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Phillies' J.A. Happ Is the NL's Best Rookie—Sometimes the Truth Is Boring

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Phillies' J.A. Happ Is the NL's Best Rookie—Sometimes the Truth Is Boring

After a holiday weekend in Los Angeles (more on that later today or tomorrow), I'm back home in San Francisco and trying to get caught up on the baseball I missed.

That means utilizing the mainstream media for its aspects that are still quite excellent.

Both ESPN and FOX Sports, to a lesser extent, provide extensive access to the Major League Baseball annals. If you want to know how many pitches a certain hitter worked off the pitcher in a particular at-bat or some other minutiae of the game, you can find it. The availability of game logs and other such statistical records cannot be understated when acknowledging the online hack's most well-worn tools.

It's important we keep that in mind. Especially those of us who have an affection for taking a sharp blade to those same outlets' analysis...like me.

In my camp's defense, their so-called experts make it almost impossible to avoid taking up the scalpel.

For instance, I'm on the record as saying Ken Rosenthal has unsurpassed inside information. I'm also on the record many times criticizing his analysis. Ol' Kenny's latest pronouncement that Chris Coghlan should win the National League Rookie of the Year has provoked yet another entry in that log.

My beef with Rosenthal's interpretations is they always seem to be as much for an ulterior motive as they do the soundness of baseball logic. Whether it be to collaterally coax good dope from MLB insiders or to make a stir in the Big League adoring masses (including his chattering head colleagues on the boob tube) or something else NOT rooted in good sense.

The Coghlan bit seems more for the sake of going against the grain and creating a pseudo-stink than anything else. It seems Ken just wants to buck the growing trend toward the Philadelphia Phillies' young left-hander J.A. Happ.

That would be wonderful, except the general consensus isn't driven by mob mentality or group-think. It's driven by old-fashioned baseball reason.

See, the FOX Sports guy got it mostly right.

If you take a gander at the competitors for the NL RoY, the Florida Marlins outfielder is probably a grand selection for the best newbie patrolling the field and swinging a stick. Likewise, the southpaw from Philly is absolutely the most sparkling green gem on the mound.

As Ken Rosenthal says, it really does come down to which outstanding first tour of Major League duty is more impressive: an everyday guy or an every-fifth-day one.

Ordinarily, I'd be right there with Ken arguing for the everyday player. It's the reason almost every Most Valuable Player from the Show's timeline received the award for swinging a bat and flashing leather.

But consider that a rookie pitcher must throw to every hitter in the lineup.

Seems like a stupid thing to point out, doesn't it?

And an even dumber dividing line since a rookie splinter doesn't get any allowances from the bump. It's not like the opposition trots out a different pitcher to ease the transition. It's not like Coghlan got to face AAAA hurlers while his mates were staring at Johan Santana.

What makes the observation significant is that a hitter can take the collar against all the quality starters and still post very good numbers for the year.

Consider that 60 percent of most rotations are wobbly at best. Once you've squared off with the ace and No. 2, most rotations drop off a freakin' cliff.

Into an abyss.

Here's the rub—that the precipitous decline exists is the key. Not whether Coghlan actually accumulated his numbers against the dregs of the slab.

Baseball is a game of confidence built from positive performance. Talent can only take you so far; that is baseball's curse. The flip side is firm belief in your ability can often allow you to crash through your reputed ceiling—ask David Eckstein or Dustin Pedroia or Scott Brosius or any other unlikely diamond hero.

Additionally, keep in mind the issue is which rookie's performance was more impressive.

While both Chris Coghlan and J.A. Happ had superlative years plying their respective trades for the first time, Coghlan did it with the knowledge that he didn't necessarily have to beat the best. When he stepped into the batter's box against MLB's most ferocious arms, it was an opportunity because failure was an option.

There would always be a sunnier day tomorrow, maybe even later in the game against a rickety bullpen.

Contrarily, Happ's trials against the best hitters in baseball were burdens and unmitigated in any way.

Consistent failure against baseball's best hitters will doom a pitcher because every team has them—even squads like the San Diego Padres and my San Francisco Giants. A walk or hit in the middle of the order ratchets up the level of difficulty exponentially for a youngster on the bump. String a couple minor miscues into one inning, and you've got a full-blown crisis on your hands.

With only 25 or so starts from which to cobble together a body of work, the young pitcher faces a much more intimidating challenge to his confidence throughout the season. The smaller sampling size reduces the margin for error, compounding a more daunting assault on an inexperienced psyche.

This is the knowledge a rookie pitcher takes to the hill with him each time out.

Thusly, Happ's performance to date—10-4, 149.2 IP, 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 104 K, 52 BB, 3 CG, and 2 SHO—is more impressive than Coghlan's equivalent body of work—103 G, 397 AB, a .310 average, an .830 OPS, 65 R, 20 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 6 SB, and 68 K. Both represent triumphs in the teeth of obvious and extreme challenges, but the former came under a more complete and constant strain.

Therefore, the comparison need not even include mention that the lefty helped anchor a rotation suffering from the metaphoric absence of its ace, Cole Hamels.

Or that the Phils are the defending champs and threatening to repeat despite absorbing every team's most spirited charge.

Or that Happ has been playing with the big boys all year and enduring baptism by fire while Coghlan got his feet under him in the Minor Leagues before getting the call.

Both athletes have sincere competitors that could overtake either player for his spot atop the respective talent heaps.

Similarly, if the young pitcher's latest injury bugaboo doesn't clear up quickly, the Fish might etch another indelible testament to their talent assessment acumen into history. If the Phillie misses more than a start or two, Chris Coghlan would certainly begin to edge ahead.

But as the matter stands with about a month of games yet to be played, J.A. Happ's fantastic run through a more brutal gauntlet means the NL Rookie of the Year is his to lose.


**www.pva.org**

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