Jason Bartlett was brought to the 2008 Rays to fix a gaping hole in the defense, but could he be the spark that the 2009 Rays need on offense?
I will be the first to admit, when Jason Bartlett was named team MVP last season, I just looked up and said “really?” I then looked at the team as a whole, and realized that Jason Bartlett truly is the anchor of this team. He plays selfless, team baseball with solid fundamentals. His defense allows pitchers to throw more balls that can be hit in play, and allows pitchers to trust the defense, a key to winning baseball. Without Jason Bartlett in the field, the 2008 Rays do not make the World Series, or maybe even the playoffs.
However, in 2008 I saw Bartlett as the perfect 9 hitter. He would make contact, steal some bases (thanks again Jason for the free taco when you stole a base in the World Series), and get productive outs. He had a batting average of .286, an on base percentage of .329, and added 1 homerun. He looked like a contact hitter who could get singles, but only had warning track power.
In 2009, we have seen a different Jason Bartlett at the plate. Although the season is still very early, there are some stats that really stand out. First off, Bartlett’s batting average is up to .371, and his on base percentage is up to .413. Although I expect his batting average to drop to the mid .300’s as the season goes on, Bartlett will take more walks and his on base percentage could easily stay close to where it is. He is also striking out a lot less this season. Last season, Bartlett struck out once in every 6.57 at bats. This season, Bartlett has struck out once in every 8.57 at bats. And of course, the most glaring increase of all comes in the form of homeruns. Bartlett has tripled his homerun total from last season, and we are still in April. Prior to this season, Bartlett had 11 career homeruns. He is right now on pace for about 24 this year. Additionally, I would like to point out that Bartlett currently has 3 times as many homeruns as Pat the Patient.
So why is it that Bartlett has improved so much at the plate so far this season? For starters, he is a year older and a year wiser. Jason is a very smart guy, so as he gets older he will be continuously learning these pitchers even better. Over time, it is inevitable that Bartlett will be able to predict pitches better, hit the pitches he wants, and make better contact. This also relates to the reason that he is striking out less. Bartlett is picking the pitches he wants and waiting on pitchers to make a mistake. He is finding pitches he can drive, rather than just trying to put the ball in play. The second, and most important reason, is that Jason seems hungrier. Last year, the Rays played in the World Series. Success will get to some players’ heads, where it will drive other players want it more. Bartlett clearly wants to lead the Rays back to the Fall Classic. You can tell how hard he worked this offseason to be ready for 2009. You can see in his eyes when he steps up to the plate just how focused he is. You can just tell that Jason wants the Rays to win.
If Jason Bartlett can keep up this hot pace, he will have a big hand in turning this team around and leading the Rays back to October. Jason Bartlett is proving why he was the team MVP in 2008 and why he is already the lead candidate in my mind to be the team MVP in 2009. It does not take a rocket scientist to see this.
-the rocket scientist