When Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout were named National and American League Rookie of the Year, respectively, Major League Baseball was the real winner.
Trout's victory was a foregone conclusion in June. He came up three weeks into the season and proceeded to have one of the greatest rookie seasons in history, hitting .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 49 stolen bases and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field.
Harper's win was not as predictable as Trout's, though a strong September pushed his numbers into an area where it was really only a race between him and Arizona's Wade Miley. Harper finished the season hitting .270/.340/.477 with a WAR of 4.9 (per Fangraphs).
What made these seasons even more impressive was the age at which both players found success. Trout played most of the 2012 season at age 20, while Harper was 19 until October 16.
The Rookie of the Year Award has different connotations to different people. To some, it should be about honoring the best first-year player without regard to their status and future upside. To others, there has to be some degree of future projection factored into the voting; otherwise, when you look back on the award, you are going to wonder what the voters were thinking.
With the latter formula, it is still important to look at the season the rookie had, but you are also helping to elevate a young player who could potentially be one of the faces of the sport for the next decade.
For example, in 2009, Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan beat a field of candidates that included Atlanta pitcher Tommy Hanson and Pittsburgh centerfielder Andrew McCutchen. Coghlan hit .321/.390/.460 with nine home runs in 128 games and was a poor defensive player.
Which Player Would You Rather Have For The Next 10 Years?
By comparison, McCutchen hit .286/.365/.461 with 12 home runs, 22 stolen bases and played much better defense at a more demanding position. But because voters fell in love with peripheral stats, they gave the award to Coghlan.
Which player would you rather have today?
The point being that what players like McCutchen in 2009 or Harper and Trout in 2012 represent for baseball is something that can't be taken for granted, and why Harper's and Trout's Rookie of the Year Awards are big deals.
Baseball fans knew Trout and Harper long before they got called up. Both players have been at the top of prospect rankings for a long time. Trout burst onto the scene in 2009; Harper was the most hyped draft pick in history a year later.
You need to keep the marketing machine going in baseball. The sport is far too reliant on the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs to draw huge television ratings. Instead, you need the voters to get the awards right so MLB can market its players to casual audiences.
For the most part, the AL and NL Rookie of the Year voting has gone to the right players over the last five years, so it is hard to find much fault here. MVP voting is a different story entirely, but we won't get into that.
Harper and Trout were the right winners for Major League Baseball, both in terms of their production on the field this season and future potential, which should include many All-Star appearances and MVP trophies.