June 20, 2012

Early Thoughts on Rookie of the Year

I’ve never been a big fan of the Rookie of the Year award. It’s nice to commend a young player who’s worked his butt off to make it to and succeed in the major leagues, but isn’t the award like labeling an elementary school kid as gifted? It creates expectations, for both the players and the fans, which can really add to the pressure and stress surrounding a player’s sophomore year, or even his entire career.

Many players that win the award never live up to those expectations. Take Hinske, who won the award as a Blue Jay in 2002. Sure, he’s been an important part of several different teams in the last decade, many of which have made playoff runs, but he’s not a perennial All Star, or even an everyday hitter. He’s a decent pinch hitter and backup first basemen. And look at Chris Coghlan, Marlins outfielder who won the honors in 2009. He hit .321 that season with an .850 OPS. What’s he up to these days? Well, he was hitting .140 with a .394 OPS before being sent to the minors last week.

The most deserving players don’t always wind up being chosen. Players who surge near the end of the season are more likely to earn the hardware, especially if there are playoff implications. And players surrounded by hype often have a better chance than players with solid, consistent performances that just don’t get the attention of fans and the media. And sometimes the award ends up in the hands of a player who is hardly a rookie at all. Dice-K and Ichiro each won the award after playing professionally in Japan, and so did Hideo Nomo in ’95, Chipper’s rookie year.

In the AL, I do believe that the most deserving rookie will win the award this year, and that’s Mike Trout. The LA center fielder has an OPS of almost 1.000, an average over .330, and 19 stolen bases (which is first among rookies and fourth among all players). Plus, he’s a competent fielder. At this point, there are only a few other viable options. Jesus Montero is having a great rookie year, but it’s hard to give the award to a DH when there are deserving position players. Chen of Baltimore and Darvish of Texas have performed well on the mound, but neither pitcher has been good enough to outshine Trout. If Baltimore or Texas win a close playoff race, and Darvish or Chen play big roles, then I could see them winning the award.

In the NL, all signs point to Bryce Harper, and for good reason. He’s proving that he’s not all talk, putting up big numbers in a flashy way, and helping his team develop a lead in the NL East. But there are definitely a couple players who could be just as worthy come September. Kurt Nieuwenhuis is playing very well in New York, despite 69 strikeouts in 67 games. His numbers for homeruns, average, and OPS are all just slightly behind Harper’s. And I wouldn’t count out our own Andrelton Simmons. He could have over 100 games under his belt by the end of the year, and if he keeps playing the way he has been, he’ll be one of the top contenders. His impressive defense is what won him the job at shortstop, but his offense has been a pleasant surprise. Notice that all three of these guys play in the NL East. The way this division plays out is sure to have an impact on the way NL Rookie of the Year votes are cast.

Tell me in the comments about any bright rookies I left out, or send me a tweet @ThomasMDuncan.



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