Freddie Freeman, Mark Trumbo and the Shortlist for Rookie of the Year Honors

Zachary Ball@MLBDraftCntdwnAnalyst IAugust 27, 2011

Freddie Freeman, Mark Trumbo and the Shortlist for Rookie of the Year Honors

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    The Rookie of the Year award is a fickle thing.

    Sometimes, as in the case of Cal Ripken Jr. (1982), Jackie Robinson (1947), Rod Carew (1967), and Derek Jeter (1996), it portends future success ending in a Hall of Fame ceremony and your likeness carved out of bronze in Cooperstown. Other times, as in the cases of Marty Cordova (1995), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), and Bob Hamelin (1994), it provides the highlight of an otherwise anonymous career.

    Even for the most recent winners, success has been hard to find. Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria, who took home the A.L. honor in succession from 2006-08, have gone on to become multiple-time All-Stars, while the National League winners from 2008 and 2009, Geovany Soto and Chris Coghlan, have struggled to keep their starting jobs.

    As such, it wouldn't make sense to try to predict which of the 2011 ROY candidates will go on to have long-term success, but rather try to determine which of the very talented pool of players has earned the right to be called the top rookie from each league for their performance on the field this season.

    Let us begin our quest to find the probable American and National League Rookies of the Year.

American League: Contenders Turned Pretenders

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    What happened to these guys? They all had incredible promise and more attention than the rest of the rookie crop, but failed to generate enough momentum and production, leading to them falling off the ROY map.

    Early in the year it looked like the A.L. Rookie of the Year race was going to be a two-man show, between Michael Pineda and Baltimore's Zach Britton. After jumping out to a 5-1 start in his first six appearances, Britton fell hard. He posted just two victories after May 1st, suffered a meltdown of gigantic proportions during three July starts (24.00 ERA, 16 ER in 6 IP), and was eventually shipped all the way back to Double-A. He has since returned and in his last start, looked a lot like the pitcher he was during the first month, allowing just one run and six hits in five innings, and picking up his seventh victory. Still, for the year, he's 7-9 with a 4.54 ERA.

    Kyle Drabek's season started off similarly for Toronto. He allowed just one hit and one run in his first start of the season and then posted back-to-back quality starts. It was all downhill from there, however, as he surrendered three or more earned runs in all but two of his next 11 starts. Like Britton, he too was banished back to the minors, carrying a losing record and a 5.70 ERA.

    If Jeremy Hellickson was the preseason favorite for the ROY, then Seattle's Dustin Ackley was the dark horse. Nobody knew until the final day of spring training whether or not he would be traveling north with the big league squad. He didn't, but when he was called up he made his presence known, hitting .300 during his first month. He hit .308 during July as well, but has struggled in August, hitting just .261. The all-around numbers are solid from Ackley, but not nearly as impressive as everyone thought him capable of.

    Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall got off to a scorching start at the plate in the minors, but it took until the end of June for him to receive his call-up. He looked great early on, posting hits in seven of his first eight contests, but cooled after and has struggled to maintain a .240 average. His power (just three HR in 121 ABs) has been almost non-existant and he's struck out in nearly one-third of his at-bats.

    Last but not least we come to the Moose. Kansas City's Mike Moustakas burst onto the midwest scene about a couple of weeks after fellow top prospect Eric Hosmer, but his campaign has in no other way resembled the latter's. Moustakas hit his first home run in his second big league contest and was hitting .385 through four games, but has hit a terrible wall. For starters, he hasn't homered since, going 60 games (and counting) without a long ball. Thanks to a .160/.198/.223 line during July, he's now hitting .227 with a .284 OBP and slugging percentage.

American League: No Chance Because They're Non-Closing Relievers

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    Chicago's Chris Sale has also been brilliant this year, solidifying the White Sox bullpen with a 2.61 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 58.2 innings of work. He's managed to pick up five saves, but yielded closing duties to Sergio Santos, who has 26 saves this year. Sale has also notched 11 holds.

    Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress get all the attention, but the best rookie reliever in Kansas City has been Greg Holland, who has compiled a 1.85 ERA and a 58-to-15 K:BB ratio in just 48.2 innings. He has 14 holds. Holland made his 2011 debut on May 19th and didn't allow his first earned run until nearly a month later.

    Twenty-six year old Vinny Pestano is the king of rookie relievers. His 68 strikeouts, compiled in just 50.2 innings makes him the most prolific rookie non-closing reliever in the A.L. He's also been one of the top relievers in Cleveland's bullpen, regardless of status, posting a 2.49 ERA and a team-high 18 holds.

