Rookie of the Year award: Fernandez and Myers deserve to win
The Baseball Writers’ Association of American will hand out its major awards this week with the winners announced live on MLB Network during an hour-long show starting at 6 pm Eastern. Things kick off Monday night with the Rookie of the Year award in each league followed by Manager of the Year on Tuesday, Cy Young on Wednesday and Most Valuable Player on Thursday.
Throughout the week, I will preview each day’s award with a look at the three finalists in each league and my take on who should win and who will win. I’ll return in the evenings with my reaction to the winners and the voting. We start today with the Rookie of the Year finalists.
This year’s rookie talent was heavily concentrated in the National League. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig , both finalists for the NL award, were sensations and a trio of rookie starters — finalist Shelby Miller of the Cardinals, the Dodgers’ Hyun-jin Ryu and the Braves’ Julio Teheran — moved to the front of their team’s respective rotations over the course of the season.
The American League class, by comparison, was quite weak. Not a single AL rookie qualified for the batting or ERA title, only three compiled 100 or more innings pitched and just two had 200 or more plate appearances and an OPS of .800 or higher. One would think that such a thin class would make this year’s AL Rookie of the Year award one of the easiest to call, but it’s actually one of the most difficult, whereas the likely and deserving NL winner is much easier to discern.
Note: Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1. Players are presented in alphabetical order.
Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins
Season Stats: 12-6, 187 K, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.22 K/BB, 176 ERA+, 172 2/3 IP
In 2012, Fernandez was a 19-year-old who split his first full professional season between the Sally League and High A. He was so dominant in that season that Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus both ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in the game prior to this season. Despite that lofty ranking, no one thought the freshly-gutted Marlins would break camp with the 20-year-old in their rotation, yet that’s exactly what they did.
Without having thrown a pitch in Double or Triple A, Fernandez allowed just one run while striking out 13 in 11 innings in his first two major league starts. He spent the next eight turns taking a few lumps and making a few adjustments, then when the calendar flipped to June, he emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Over the final 18 starts of his rookie season, this 20-year-old promoted directly from High-A went 10-3 with a 1.50 ERA and 0.86 WHIP while striking out 10.1 men per nine innings and allowing just four home runs in 120 1/3 innings. Sixteen of those final 18 starts were quality (the only exceptions came in outings in which he allowed two or fewer runs but only pitched five innings because Miami was being very careful with his workload) and the Marlins — the Marlins – went 14-4 in his starts over the season’s final four months. Over that stretch, he had six starts of seven or more innings with no runs allowed, struck out 10 or more four times (with a high of 14), allowed three or fewer runs in all 18 starts and only once allowed as many as three earned runs. On the season as a whole, he allowed three or fewer runs 25 times in his 28 starts and the next major league game in which he allows multiple home runs will be his first.
Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals
Season Stats: 15-9, 169 K, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.96 K/BB, 119 ERA+, 173 1/3 IP
Miller, like Fernandez a former first-round pick and highly-ranked prospect, saw his stock fall slightly after he posted a 4.74 ERA in his Triple A debut in 2012. He impressed enough in a brief September call-up that year to make the Cardinals’ postseason roster as a reliever and struck out 20 men in his first 17 major league innings, including 3 1/3 in the playoffs.
After winning a rotation spot for St. Louis out of camp, Miller went 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 4.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his first dozen starts. Included among those outings was a 13-strikeout one-hitter against the Rockies in which he retired 27 straight after allowing a single to the first batter of the game.
However, Miller’s performance started to regress in mid-June. He went 8-6 with a 3.95 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 2.20 K/BB over his final 19 starts as his strikeout rate dropped (from 9.7 K/9 to 8.1), his walk rate nearly doubled (from 2.0 BB/9 to 3.7) and his home run rate tripled (from 0.5 HR/9 to 1.5). As a result of that regression, as well as the team’s concern about his overall workload, Miller found himself buried in the bullpen in the postseason. He made just one appearance in October, that coming in the second game of the Division Series.
Yasiel Puig, RF, Dodgers
Season Stats: .319/.391/.534, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 66 R, 432 PA
As great as Fernandez was, no rookie drew more headlines than Puig, his fellow Cuban. He hit over .500 in spring training, then posted a .313/.383/.599 line in Double-A and forced his way into the majors in early June, just four days after the anniversary of his signing a seven-year, $42 million deal with Los Angeles as an international free agent on June 29, 2012. A Carl Crawford hamstring strain at a time when Matt Kemp was already on the disabled list cleared room for Puig’s debut, and all the 22-year-old did in that game was go 2-for-2 and double a runner off first base from the warning track for the final outs.
Puig hit two home runs the next day and four in his first five games (one of them a grand slam), becoming just the second player ever to hit four homers in his first five games. In his first 27 games, he hit .443/.473/.745 with eight homers in 112 plate appearances, a stretch in which he had eight games with three or more hits, including one four-hit game. Meanwhile, he provided constant highlights such as this throw to gun out Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons at third base, or the time he scored from second base on a groundout.
Puig cooled off a bit after those first 27 games, however. From July 3 through the end of the season, he hit a more human .272/.363/.453 with 11 home runs in 320 plate appearances. That was still far better than the average MLB rightfielder, who hit .266/.392/.431 this year. He improved in the postseason, batting .333/.366/.410 as the Dodgers came within two wins of their first pennant in 25 years.
