The new era of pitching in MLB asserted itself once more on Monday with the announcement that Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson were named Rookie of the Year in the National League and the American League, respectively, by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Kimbrel, a 23-year-old native of Huntsville, Alabama, established a new rookie record for saves in a season with 46, enough to put him in a tie for tops in the NL in that category with John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers. The hard-throwing righty compiled a stellar earned-run average of 2.10 along with an astounding 127 strikeouts in just 77 innings of work while earning a spot on the NL All-Star roster.
As a result, Kimbrel was the unanimous choice for the award in the Senior Circuit, becoming the 10th player to ever garner all 32 first-place votes and the first since Albert Pujols in 2001.
He came out well ahead of Braves teammate Freddie Freeman, Philadelphia Phillies starter Vance Worley and Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who was recently rescued from kidnappers in his native Venezuela.
As for Hellickson, the 24-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa was a fixture of the Rays' outstanding young rotation, sporting a sparkling 2.95 ERA (eighth-lowest in the AL) while limiting opposing hitters to a .210 batting average in 189 innings pitched—all tops among rookie pitchers in the Majors.
Hellickson was a key cog in the winning machinery that lifted Tampa Bay into the AL Wild Card slot after chasing down the Boston Red Sox with a sizzling September.
Hellickson checked in atop 17 of 28 ballots, well ahead of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first baseman Mark Trumbo, Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, New York Yankees starter Ivan Nova and Seattle Mariners second basemen Dustin Ackley.
Both young arms figure prominently into their respective teams' success going forward. The Braves and the Rays will enter the 2012 season as legitimate contenders in the East divisions—Atlanta looking to step up against aging Philadelphia and hold off hard-charging Washington, Tampa Bay hoping to once again use mound wizardry and timely hitting to pull ahead of big spenders in New York, Boston and Toronto.
Kimbrel will once again be asked to anchor one of baseball's best bullpens for an up-and-coming Braves team that collapsed down the stretch on account of injuries to its starting staff.
Hellickson, meanwhile, will be one of several young aces for Joe Maddon's Rays alongside the likes of David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis.
And don't surprised if we're talking about pitchers from these two teams taking home the Jackie Robinson Award this time next year. Julio Teheran will headline a deep, young bunch on the rubber for the Braves, while Matt Moore will look to parlay his spectacular postseason performance against the Texas Rangers into season-long success for the Rays.
In other words, with pitchers being the order of the day in MLB, look for an emerging crop of powerful hurlers to take home more hardware in the years to come.
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