    You have to give Al Alburquerque credit, he's more than just an awesome name. The 25-year-old first-timer has had an incredibly fine debut season, posting a 2.19 ERA while racking up 57 strikeouts in just 37 innings. In addition to his five holds, he's also managed to pick up five victories.

American League: Too Little, Too Late

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    Jeremy Hellickson isn't the only rookie who's been a boon to Tampa's future. Desmond Jennings was called up during the final two weeks of July and since arriving has been the hottest rookie hitter in baseball. His .339 average paces all rookies with 100 or more at-bats and he's logged at least one hit in 23 of his 32 appearances. The speedster has also swiped 13 bases in 18 attempts and slugged six home runs.

    Toronto third baseman and Canada native Brett Lawrie has half the number of at-bats as Jennings, but he's already made quite an impression, slugging five home runs and driving in 14 in just 20 big league games. The 21-year-old is hitting .333 and also has four doubles and three triples to his name. 

    Eric Hosmer has come as good as advertised for the Royals, but unfortunately they didn't bring him up until the second week in May, otherwise he might have a legit shot at challenging Trumbo for top honors. His .273 average is third among qualified rookies and he has slugged 12 homers and driven in 55 runs. No doubt, he'll be the centerpiece of an improving Kansas City squad for years to come. 

American League: Runners-Up

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    Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson was the favorite for A.L. Rookie of the Year honors before the season began, and while he hasn't gone all Nolan Ryan on the rest of the American League, he has been very good.

    His 3.01 ERA is tops among qualified rookie pitchers, and ranks 18th overall in all of baseball. He's thrown 149 innings, which is a few ahead of the next closest rookie, and has 11 victories, a number that is good for 17th in the American League and one behind James Shields for the team lead.

    Hellickson has tossed 15 quality starts and posted a 2-to-1 K:BB ratio. The seasoned 24-year-old was at his best during the month of May, in which he posted a 4-1 record and a 1.36 ERA. He allowed just five earned runs in five starts and threw his first career complete-game shutout.

    More so than any other rookie starter, Hellickson has been eerily consistent. He's surrendered more than three runs in just three starts this year and has posted seven starts in which he's allowed one or fewer earned runs.

    Hellickson's top opponent for top rookie honors, at least on the mound, has been Seattle's Michael Pineda, who exploded onto the scene in April, winning four of his first five starts. Pineda has kept up his fantastic strikeout pace and has 148 going into the final month of the season. That number paces the rookie class and is good enough to rank him inside the top 15 in the A.L.

    His ERA of 3.73 ranks second among qualified rookies and is also second among Mariners starters who are haven't been traded. Along with King Felix, Pineda has given the M's a sturdy one-two punch that is likely to become a one-two-three when the duo is joined by 2011 draftee Danny Hultzen late next year.

    Pineda has actually posted more quality stars than Hellickson, but has proven to be more inconsistent. He's give up five or more earned runs five times, a feat the Rays pitcher has only succumbed to once.

    Unfortunately, fans have been deprived of seeing the two rookie hurlers face off against each other, despite the fact that Pineda has made two of his past four starts against Tampa.

    It's always harder to get notice as a reliever, but voters over the years have been kinder on closers in the ROY voting. If Mark Trumbo, Hellickson and Pineda weren't head-and-shoulders above everyone else, Trumbo's teammate Jordan Walden might have had a shot.

    He has 26 saves, tied for sixth in the A.L, 54 strikeouts in less than 50 innings and a 2.72 ERA. Walden can light up a radar gun like nobody else and has been a major reason that L.A. has been better than anyone expected

    The final member of the runner-up trio is New York's Ivan Nova. Yes, he has an unfair advantage because he plays behind one of baseball's most potent offenses, but he's more than held his own as a 24-year-old pitching in the Big Apple.

    Nova paces all rookies with 13 victories, a number than places him in a tie for fourth place overall in the A.L. The rest of his numbers aren't as strong, including a 74-to-43 K:BB ratio and an ERA approaching 4.00, but considering he's put up such strong numbers in New York and has picked up a solid amount of victories, he just sneaks into the runner-up stratosphere.

American League Favorite

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    Jeremy Hellickson and Michael Pineda have both put together very fine seasons, but no American League rookie has made a bigger impact than Los Angeles Angel Mark Trumbo.

    First, you have to consider the circumstances under which Trumbo assumed first base duties. He's replacing Kendry Morales, who hit 34 home runs and finished fifth in the MVP voting in 2009, but suffered a fractured leg that didn't heal properly and forced him to miss a good chunk of the 2010 campaign and all of this year.

