Contending teams usually have two things happen each year. They get great contributions from a rookie, and they get great contributions from an unexpected source.
Sometimes the two coincide to be one in the same, and of course there are exceptions to the rule.
Rick Porcello of the Detroit Tigers fits the bill for the first item. As a 20-year-old rookie, he has provided as much as could be hoped for.
In spring camp he was still an unknown quantity, a wild card to make the big league team. Manager Jim Leyland chose him at the end of spring training and started his arbitration clock ticking.
The results for April were nothing to brag about. He lost three of his four starts and had a 6.23 ERA. Then things turned around. He won all five of his starts in May, moving to 6-3 and lowering his season ERA to 3.48.
From there Rookie of the Year talk picked up.
September is approaching, Porcello has 10 wins, and the Rookie of the Year talk continues, but I am afraid he is not the front runner.
Who is? I think Porcello has a lot of competition in the American League from four other players. I will let their stats do the talking first before I point my finger at a projected winner.
The competition? Brett Anderson (SP/OAK), Ricky Romero (SP/TOR), Jeff Niemann (SP/TB), and Elvis Andrus (SS/TEX).
The four starting pitchers I am considering are at the top of their class, way ahead of the other rookies in the American League.
He is second to Justin Verlander for the team lead in wins.
His season as a whole: 10-7 record, 57/38 (K/BB), 4.34 ERA.
Of these four starting pitchers, the 21-year-old Anderson has the fewest wins, with seven. However, he does have the most strikeouts, the fewest walks, and therefore the best strikeout to walk ratio.
He has held up well in a rotation flush with inexperience. He is actually second on the team in wins, only behind staff "ace" Dallas Braden, who has eight.
His season as a whole: 7-8 record, 98/35 (K/BB), 4.22 ERA.
The destruction of Toronto's starting pitching, due in large part to injury, helped fuel Romero's rise to prominence. Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan were lost before the season began, and neither Matt Clement or Mike Maroth panned out.
After Roy Halladay, it seemed the Blue Jays did not have any good pitching. Then Romero quietly began putting together a very solid rookie season. He has the best ERA of the candidates.
His season as a whole: 10-5 record, 95/47 (K/BB), 3.70 ERA.
Remember Rays lefty David Price and how good he was in the playoffs last year? At the beginning of the season Price was sent to the minors, and Jason Hammel traded because Niemann had won the last spot in the rotation.
The results? He leads the team in wins, ahead of James Shields and Matt Garza, and is right with them in ERA.
His season as a whole: 10-5 record, 81/43 (K/BB), 3.86 ERA.
Michael Young, who perennially gets 200 hits, moved to 3B so that the 20 year old Andrus could take over at shortstop.
The results? His hitting is marginal, but he has 20 stolen bases to complement a great glove and great range. He has made the highlight reels a few times this year. He seems to be the best in a weak class, statistically speaking, of rookie position players this year.
And the winner is not?
The winner is not Andrus. The pitchers are just too good.
The winner is not Anderson, as the A's will test minor league talent the rest of the season, leading to less run support and causing his stats to regress.
The winner is not Porcello. He will soon be moved to the bullpen, eliminating him from the race.
And the winner is?
A very intriguing choice remains between the two finalists. I would say it is a dead even coin flip between Romero and Niemann right now.
In the end, I think the winner will be Niemann. If the Rays manage to make the playoffs, it will be in large part from his contributions, and that will sway the vote.
Sorry, Porcello. This year was not your year. Luckily the Rookie of the Year honor is but one among many, and you should still have a long career ahead of you to take a stab at many of them.