Rays MVP thus far: Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz or Wander Franco?

Tales | One-third of the way through the season, it’s an interesting debate among three worthy candidates.
Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz, left, and shortstop Wander Franco celebrate after they score against the Yankees on May 6 at Tropicana Field.
Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz, left, and shortstop Wander Franco celebrate after they score against the Yankees on May 6 at Tropicana Field. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published June 4

BOSTON — So many Rays have done so many things so well to get them two months deep into the season with the top record in the majors.

So who has been their best player?

This isn’t a deep dive into value to the franchise, but more a basic analysis of who has done the most from March 30 through May 31 to put the Rays where they are.

A case could be made for Shane McClanahan, who has been the one constant in an injury-ravaged rotation, his routine dominance leading the team to a 10-2 record in his starts and usually providing a chance for the bullpen to reset by going deep into games.

But, to this point, the debate comes down to three dynamic offensive players.

Here are their basic stats going into the weekend:

Player A: .297 average, 11 home runs, 40 RBIs, six stolen bases, .920 OPS

Player B: .310 average, 12 homers, 30 RBIs, 0 stolen bases, .990 OPS

Player C: .298 average, seven homers, 29 RBIs, 20 stolen bases, .844 OPS

Here are three versions of their ratings by all-encompassing WAR metrics, based on how many more wins a select player is worth than a replacement-level player the same position, with some value added for defense.

Player A: 2.2 (, 2.2 (, 1.4 (

Player B: 2.1, 2.2, 1.8

Player C: 3.5 (leading majors), 2.8, 2.1

And here are their numbers on some advanced stats:

Player A: .339 (average with runners in scoring position), 163 (wRC+, a version of the Runs Created metric weighted for ballpark and other external factors, with 100 as the league average), 51.7 (hard-hit rate; percentage of balls hit at least 95 mph).

Player B: .294, 180, 55.9

Player C: .246, 138, 39.2

And here are some assorted details:

Player A shows the most overall athleticism. Player B has the biggest presence in the lineup. Player C handles the most premium position.

Ready to make the call?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, time for some transparency. Player A is outfielder Randy Arozarena, Player B is first baseman Yandy Diaz, and Player C is shortstop Wander Franco.

The Rays' Wander Franco warms up before a recent game against the Dodgers at Tropicana Field.
The Rays' Wander Franco warms up before a recent game against the Dodgers at Tropicana Field. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

It’s a tough decision, one that drew no clear consensus in informal polling of people with and around the team regularly. And really, one with no wrong answer as all have been integral to the team’s success.

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Franco has the most tools, a switch-hitting shortstop with a high contact rate and speed who is playing better defense than some expected.

Arozarena can be inconsistent at times but has the ability to get scorching hot and carry a team at the plate, while impacting games in the outfield and on the bases.

But Diaz, while doing the least defensively, has had the biggest impact on the most key factor in the team’s success: making the remarkably productive offense go.

His combination of selectivity at the top of the order, ability to routinely hit the ball hard and new willingness to swing with power elevates him to an elite level — like potentially 30-plus homers and an on-base percentage above .400.

And as far as impact on the team?

Consider that he has hit .371 with a 1.172 OPS in 33 games the Rays have won, and .160/.536 in 13 they have lost. Arozarena’s splits are .316/1.010 in wins, .254/.711 in losses. Franco’s are .329/.944 and .227/.610.

So far, Diaz has been the best of several good ones.

The Rays' Yandy Diaz hits an RBI single in the third inning against the Dodgers last Sunday at Tropicana Field.
The Rays' Yandy Diaz hits an RBI single in the third inning against the Dodgers last Sunday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Rays rumblings

Rays games will continue to be shown as usual on Bally Sports Sun, indicating there are no similar issues as in San Diego, where rights fees were not paid and Major League Baseball took over the broadcasts. … Veteran Cubs starter Marcus Stroman was clearly impressed with his Rays opponent Monday, tweeting afterward: “Taj Bradley is going to be a star.” … The Chicago-Boston trek was chosen as the family trip, more than doubling the traveling party to nearly 200. Plus, the Rays convened 30-plus amateur scouts and staff in Chicago for a pre-draft meeting. … Will Arozarena’s soaring popularity in Mexico — he recently did a 30-minute zoom call with 40-plus journalists there — lead to a boost in All-Star voting? … The team’s annual Pride Day is June 10, with a special ticket package to include a “Baseball is for Everyone” can cooler; see … Just as manager Kevin Cash does in making the lineups, Rays officials had some tough choices in picking who would be on the All-Star ballot, leaving off infielder Taylor Walls (fifth on the team in WAR, per and outfielder Manuel Margot (their highest-salaried position player at $7 million). … The latest mock draft has the Rays taking Virginia prep first baseman/pitcher Bryce Eldridge with the No. 19 pick. Among locals, Strawberry Crest shortstop Arjun Nimmala is picked to go 10th to Miami and Mitchell High third baseman Aidan Miller 13th to the Cubs. … Reliever Colin Poche and his wife, Jessica, are expecting their first child, a girl, in November. … In assessing the Rays’ chances to win this season, MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd also praised them for the patience in developmental philosophy, pointing to the payoff they are getting now by sticking with outfielder Josh Lowe and Walls through previous struggles. … Classy gestures by the Cubs and Red Sox to put flowers in the visiting radio booth in memory of Dave Wills, the longtime Rays broadcaster who died March 5. Especially given his open lack of love for both stadiums. … Despite six crowds under 11,000, the Rays ranked 26th in the majors in home attendance with an average of 17,360, going into the weekend ahead of the Pirates, Royals, Marlins and A’s. … The AppleTV+ crew that will show the July 7 game vs. Atlanta exclusively will include a familiar face, Rays’ regular sideline reporter Tricia Whitaker. … Last weekend’s visit to Tropicana Field was nostalgic for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts — he made his debut there as a player for Cleveland, and on a historic day, Aug. 7, 1999, when Wade Boggs got his 3,000th hit.

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