    Second, Trumbo's production has been such that there has been little lost. He paces all rookies in home runs (23) and RBI (70), and has posted the second-highest OPS (.775) among qualified first-year players. And surprisingly—Trumbo is 6'4" and 220 pounds—he ranks second among qualified rookies with eight steals.

    On defense, Trumbo has been no slouch either. He's committed only eight errors in over 1,110 total chances, good for a fielding percentage of .993 and about on-par with the kind of numbers Morales put up during his 2009 break-out campaign.

    On a squad with a cache of aging has-beens (Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells, etc.), Trumbo has been a guiding light for L.A. He is the team leader in home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage and ranks second in doubles and intentional walks.

National League: Contenders Turned Pretenders

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    What happened to these guys? They all had incredible promise and more attention than the rest of the rookie crop, but failed to generate enough momentum and production, leading to them falling off the ROY map.

    Atlanta lefty Mike Minor almost began the season in the starting rotation, but was forced back to Triple-A when Brandon Beachy had an epic spring. With Beachy performing well, Minor has had to take whatever opportunities he could get, whenever he could get them. He's only made 10 starts in the Majors, six fewer than he's made for Triple-A Gwinnett. He has been pretty good, posting a 4-2 record and getting 52 punchouts in 55 innings, but he just hasn't had enough chances to show what he can do on a consistent basis.

    Dodger's right-hander Rubby de la Rosa exploded onto the scene with his 100-mph fastball and a couple of really impressive relief outings, but once he was moved into the rotation he struggled initially. He worked out the kinks during late June and early July, but just as he caught his stride, he was felled with an injury. Now he's going to need Tommy John surgery and will miss almost all of the 2012 season as well.

    Jordan Lyles entered the 2011 season as Houston's top prospect, and at the tender age of 20, was rumored to be in contention for a opening day rotation spot. He made a couple of starts in the minors before getting called up on May 31st. His start that day was brilliant and fitting of a pitcher who is a million times more mature than his DOB indicates. Still, youth is inexperience, and Lyles has struggled to keep his ERA below 5.00. He's also lost seven of his 15 starts and served up a fair amount of home runs.

    And the ultimate "pretender," so to speak, has been Philadelphia uber-prospect Domonic Brown, who in 183 at-bats has stuttered to a .246/.335/.393 line. He has shown a bit of raw power, slugging five home runs, and some good plate discipline (25-to-34 BB:K), but for the most part he's been underwhelming.

    Remember back when Giants' stud prospect Brandon Belt was all the rage? After dominating in the minor leagues he ended up starting for the Giants during the first few weeks. Until he proved he couldn't hit big-league pitching, that is. Belt struggled to hit above .200 through late April, when he was finally demoted. He regained his stroke down in the minors and has performed much better since he returned, upping his average to a more "respectable" .239.

    Aside from his 12 steals, L.A.'s Dee Gordon has also been a disappointment, hitting just .234 with five RBI and three extra-base hits in 111 at-bats.

    Belt's partner in crime during the 2010 minor league campaign was Gordon's teammate, Jerry Sands. Sands eventually forced his way onto the roster, but barely hit above .200, earning a prompt demotion. He hasn't been back since. 

National League: No Chance Because They're Non-Closing Relievers

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    Josh Spence hasn't gotten too much work in this season, making only 32 appearances for the Padres, but he's been plenty good when he's been on the mound. His 2.16 ERA is one of the top numbers among rookie relievers as is his 0.96 WHIP. He's also struck out more than a batter an inning.

    It's only fitting that with so many candidates from Atlanta on this list, there would be at least one who was a product of their farm system. Mike Dunn was dealt to Florida last year, where he pitched well late in the year and then earned a spot in the bullpen for 2011. He's been excellent for the Fish, posting a 3.63 ERA and striking out 63 batters in just 57 innings.

National League: Too Little, Too Late

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    Jesus Guzman anyone?

    Yeah, I had never heard of him either, but upon review of the N.L. leaderboard, you'll see that no rookie with more than 85 at-bats has posted a higher batting average (.327) than the 27-year-old journeyman. Guzman began his career with Seattle, who signed him out of Venezuela back in 2004. He made pit stops in Oakland and San Francisco before finding a niche with San Diego, who inked him before the 2011 season and watched him tear apart PCL pitching to a .332/.423/.529 line. Guzman has five homers and seven steals as well.

