The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will start handing out its annual awards on Monday by announcing the winners of the 2013 Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.
The three finalists in each league were announced last Tuesday and, in general, they paint an accurate picture of the top rookies in the game this past season.
The National League’s class, of course, is headlined by phenoms Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, both of whom turned in a historic rookie campaign and are likely to receive votes for the Cy Young and MVP awards, respectively. Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller rounds out the NL finalists deservedly after winning 15 games and basically dominating over the first half of the season.
In the American League, Wil Myers was arguably the favorite to win the award before the season even began, and he didn’t disappoint upon reaching the major leagues in the middle of June. Teammate Chris Archer wasn’t too shabby either; we tend to forget that Archer, not Myers, was the AL Rookie of the Month in July. Meanwhile, Jose Iglesias' defensive wizardry this season between the Red Sox and Tigers is worthy of at a least an obligatory ranking in the final three.
Though all six players had impressive seasons, only Fernandez and Myers deserve the recognition as the best rookies in their respective leagues.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Jose Fernandez turned in one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history this year and arguably the greatest ever by an age-20 hurler. Not bad for a kid who was supposed to spend most of the season at the Double-A level.
Making his final start of the season at home against the Braves on Sept. 11, the 21-year-old completed his historic campaign in dramatic fashion with seven innings of one-run ball. Fernandez also hit the first home run of his major league career in the game—in his last at-bat of the season no less—and nearly sparked a bench-clearing brawl in the process.
Overall, Fernandez finished his rookie campaign with a 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .182 opponent batting average and stellar 187-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 172.2 innings.
Fernandez was a quality-start machine this year, posting 20 of them in 28 starts. More significantly, nine of those came against teams that ultimately reached the postseason, including the Dodgers (two), Cardinals (two), Braves (two), Reds, Pirates and Indians. And according to Baseball-Reference, the right-hander made only five starts that didn’t earn a game score of at least 50.
Despite the rigors of his first full season in the major leagues without the benefit of a game above the High-A level, Fernandez was a model of consistency taking the ball every fifth day. The right-hander’s health was a major reason that he posted such ridiculous numbers; it allowed him to build off each successful outing and make ongoing improvements over the course of the season.
Fernandez was named as a National League All-Star as a result of his dependability and opened eyes (as usual) with a two-strikeout performance in his only inning of work.
Fernandez ranked among the major league leaders in numerous statistical categories, including first in opponents’ batting average and hits allowed per nine innings (5.8 H/9), second in ERA and adjusted ERA (176 ERA+), fourth in WHIP and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.75 K/9). And according to Baseball-Reference, Fernandez’s 6.3 WAR is the sixth-highest total of all qualified pitchers.
As for his performance among other rookie hurlers, Fernandez—who else, right?—was the best in the game this year. In fact, his 2.19 ERA was the lowest by a rookie starter in either league since 1970.
Fernandez’s overwhelming success is a result of his ability to make significant adjustments and consistently execute a game plan. The right-hander only got better as the season unfolded too, posting a 7-1 record, 1.32 ERA and 84-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 68 innings (10 starts) after the All-Star break.
In terms of his contribution to the team, the Marlins offense was more inspired with Fernandez on the mound this season, scoring three or more runs in 19 of his 28 starts. In those 19 starts, the 21-year-old posted an outstanding 11-2 record with a 2.15 ERA and 135-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117.1 innings. He arguably was just as impressive when he received minimal run support (two runs or less), registering a 2.28 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 55.1 innings.
Fernandez’s competition in the race, Yasiel Puig and Shelby Miller, both had remarkable rookie campaigns—but they weren’t on the the same level as the Marlins’ young ace.
Following his arrival on June 3, Puig took baseball by storm, batting .436/.467/.713 with 44 hits and seven home runs in his first month with the Dodgers.
According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, Puig was the first player since Joe DiMaggio in 1936 to collect 70-plus hits and 10-plus homers in his first 50 career games. Most importantly, in the 104 games in which he was in the lineup this season, the team posted a 66-38 record.
