mike Zunino won the Rays team MVP award announced Sept. 24 by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and second baseman Brandon Lowe — based on his strong finish to the regular season and, yes, before his miserable postseason — likely will get some American League MVP votes.

But it may be that Arozarena, the multi-talented outfielder, had the season that stood out most.

With the regular season and postseason over and awards season now upon us, Arozarena has the chance to collect the most hardware of any Ray. He is one of three finalists for Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and among the favorites for AL Rookie of the Year.

Consider that Arozarena is one of only nine AL players to be a finalist as the best hitter and fielder at his position. He is one of six to have a 20-20 season (20 or more homers and steals), and just the third in Rays franchise history.

In addition to the 20 homers and steals, he hit .274 with 69 RBIs, 94 runs scored, 32 doubles and an .815 OPS and had a WAR rating (per baseball-reference.com) of 4.2 while posting five assists and one error.

Did he not get enough credit for his first full major-league season? Probably not.

Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena (56) slides safely into home plate ahead of the tag by Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) while stealing home in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena (56) slides safely into home plate ahead of the tag by Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) while stealing home in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

But, in a way, it’s his own fault, if for no other reason than his record-breaking run in October 2020. He made the postseason his personal stage, hitting .377 with 29 hits, 10 homers, 14 RBIs and a 1.273 OPS in 20 games.

“He set the bar so high, the expectation level coming off his postseason of 2020 probably made it unfair,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Nobody in their right mind was going to say he was just going to back that up for the month he produced in the (2020) postseason. But for a 26-year-old rookie, he had a pretty special season.”

The awards shows begin Sunday, with the announcement of the Gold Glove winners. Here is a breakdown from the Rays’ perspective, with all voting based solely on regular-season games:

Gold Gloves

(Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)

Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is a candidate for a fourth Gold Glove award.
Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is a candidate for a fourth Gold Glove award. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier seems most likely among the Rays to win, though we could say that every year. He has three Gold Gloves already and could have one or two others if not for injuries. His competition is Michael A. Taylor (Royals) and Miles Straw (Astros/Indians).

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The award process is based 75 percent on votes by league managers and coaches (who cannot vote for players on their own team) and 25 percent on a sabermetric component, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Defensive Index.

While Kiermaier has a stronger reputation and longer history as a great defender, there are numbers that favor Taylor, such as his estimated 19 defensive runs saved, which led all outfielders.

Arozarena, arguably the fourth-best defensive outfielder on the Rays (and occasionally replaced in games by Brett Phillips), was nominated in leftfield. He is joined by Toronto’s Lourdes Gurriel, who led all leftfielders with 12 assists, and Kansas City’s smooth Andrew Benintendi.

Joey Wendle was nominated at third base, where two-time winner Matt Chapman of Oakland seems likely to regain the gold. Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez is the other finalist.

Silver Slugger

(Nov. 11, 6 p.m., MLB Network)

Catcher Mike Zunino is one of three Rays named as finalists for Silver Slugger awards at their respective positions.
Catcher Mike Zunino is one of three Rays named as finalists for Silver Slugger awards at their respective positions. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The Rays finished second in the majors in runs, but it still seemed a surprise they had three finalists for Silver Slugger awards — Zunino, Arozarena and designated hitter Nelson Cruz.

The bigger surprise was that Lowe, who hit .247 with 39 homers, 99 RBIs and an .863 OPS, was not among the finalists at second base, where Marcus Semien (Toronto), Jose Altuve (Houston), DJ LeMahieu (New York) and Jorge Polanco (Minnesota) were recognized. Especially LeMahieu, who had a .268-10-57-.711 line.

Voting for these awards is also done by managers and three coaches from each AL team, who are not allowed to vote for their own players. They can pick just one at each position based on stats (including OPS, OPS+, home runs, RBI, batting average, total bases and runs) and their “general impressions of a player’s overall offensive value.”

Best guess is that Semien (who hit .265 with 45 homers, 102 RBIs and an .873 OPS) will be the near-unanimous winner, with the Toronto voters — or someone misinformed — casting their ballots elsewhere.

None of the Rays seem likely to win.

Cruz is competing with Shohei Ohtani (Angels) and others, while Zunino is going against Salvador Perez (Royals) and Gary Sanchez (Yankees). Arozarena is in a powerful field of nine, led by Cedric Mullins (Orioles), Teoscar Hernández (Blue Jays) and Aaron Judge (Yankees), from which there will be three winners.

BBWAA awards

(Finalists announced Monday, 6 p.m., MLB Network)

Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, left, and manager Kevin Cash, center, pictured along with first base coach Ozzie Timmons, right, are candidates for Baseball Writers' Association of America awards.
Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, left, and manager Kevin Cash, center, pictured along with first base coach Ozzie Timmons, right, are candidates for Baseball Writers' Association of America awards. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Arozarena should definitely be among the top three for AL Rookie of the Year, with a strong chance to be the winner announced on Nov. 15. Texas outfielder Adolis Garcia, Houston pitcher Luis Garcia and Baltimore first baseman/ outfielder/DH Ryan Mountcastle are the other top candidates. Garcia won the Players Choice rookie award, while Mountcastle took the Sporting News award as voted by players, managers and executives.

Cash should be a finalist for AL Manager of the Year, with a shot to win a second straight on Nov. 16. But this award can be tricky, as some voters favor managers who won unexpectedly or did the most with the least. There could be support for Boston’s Alex Cora, Detroit’s A.J. Hinch and Seattle’s Scott Servais, and certainly Charlie Montoyo who navigated Toronto through three regular-season homes and finished one game shy of a wild-card spot.

Don’t expect to see any Rays near the top of the Cy Young or MVP voting.

Rays rumblings

Kiermaier’s right knee issue, which required arthroscopic surgery Wednesday, is considered minor and of no impact on his readiness for the 2022 season. But it still can’t help his trade value. ... Question: If Wander Franco hadn’t missed two weeks due to injury and played 82 games instead of 70, would he get more consideration for the top rookie awards? Wil Myers won for the Rays in 2013 playing in 88. … Very early odds on the Rays winning the 2022 World Series are 14-1, per betonline.ag. The Dodgers are 5-1 favorites, followed by the Astros at 13-2, Yankees at 10-1, champion Braves at 11-1, and White Sox at 12-1. The Red Sox are also 14-1 picks. … Minor-league hitting coordinator Greg Brown, who had inquiries from a half-dozen teams for hitting coach jobs, is reportedly joining the Cubs. …Rafael Valenzuela was named Florida Complex League manager of the year by Minor League Baseball after a 42-15 season. … New Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was born in Orlando and played at Dr. Phillips High. ... Outfielder Josh Sale, the Rays’ 2010 top draft pick attempting a comeback at age 30, shared the independent Atlantic League lead in homers with 34 and finished third with 104 RBIs in 120 games while hitting .284 with a .986 OPS.

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