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Monday, September 5, 2011

Breaking down the American League ROY Race

The American League ROY race is a lot closer than what is going on in the National League. Not only have they had more ballyhooed rookies, but they have produced at a higher level as well. The crop of rookies who have become regular players this season are one of the more impressive infusions of talent in recent memory. If all things were equal, and they had all received consistent playing time during this season, the outcome of the award would likely have been different. 

Unfortunately, free agency and reliance on subpar veterans often delays the arrival of rookies. Jennings, Ackley, and Lawrie all should have probably spent the entire season in the majors, but that’s not what happened. Even so, there were a number of rookies who did play the bulk of the year with their big league team, and forced their way into the conversation about the American League ROY.

The Case for Eric Hosmer: As the 2011 season got underway and Hosmer hit like Roy Hobbs in the minors, baseball started to clamber for his debut. The Royals haven’t had a star position player since Carlos Beltran, and the sweet swinging lefty first baseman looked like the next big thing. Thus, it was with great fanfare when he came to Kansas City in May.

Hosmer has been solid, but not spectacular with the Royals. He is on pace to finish the season with a .283 batting average, 17 home runs, and 72 RBI. Those are very solid numbers for a 21 year-old, and give the team the belief that they have a blossoming star in their lineup finally. 

Hitting against lefties is where Hosmer has struggled, posting a .544 OPS and 9 RBI in 121 at bats. Those numbers given him extreme platoon splits, and he will need to improve to be considered a complete player. As it stands, he has performed admirably in his first season with the Royals, and is one of the finest rookies in the American League.

The Case for Ivan Nova: The big question mark for the Yankees coming into the season was their starting pitching. Besides C.C. Sabathia, the New York rotation was a series of question marks and retreads. Surprisingly, Nova has been the glue that has held the starting pitching together, and allowed the Yankees to be in the hunt for first place in the American League East all year long.

Nova did encounter a little bump around mid-season, where he graciously accepted a brief demotion to the minors. He returned better than ever, and has helped keep the Yankees at the top of any playoff conversation. He is on pace to end the season with a 18-5 record and 3.89 ERA. In particular, he has been a stopper on the road, with an 8-2 record and 3.34 ERA. 

He does not strike out a lot of hitters, with just 85 in 138.2 innings. Not missing many bats is an indication that he has had some luck on his side, but has plenty of room for improvement. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who predicted this kind of success for Nova before the season began, and he is not only a top rookie, but one of the most important players on the Yankees.

The Case for Mark Trumbo: Baseball fans like home runs, and for that reason, Trumbo has gotten a lot of momentum going lately in support of his American League ROY candidacy. He is a very good young player with a lot of potential, but he should not win this award. While he is on pace to finish the year with 29 home runs and 89 RBI, he is also slotted to finish with a .256 batting average and a .295 OBP. A ROY winner cannot have an OBP that glaringly low.

Trumbo has also not fully developed as a defensive first baseman, although he has not made a total scene either. It may sounds like I am bashing him, but I’m not. I actually like him a lot as a player. It just needs to be stated that while he has put up nice numbers in some categories, he has not done enough to garner serious consideration for the ROY.

The Case for Michael Pineda: Pineda burst out of the gate to start the season, much to the surprise of most around baseball. His talents were widely known, but his immediate success was unexpected because his young age (22). The massive right-handed pitcher carved up baseball during the first two months of the season, going 6-2 with a 2.42 ERA. He has slowed considerably since then, with a 3-7 record and 4.64 ERA since June 1st.

Pineda has put up big strikeout numbers, 163 in 159 innings, and also posted an impressive 1.09 WHIP. He also looks like he will assist King Felix in manning the Mariner starting rotation for years to come. Unfortunately, his uneven performance will likely reduce some of the ROY votes he may have received otherwise. Despite this, he has had an impressive rookie campaign and looks to be one of the next stars of the game.

The Case for Jeremy Hellickson: I had to look twice when compiling my list of ROY candidates. I could have sworn that Hellickson was no longer rookie-eligible, but to my surprise, he is. He may have rookie status, but he has pitched like a veteran all season with Tampa Bay. Mined from the seemingly bottomless pool of Tampa Bay minor league talent, he has anchored one of the starting rotation spots since breaking camp with the team out of spring training.

Hellickson is probably the most polished of all the rookie pitchers. He has gone 12-10 so far this year, with a 2.90 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 164.1 innings. A. His 1.13 WHIP is also impressive for someone his age. Tampa Bay is not in the hunt for the playoffs this season, but with young cheap talent like Hellickson, they will be in the picture for the immediate future.

Honorable Mention: Aaron Crow, Ben Revere, Brett Lawrie, Desmond Jennings, Dustin Ackley, Jordan Walden, Tyler Chatwood, Zach Britton.

Final Decision: If Tampa Bay had called up Jennings before June, instead of letting Sam Fuld hold down left field for a month longer than he should have, the American League ROY would belong to him. However, with less than 175 at bats, he simply has not done enough to merit the award. 

Ivan Nova has produced in the most high pressure situation, being an integral component of the Yankees’ drive to the playoffs. However, outside of wins, he has not posted overwhelming numbers, and has had some ups and downs. He has saved his best for the end of the season, but at this point has not done enough to be the ROY winner.

The player who deserves to win the American League ROY is Jeremy Hellickson. He has pitched consistently all season long, and while he doesn’t have the same win totals as Nova, or the strikeout totals of Pineda, he has been better overall than them, or any of the other rookies. His ERA is also a full run lower per game than Nova, and his other peripheral numbers indicate that he has not only been the best rookie in the American League in 2011, but he has been one of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball.

Detractors may point to Hellickson’s won-loss record being near .500 as why he shouldn’t win the award, but that is a bad argument. ROY winners are those who have produced the best and the most, both of which apply to Hellickson. He has out-produced the entire field of impressive rookies, and at the end of the season he will take home the American League ROY award.


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