However, Puig’s production steadily regressed over the subsequent months, while his all-out style of play resulted in a slew of minor injuries. In September, he posted a season-worst .214 batting average and .333 on-base percentage over 26 games.
That said, it was still a monster rookie campaign for the 22-year-old, as he finished the season with a .319/.391/.534 batting line, 42 extra-base hits (19 home runs), and 42 RBI in 104 games.
Shelby Miller thrived during the first half of the season, posting a 2.92 ERA and 112/29 K/BB ratio in 104.2 innings over 18 starts. However, the 22-year-old noticeably wore down following the All-Star break and logged only one quality start in August. While he didn’t miss as many bats as he did earlier in the season, Miller rebounded nicely in September with a 2.76 ERA over five starts.
Overall, Miller finished the season with a 15-9 record, 3.06 ERA and 169-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 173.1 innings spanning 31 starts.
Fernandez’s rookie season puts him in elite company with some of baseball’s all-time greats. And considering that he’s also been named as one of three finalists in the NL Cy Young voting, the right-hander should be crowned as the league’s top rookie.
AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
When Wil Myers was promoted to major leagues on June 18, the Rays owned a 36-35 record and trailed the Yankees (38-31) by three games for the second AL Wild Card spot.
By the end of July, however, the club was 20 games over .500 with a 64-44 overall record and a half-game back of the Red Sox for a share of the AL East lead.
In his first 36 games in the Show, the 22-year-old outfielder guided the Rays to an MLB-best 25-11 record thanks to a .331/.372/.528 batting line with seven home runs and 27 RBI.
Overall, the club posted a 52-36 record this season with the rookie in the lineup.
Though he played in only 88 regular-season games following his call-up, Myers still led all American League rookies, according to FanGraphs, in doubles (23), RBI (53), on-base percentage (.354), slugging percentage (.478), wOBA (.357) and wRC+ (131). As if those numbers weren’t already impressive, he also ranked second in batting average (.293), runs scored (50) and home runs (13). And just for good measure, Myers added a 12-game hitting streak and 22-game on-base streak to his Rookie of the Year resume along the way.
Myers’ lone blip on the radar this season was his month of August, when he posted a .631 OPS with 29 strikeouts in 24 games. However, the right-handed hitter returned to form in September with a .904 OPS, 17 extra-base hits and 14 RBI in 28 games.
More importantly, the rookie proved to be unflappable under pressure throughout the season, batting a .308 with nine home runs and 36 RBI collectively between the 3-4-5 spots in the Rays lineup. Myers also showed a flair for the dramatic with 14 go-ahead hits this year, including a walk-off single against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 3.
As for Myers’ competition for the award, Jose Iglesias and Chris Archer both held their own this year and played a major role in their respective teams’ postseason berth.
Recalled from Triple-A Durham in early June, Archer—like teammate Myers—was a key contributor during the Rays’ midseason hot streak. The 25-year-old right-hander was named as both the AL Rookie of the Month and the AL Pitcher of the Month for July after he went 4-0 with two complete-game shutouts and a 0.73 ERA in 37 innings (five starts).
However, Archer’s stock fell steadily over the following months, and he finished the regular season by posting a 4.78 ERA in five September starts. Overall, the right-hander posted a 9-7 record with a 3.22 ERA and 101-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128.2 innings covering 23 starts.
Jose Iglesias was acquired from Boston shortly before the trade deadline as part of a three-team deal that also involved the Chicago White Sox. The 23-year-old played out of his mind during his time with the Red Sox, posting a .785 OPS with 71 hits in 63 games. Between both teams, he batted .303/.349/.386 with 106 hits and 16 doubles in 109 games. This, of course, was in addition to his nightly highlight-reel defense at one of several infield positions.
Compared to the Fernandez-Puig heavyweight showdown in the National League, the race in the AL seemingly was Myers’ to lose over the final two months of the regular season. Though he hit a rough patch in August, the outfielder never relinquished his lead in the race and should be named as the league’s top rookie on Monday as a result.