Throughout his debut season, Puig was the subject of considerable backlash both around the league and in the media for his perceived his showboating and overly aggressive play. In late August, he was pulled from a game by L.A. manager Don Mattingly for, ironically, lackadaisical play. Even in the League Championship Series, he proved his immaturity with overaggressive throws from the outfield, resulting in extra runs for the Cardinals in the clinching game, and during the nonetheless thrilling and hilarious Game 3 play in which he celebrated a home run before realizing he hadn’t actually hit one, then legged out a standup triple.
The sum of all of the above made Puig a player you couldn’t take your eyes off. While he may have run into too many outs on the bases, made too many misguided throws trying to show off his spectacular arm and too often risked major injury by slamming into walls, the sum of his performance was still tremendously valuable.
Who should win: Fernandez
Who will win: Fernandez
This is a two-man race between Fernandez and Puig, but as exciting and valuable as the latter was, Fernandez was arguably the best pitcher in baseball over the season’s final four months and the only rookie in either league to be a finalist for one of the other awards this week (Cy Young). Puig should draw some first-place votes, but he also has his share of detractors. I challenge you to find anyone who can say a bad thing about Fernandez (okay, anyone who wasn’t on the 2013 Braves). Fernandez should win by a solid margin, and deservedly so.
Chris Archer, RHP, Rays
Season Stats: 9-7, 101 K, 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.66 K/BB, 118 ERA+, 128 2/3 IP
After mixed results in four starts and two relief appearances in 2012, Archer opened 2013 back in Triple A, ultimately joining Tampa Bay’s rotation for good on June 1 during David Price’s stay on the disabled list. Again, Archer started slowly (2-3, 4.40 ERA in six June starts), but the 24-year-old had an outstanding July, going 4-0 with an 0.73 ERA in five starts, all quality, including shutouts of the Astros and Yankees in two of his final three outings of the month.
With Archer and Price helping to lead the way, the Rays went 21-5 that month. However, once July was over, Archer turned back into the pitcher he had been in June, going 3-4 with a 4.13 ERA over his final dozen starts, just five of which were quality and he found himself in the bullpen in the postseason.
Jose Iglesias, SS/3B, Red Sox/Tigers
Season Stats: .303/.349/.386, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 39 R, 382 PA
Iglesias is one of three Cuban-born players to be nominated for Rookie of the Year this season, and, at 23, he’s the oldest. He was a great-field/no-hit prospect who got brief major league looks with the Red Sox in 2011 and ’12, but he retained his rookie status coming into 2013. Iglesias filled in at shortstop when Stephen Drew opened the season on the disabled list, but was optioned down upon Drew’s return on April 10 and didn’t return until Will Middlebrooks hit the DL on May 24.
Starting at third in Middlebrooks place, Iglesias, a career .257/.307/.314 hitter in the minors, quickly put together a 13-game hitting streak, with multiple hits in seven of those games. Having gone 9-for-20 in Drew’s stead in early April, Iglesias was hitting .446 by the end of the streak and he kept his average over .400 until July 7. When he hit .205/.247/.217 in July, however, the Red Sox figured his luck had run out and flipped him to the Tigers, who were desperate for a shortstop to replace the soon-to-be suspended Jhonny Peralta. That trade, a three-way deal that also included the White Sox, brought Jake Peavy to Boston.
Back at his natural position, Iglesias’ bat perked up enough that he came close to hitting like an average shortstop (.259/.306/.348 vs. league average of .255/.308./373). He was also finally able to show off in the field, forcing Peralta into leftfield for the bulk of the postseason and securing the starting job for 2014.
Still, it’s important to remember that Iglesias made 35 percent of his starts at third base in 2013, where the offensive standard is higher and that his defense was subpar. Indeed, according to Ultimate Zone Rating, Iglesias was 2.7 runs below average at third base, and per Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, he was below average in the field overall before the trade, likely due to his poor play at third (he only played three games at the hot corner after the trade but played more third base than shortstop for Boston).
Iglesias’ reputation for outstanding glove work preceded him to the majors and was seemingly confirmed by a handful of spectacular plays that he made with the Tigers, but he wasn’t even a finalist for a Gold Glove — an award which took a step away from being the “Fielding Grammys” this year — and the major advanced fielding statistics agree that he was only slightly above average this year:
Defensive Runs Saved: 0.3 wins (roughly three runs)
UZR: 0.7 runs
FRAA: 0.4 runs
Wil Myers, RF, Rays
Season Stats: .293/.354/.478, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 50 R, 373 PA
A top-10 prospect prior to the season, Myers, a 22-year-old converted catcher, was the centerpiece of the December 2012 trade that sent James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson to the Royals and also brought rotation prospect Jake Odorizzi and two others to the Rays. Coming off a season split between Double A and Triple A in which he hit 37 home runs with 109 RBIs including a .304/.378/.554 line in 439 Triple A plate appearances, Myers was the preseason favorite to win this award, but Tampa Bay didn’t call him up until June 18, and he didn’t exactly take the league by storm.
After 21 games, Myers was hitting just .247/.275/.388 with three home runs, and while he perked up from there and was a key bat for the Rays during their July surge (he hit .352/.406/.557 on the month and stole five bases in five attempts), he also had a 15-game slump in late August in which his power briefly vanished; he was also subpar in the field. Myers had a strong finishing kick, however, hitting .323/.380/.566 over his final 26 games and his final line above was well above league average for a rightfielder (.266/.329/.431).
Who should win: Myers
Who will win: Myers
He’s not the exciting choice that many expected he’s be, but Myers was the best rookie in the American League this year. Archer is only here because of one hot month, and Iglesias was hurt by his time spent at third base, which negated his greatest asset, his glove. The truth is, neither of those latter two players did anything to significantly alter the preseason assumption that Myers would win this award.