Neftali Feliz brings the heat and has helped propel the Rangers into first place.
As we posted last season around this time in the season, it's time to take a look at some potential Rookie of the Year candidates. We will start in the American League, as this race is wide open for the most part, opposed to the National League RoY race, which is a long list of strong candidates. As most did prior to the start of the season, Brian Matusz was a favorable AL RoY pick, but who else has stepped their game up?
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the qualifications for a rookie (those of you who voted Edison Volquez in 2008) - here are the rules. Via the official MLB.com website - "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 ."
So now that you know the rules, let's take a look at some of the top RoY candidates from the American League.
All statistics as of September 4th, 2010
Reggie Yinger is a programmer and is the Senior Editor at Baseball Press. He previously worked for a Minor League Baseball team and hopes to return to baseball full-time in some fashion. His writing has appeared in a men's national magazine publication and he contributes to The Fantasy Fix. You can contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @sacksjacked.
Brian Matusz (W-L: 7-12, 4.72 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.17 K/BB)
Just because he was my favorite prior to the start of the season, we might as well start with him. Certainly no one thought the Orioles would hit rock bottom prior to the end of April, but sure enough, they did. Matusz went 2-1 during the month of April with a 4.40 ERA and then would go 0-8 until July 4th. Certainly, Matusz is better than his overall win-loss record would indicate. In 11 of his 27 starts this season, the Orioles have failed to give him more than two runs of support. During those starts, he posted a record of 0-9 with a 4.84 ERA. On a promising note, Matusz changed his luck during the month of August, as he went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP and has also won his last three decisions. Another good sign - he's posted a 7.0 strikeout per nine innings (K/9) ratio this season and hasn't walked more than five batters during any start (5 walks during his first start of the season). His 117 strikeouts ranks first in the American League among rookies, ahead of Wade Davis (90) and Mitch Talbot (81). Playing in the American League East is no easy task, but Matusz will only continue to get better as the Orioles look towards the future.
Neftali Feliz - RHP, Texas Rangers (W-L: 3-3, SV: 34, 3.26 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 3.69 K/BB)
Since taking over the closer role during the first few games of the season, Feliz has been lights-out for the first place Rangers. The 22-year old closer brings the heat when he's pitching, averaging about 97 MPH with his fastball, and has a 9.2 K/9 ratio over 58 innings. Feliz has been dominant against left-handed hitters this season, as lefties are hitting at a .135 clip against him with a .231 on-base percentage (OBP) and has allowed just one homer to lefties. He hit a rough spot during the month of July, allowing eight earned runs over 11 innings (6.55 ERA) but he's a major reason why the Rangers are in first place. If that isn't enough for you, Feliz is closing in on Kazuhiro Sasaki's rookie saves record of 37, which was set in 2000. Closer Andrew Bailey won the AL RoY award last season, can Feliz make it two in a row for closers in 2010?
Danny Valencia - 3B, Minnesota Twins (.343 AVG, .382 OBP, .454 SLG, .836 OPS, 19 R, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB)
While Valencia isn't mentioned by many fans for RoY honors, he's certainly been a key component for Twins this season, especially with all of their injuries. Dan Wade of Baseball Daily Digest makes a case for Valencia here, and as he mentions, while Valencia was "late to the game" as far as playing time, he's production numbers and contributions shouldn't be overlooked. Valencia, the sixth-best prospect in the Twins organization according to Baseball America prior to the 2010 season, has given the Twinkies solid production in the field and at the plate. Since August 15th, Valencia is hitting .400/.420/.569 with a .990 OPS, 1 HR, 9 RBI, and one stolen base. He seems like a long shot to take home the hardware this season due to his limited playing time, but baseball fans have seen strangers things happen.
Austin Jackson - OF, Detroit Tigers (.309 AVG, .363 OBP, .419 SLG, .783 OPS, 89 R, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 21 SB)
The 23-year old outfielder that was expected to replace Curtis Granderson in Detroit has done better than expected. A career .288/.356/.410 hitter over five minor league seasons, many thought Jackson would produce little atop the Tigers lineup in 2010. With a batting average on balls in play (BAbip) of .415 during the first half of play, Jackson would surely come back to reality during the second half of play, right? Wrong. Since the All Star break, Jackson is hitting .322/.377/.446 with a BAbip of .432. So what now? Is Jackson really this good, or is he really, really lucky? Either way, he certainly has set the table nicely for potential American League MVP Miguel Cabrera. Jackson is tied for the lead among AL players with 9 triples. Against right-handed pitching this season, Jackson is hitting .336/.385/.456 with one home run. Against lefties this season, he's hitting .236/.305/.321 with two home runs. While Jackson is a terrific defending center fielder who can handle the bat, his 143 strikeouts leads the American League among all players. If he wants to remain atop the top-spot in the order for the Tigers over the next few seasons, he'll have to improve his contact and walk percentages.
Brennan Boesch - OF, Detroit Tigers (.268 AVG, .330 OBP, .447 SLG, .776 OPS, 43 R, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB)
Boesch is another Tiger outfielder who started the season strong, but unlike Austin Jackson, he couldn't keep the hot bat going into the summer months. After finishing the first half hitting .342/.397/.593 with a .990 OPS with 12 HR and 49 RBI over 65 games, Boesch went on to hit just .185/.227/.304 with 2 HR and 10 RBI during the month of August. Like Jackson, Boesch had a high BAbip (.384) prior to the All Star break, but his BAbip has fallen drastically since the All Star break, as it sits at .195. This rookie loves hitting at home, as he's posted a .312/.385/.517 with a .902 OPS with 7 HR while in Comerica Park opposed to his .222/.269/.374 while on the road this season. Even with the poor second half numbers, Boesch will continue to have his name associated with RoY honors, as he leads all rookies in the HR and RBI category.
John Jaso - C, Tampa Bay Rays (.281 AVG, .390 OBP, .405 SLG, .795 OPS, 44 R, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 4 SB)
Yes, I might be a little crazy for including Jaso on this list, but if you have watched him play this season, he's been a major factor for Rays this season. With Carlos Santana losing his 2010 rookie season to an injury, Jaso has been one of the best catchers in the American League this season. The 26-year old was drafted by the Rays in the 12th round back in 2003 and last saw Major League playing time during the 2008 season, which lasted for five games. Simply coming from nowhere, Jaso has been an on-base percentage monster during the 2010 season. Jaso ranks 11th in the American League in OBP among players who have had at least 300 plate appearances, but more importantly, he's a left-handed hitting catcher (not a RoY rule, but still very cool). During the month of August, Jaso hit .305/.400/.441 over 21 games. Jaso doesn't have Mike Napoli power, but he doesn't need it, as he just needs to set the plate for Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and Carlos Pena.