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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rookie of the Year

Two weeks of baseball left in the 2005 season. The candidates for the Cy Young, MVP and ROY awards in each league should be as clear they'll ever be, so I'm going to devote some time and space this week to looking at the players I think should be considered for each award and picking the players who should, in my opinion, win each one. I'll start this tonight with the rookies.

(Before starting, I have to note that, according to ESPN's sortable stats page, none of Jonny Gomes, Chris Shelton, Huston Street, Jesse Crain, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Howard, Zach Duke, or Robinson Tejeda qualify as rookies. But I think they all qualify, because, as far as I can tell, none of them had 150 major league at-bats, 50 major league innings pitched, or 45 days served on a major league roster before this season.)

AL Rookie of the year candidates
As you can see from the above I've thrown a useless column into each of the hitters' and pitchers' lines, RBI and CG. Also the players are not sorted in any meaningful manner, they appear in the order in which I entered them in the spreadsheet. Every data table needs a little white noise, doesn't it?

I'm eliminating Cano and Swisher because I don't think they've shown enough plate discipline in comparison with the other three hitters. I'm throwing out Iguchi because Gomes and Shelton are significantly younger and have put up better numbers. Of those two, Gomes is clearly the better player.

The pitchers are tough to pick amongst. Well, not Jesse Crain; his K/BB ratio is brutal. Young and Chacin pitch their home games in hitters' parks, Blanton in a pitcher's park; still, their K/9 and HR allowed tell me that they aren't dominant pitchers. In another season that lack of dominance might be cancelled out by their success and inning-eating abilities. But not this season, because the remaining three pitchers do exhibit dominance.

Kazmir should be very good for a long time. He strikes out a ton of batters and allows very few home runs, and since the all-star break his K/BB has been 2.41 (it was 1.46 before the break). But that's a result of his strikeouts going up way, not his walks going way down. His walks have dropped, but not enough. Before the break he was walking 4.94 batters per nine innings. Since the break, he's been walking 4.23. He's found a bare touch of control. If he can shave 1 or 1.5 walks off that ratio he will be a very very good pitcher.

Huston Street. That's a very clean line he has. Strikes guys out, allows very few hits and home runs. The A's feel very comfortable bringing him in for the ninth inning, and sometimes for part of the eighth as well. Stabilized the Oakland pen in May when Octavio Dotel went down with elbow problems and eventually opted for season-ending surgery.

Felix Hernandez is the kid that the deep core of the Mariners fan base calls King Felix. With his control, strikeouts and tendency to induce ground balls, this guy has the chance to be the definition of dominance for the next 10 or 15 years.

So. The short list is Gomes, Street and Hernandez.

If Lou Pinella had played Gomes everyday from the time he was called up instead jerking him in and out of the lineup and moving him up and down in the order, I'd say Gomes might be running away with this. That didn't happen, and it takes Gomes out of contention.

If Hernandez had been called up earlier than August, if he had made more than nine starts by this point in the season ... if the dog hadn't stopped to shit he might've caught the rabbit. So King Felix also gets knocked out by an unfortunate case of the ifs.

Your 2005 American League rookie of the year, combining excellence, dominance, durability and consistency, is Huston Street.

NL Rookie of the year
Sparse crop of rookies in the National League this year. I suppose I could add guys like Garrett Atkins, Jeff Francis and Brad Halsey to that table but, really, none of them have been, are, nor ever will be very good players.

Barmes is in the same class as the guys I just mentioned. His stats are infected by Coors field. Taveras' most useful attributes are his defense and speed. But his defense is not Gold Glove caliber, and so isn't enough to put him ahead of the two much better hitters on the list. And he really hasn't used his speed that well. He's only been successful in 67 percent of stolen base attempts. Anything less than a 75 percent success rate hurts a team.

Zach Duke and Robinson Tejeda are only on this list because I thought it needed pitchers, and they were the best I could find who fit the award's requirements. Neither is dominant, though Tejeda looks like he has a chance to exhibit a reasonable facsimile of it in the future. If he cuts down on his walks. Duke looks like he could be a good number three starter. If he continues as he's started.

So, it's a two-horse race in the NL. As I see it, Ryan Howard and Jeff Francoeur are the only two guys even worth talking about here.

Howard is good enough right now that the Phillies should be looking for any possible way of trading Jim Thome, even if it means eating half to three-quarters of the money remaining on Thome's contract (Thome is 35 years old right now, and signed and owed $43 million for 2006 through 2008 with a $13 million team option for 2009).

The only knock I have against Francoeur is that he doesn't walk very much. His batting average makes up a large portion of his on-base percentage. But what the hell, the kid's 21 and makes me wonder if being 4 years younger than Howard makes a difference. Oh, that was another if. No, it doesn't make a difference.

Ryan Howard has been the best rookie in the NL this season and deserves to be rewarded by being named the National League rookie of the year.

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