    The Mets could have had another serious ROY candidate, but Lucas Duda got off to a terrible start and was demoted back to Triple-A before he finally came back up for good and started to produce in late June. Since coming back, he's been great, hitting .283 in June, an even .300 in July and .329 this month. He's starting to show flashes of power that he has shown in the minor leagues. His average is up to .288 and he has seven long-balls and 38 RBI.

    Who knows what Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt could have done with a full season's worth of games. He certainly would have slugged more than 25 home runs, as his current pace (5 HR in 67 ABs) suggests. Unfortunately, Goldschmidt has also been an almost guaranteed strikeout (27 K in 67 ABs) so he might have also cracked 200 whiffs assuming he got more the 100 starts for the Diamondbacks.

    It took the Padres three months to decide to finally move lefty Cory Luebke into the rotation. Don't get me wrong, he was good in the 'pen, but once he moved into the starting-five he proved his worth. In 11 starts, he has posted a 2.73 ERA and six quality starts. He's been incredibly tough to hit, posting a 75-to-16 K:BB ratio in 66 innings. For the year, combining his relief work to his impressive recent run, Luebke is 5-6 with a 2.91 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 105.1 innings.

National League: Runners-Up

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    The majority of the runners-up for the N.L. ROY come from the East division, with two hailing from Atlanta.

    Without a doubt, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is going to get a healthy number of votes. He has arguably been the best closer in baseball this season, racking up 40 saves, the top number in either league.

    He also has the lowest ERA (1.70) of any reliever with more than eight saves and has posted a ridiculous K:BB ratio of 103-to-25. And he's managed to rack up all of those Ks in just 63.2 innings.

    The 24-year-old right-hander has been so dominant that it's really hard to put into words, but I'll try, using stats to back up his case. He has failed to allow a single earned run in 11 outings this month, spanning 10.2 innings. Going back even further, he didn't surrender a single run in 12 appearances the month before. In fact, you have to go all the way back to June 11th to log Kimbrel's last earned run.

    Kimbrel has to be Freddie Freeman's top opponent for the award, but when a hitter goes up against a reliever, the hitter usually gets the nod.

    The next competitor, who with a strong finish could actually jump all the way over Freeman to the fore-front of the discussion is Philadelphia right-hander Vance Worley.

    Despite making far fewer starts than most of the other rookie candidates, Worley ranks second in the N.L. with nine victories. He's only lost one and has one of the top winning percentages in either league. His 2.65 ERA is the best of any N.L. rookie with more than four starts. 

    And luckily for the Phillies, Worley has logged just under 100 innings for the season, meaning he'll be incredibly fresh for the playoffs, where he could be the key to Philly making back to the World Series. 

    While Worley ranks second among N.L. rookies in victories, it's a pitcher on one of his team's biggest rivals who paces the group. New York's Dillon Gee came from nowhere to notch 11 victories (and counting) this season.

    His ERA (4.37) hasn't been as pretty as his win-loss record, but he also leads the rookies with 127.2 innings pitched and ranks tied for fourth with 85 strikeouts. He's also just one of two (Worley is the other) N.L. rookies to record a complete game.

    Atlanta's Brandon Beachy was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster, but justified his promotion with four quality starts during the month of April. His monthly ERA has never risen about 3.72 and for the year he's at a very healthy 3.31. 

    Beachy made his mark in the minors as a control specialist and he's carried that over into the big leagues, posting a 128-to-32 K:BB ratio. He's also been incredibly prolific with the punchout, posting 11 games with seven or more strikeouts and two with more than 10 Ks.

    A stint on the DL during the midseason might cost him, but if he could get to 10 victories, he might have a shot at swiping some votes.

National League Favorite

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    While his numbers haven't been as impressive as Trumbo's, Freddie Freeman's rookie campaign for Atlanta has been eye-opening for many reasons.

    For starters, while Trumbo is a ripe, old age of 25, Freeman is four years younger and one of the youngest players in the major leagues.

    He's also been one of Atlanta's most productive hitters, using two really productive months to catapult him into the lead of the Rookie of the Year talks for the N.L. Often hitting fairly high in the Braves lineup, Freeman has put together a .291/.354/.465 line. He has rapped 28 doubles, slugged 18 homers and driven in 64 runs.

    He was at his best during July, hitting .362 with six homers and 18 RBI. That month also happen to give fans the best look at what to expect from him going forward. After posting 9-to-26 and 5-to-29 BB:K ratios in May and June, he improved to 13-to-24 in July.

    Freeman has also been an incredible asset on defense, posting a .995 fielding percentage which places him in the top 10 among all of baseball's first basemen.

    Without a major collapse down the stretch the N.L. Rookie of the Year award is Freeman's to lose.