NL Rookie of the Year Rankings: Wade Miley Emerges, Todd Frazier Debuts
During the first half of the 2012 season, we've had a few different front-runners in our NL Rookie of the Year rankings.
Cincinnati's Zack Cozart looked like an early favorite, but the Mets' Kirk Nieuwenhuis quickly emerged as a surprise top contender. San Diego's Yonder Alonso soon put up big numbers and asserted himself as the leading candidate. But then, the phenomenon of Bryce Harper steadily rose up the rankings until he took the top spot.
Harper has topped this list for several weeks now. But as his performance plateaued while other rookies began to catch up, what looked like a strong lead has slowly eroded. What once may have looked like a one-man race has now tightened up considerably.
After hitting his way back into the top five, Alonso has fallen out again this week. He's replaced by someone that probably should have drawn consideration sooner, but has gotten increasingly strong support from you readers and commenters.
So let's get to this week's rankings. If you think anyone was overlooked or would place these players in a different order, please share your suggestions in the comments. As you can see, they can make a difference in how this list shakes out each week.
But as of right now, these players look like the top five contenders for NL Rookie of the Year.
5. Todd Frazier, Cincinnati Reds
Last week: Unranked.
Many of you will say this is long overdue, and you're right. Todd Frazier got strong support in the comments of last week's rankings, and is putting up numbers that just can't be neglected anymore.
Why wasn't Frazier listed among the top contenders sooner? Whether it was correct or not, I viewed him as a part-time player, one who was putting up strong numbers as a reserve and pinch-hitter, but wasn't in the lineup as much as his fellow rookies.
That obviously no longer applies. Frazier took over at third base for the Cincinnati Reds while Scott Rolen was injured, but played so well that manager Dusty Baker had to find a way to keep him in the lineup once Rolen recovered. Joey Votto's knee injury presented an opportunity and Frazier has been playing first base since Votto underwent surgery.
Frazier is second among NL rookies with an .879 OPS. His 10 home runs and 33 RBI are also second-best among the league's first-year players.
As several commenters pointed out last week, Frazier's numbers are comparable, if not better, than Bryce Harper's in several categories. And those statistics have been compiled with less playing time.
Should Frazier be ranked higher than No. 5 on this list? Perhaps so. Now that he's broken into the top five, however, he should move up the rankings if he maintains his current level of performance. He's certainly become a key part of the Reds' lineup as Cincinnati battles with the Pirates for the NL Central lead.
4. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies
Last week: No. 4.
After spraining his ankle while trying to block a ball in the dirt, Wilin Rosario missed three games for the Colorado Rockies. But he returned to the lineup Tuesday night. By Wednesday, he was back doing what he's done for most of the season: hitting home runs.
Rosario's homer Wednesday night gave him 16 for the season, which tops all NL rookies. (He and Mike Trout are tied for the major league rookie lead.) He also leads the league's first-year players with 40 RBI and a .534 slugging percentage. And his .819 ranks third among his peers.
The Rockies would surely like to see Rosario become better at blocking pitches (and avoid spraining his ankle while doing so). His 12 wild pitches and 28 passed balls are more than any other major league catcher has compiled this season.
That's one reason why Colorado has been hesitant to trade veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez. Now that Hernandez has recovered from a left hand injury, he'll likely get some more playing time to give the rookie some rest.
However, the Rockies' catching job definitely belongs to Rosario now. Hernandez is serving as a mentor, tutoring Rosario on improving his defense behind the plate.
3. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
Last week: No. 3.
Ranking Zack Cozart ahead of his teammate Todd Frazier might seem strange, considering that Frazier has better offensive numbers.
However, Cozart has played in 20 more games, compiling nearly 150 more at-bats because he's been an integral part of the Reds' lineup all year. Manager Dusty Baker has started Cozart at shortstop from the beginning of the season.
Cozart has struggled at times with the bat and isn't really suited for the top of the batting order, where Baker has put him. He was briefly moved to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, but Drew Stubbs didn't perform well batting leadoff, so Cozart is back at the top of the order.
With a .242/.290/.392 slash average, Cozart lags behind his fellow rookies. But he does have 10 home runs, which ranks second among his NL peers and provides some pop from the leadoff spot.
But even if he doesn't hit, Cozart is going to stay in the lineup because of his defense. Providing a good glove at shortstop is his most important role to the Reds and he's excelled there. According to Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Cozart is the sixth-best defensive shortstop in baseball.
2. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Last week: No. 1.
Here is the biggest change of the week in our NL Rookie of the Year rankings.
Bryce Harper has been the leading contender for this award for several weeks now. By the end of the season, he could still very well win it. (Many seem to think he'll win anyway because of the excessive hype he's received.)
However, Harper has struggled in July, batting .253/.322/.354, and that's allowed the rest of the field to catch up to him.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson has kept Harper batting second, where he's been relatively consistent. But his numbers don't stand out among his fellow NL rookies as they once did.
With a .785 OPS, Harper ranks fifth among the league's first-year players. His nine home runs and 33 RBI are each fourth-best among NL rookies.
Harper has certainly done nothing to hurt his team, as the Nationals are slowly beginning to pull away in the NL East and are looking more like the best team in the league.
The Rookie of the Year isn't a MVP award, of course. But if Harper is the best rookie on what turns out to be the best team, that will draw heavy consideration among award voters. He'll certainly continue to get attention throughout the rest of the season, something that many fans resent.
1. Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Last week: No. 2.
Wade Miley taking over as the NL Rookie of the Year front-runner has looked like a stronger possibility each week. With Bryce Harper slipping a bit in his performance and Miley emerging as the best pitcher on his staff this season, he finally leapfrogged to the top spot in our rankings.
Miley had a bit of a rough stretch in his previous three starts, having allowed eight hits in each appearance. But in his most recent start, Miley looked impressive, allowing one run and four hits over seven innings with a career-high nine strikeouts.
Yes, that performance came against the Houston Astros, now the worst team in baseball. So maybe that game should have an asterisk next to it. But Miley did exactly what a good pitcher should do against a bad team. A rookie starting pitcher holding any major league team to one run is notable.
Miley's 3.02 ERA ranks him 10th among NL pitchers. His 11 wins tie him for the third-highest total in the league. That's not bad at all for a pitcher who didn't even begin the season in the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting rotation.
The D-Backs are still in playoff contention, six games back in the NL West and five games out of a wild-card spot. With a down year from Ian Kennedy, Miley has emerged as this season's pitching ace. Is he capable of leading Arizona to the postseason? If so, his case for NL Rookie of the Year is going to be awfully difficult to overlook.
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