J.A. Happ's Secret: Why Tommy Hanson Deserves NL Rookie of the Year

Josh RutledgeCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2009

ATLANTA - AUGUST 22:  Starting pitcher Tommy Hanson #48 of the Atlanta Braves pitches to the Florida Marlins on August 22, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Any other season, Atlanta Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson would be the top pitching candidate for National League Rookie of the Year.

But this year, he isn't likely to win the award. Why? Because he's going up against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ, who, quite simply, isn't a rookie.

Perhaps the biggest factor impacting Hanson is that he only entered the scene for the final four months of the season. Happ pitched in 35 games. Hanson pitched in only 21.

But in those 21 games, Hanson compiled an 11-4 record and a 2.89 ERA. If you take those numbers and plug them into a 162-game average, Hanson finishes with an 18-6 record.

Those sort of numbers would have warranted him votes for the Cy Young Award.

On the other hand, Happ went 12-4 for the Phillies while holding a respectable 2.93 ERA. 

It's a close race between the two of them, but Happ is the front-runner because his Phillies are in the World Series. Hanson's Braves are watching on TV.

But the true reason Happ doesn't deserve the award is because he really shouldn't be in the discussion at all. He's not a true rookie.

Happ first donned the Phillies jersey in 2007, when he started a game against the Mets. The following year, he pitched in eight games, and he was even included on the Phillies playoff roster.

How does he qualify for Rookie of the Year in 2009? A technicality.

The official rules of Major League Baseball state, "A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit."

In theory, a pitcher could pitch six innings each year for eight straight seasons, and he'd still be considered a rookie the following season.

Happ didn't pitch more than 50 innings in 2007 or 2008. Therefore he qualifies as a rookie in 2009.

But he's not a true rookie. No way. How can you win Rookie of the Year in 2009 when you have a World Series ring from 2008?

On June 30, 2007, J.A. Happ made his first career start. He faced the New York Mets, and in four innings, he gave up five runs, coming away with the loss and an 11.25 ERA.

He got a bit better next year. In 2008, he pitched in eight games. He went 1-0 with a 3.69 ERA.

In 2009, Happ's numbers got even better. Because that's what happens in baseball. Rookies get better over time.

But that's precisely why there is a Rookie of the Year Award in the first place—to find out which rookie needed the least amount of time to put up impressive numbers.

But Happ's 11.25 ERA in his first start and his 3.69 ERA in 2008 don't get counted toward his rookie numbers. Despite those prior experiences, Happ got to start 2009 with a clean slate.

On the other hand, Hanson also got knocked around in his first start. He gave up six runs in six innings to the Milwaukee Brewers, leaving the game with a 9.00 ERA. Again, that's what happens with rookies. It's a tough transition from the minors to Major League Baseball. 

But unlike Happ, that number does get included in Hanson's rookie statistics. He had to spend the next 20 games pushing that ERA down to 2.89.

If you include the numbers from Happ's first two seasons, his ERA jumps up to 3.21, and his record goes to 13-5.

The numbers don't lie. Happ is a good pitcher, but he shouldn't be considered for the National League Rookie of the Year. He had one more win than Hanson in 2008, despite playing in 35 games. Hanson played in only 21, and he still had 11 wins. 

Happ had nine previous games of experience in the big leagues before 2009. In those nine games, he went 1-1 with a 4.60 ERA. But unlike Hanson, Happ gets to conveniently erase those first nine games.

How is that fair?

Of course, other players are also up for the award, such as Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and Florida Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan. Those guys are candidates in their own right.

But if the Rookie of the Year Award goes to a pitcher, Hanson deserves it. He's a rookie after all.


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