The second in my series of Baseball Bloggers Alliance-required postseason award ballots is the Willie Mays Award, for each league’s top rookie. One of these awards is worth some discussion. I’ll save that one for last.
1. Mike Trout
2. Yu Darvish
3. Yoenis Cespedes
There were a lot of good rookies in the AL this season. Will Middlebrooks was nearly as good as Cespedes on a rate basis. Josh Donaldson was a solid defender who provided some fireworks for the A’s down the stretch. Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone were both arguably more valuable than Cespedes in propping up Oakland’s nearly veteran-free rotation. Cespedes was a revelation, with 23 homers and 16 RBI in the middle of Oakland’s suddenly-vaunted lineup. (That’s four A’s in my top seven). Darvish struck out over 27 percent of the batters he faced. Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar showed flashes of brilliance in brief flings.
But this is Trout’s award. It wouldn’t be fair to him to even start spouting numbers until the MVP argument.
1. Wade Miley
2. Bryce Harper
3. Norichika Aoki
This one’s most certainly up for debate, both for first place and third. Anyone from the Aoki/Todd Frazier/Zack Cozart/Mike Fiers/Lance Lynn scrum could easily place second. I’m giving Aoki credit for playing in 151 games and keeping up a .288/.355/.433 line all season. He also stole 30 bases and struck out less in less than ten percent of his plate appearances. No offense to any of the other candidates, particularly Lynn, who would probably be fourth on my ballot.
At the top, it’s a toss-up. Harper hit .270/.340/.470 in 139 games for the first-place Nationals. He also played stellar defense in center and right fields, accumulating 4.9 fWAR and 5.0 rWAR, phenomenal numbers for a 19-year-old or a 24-year-old. Miley, on the other hand, pitched 194 2/3 innings with a 3.15 FIP and a 3.33 ERA. That’s good for 4.8 fWAR and 3.2 rWAR. I lean on WAR a lot, but I’m not sure I trust it enough to choose between a pitcher as good as Miley and a hitter as good as Harper, particularly when their fWAR are almost identical. I’m going with Miley because I’m more impressed a rookie pitcher dominating today’s competition than I am with a rookie hitter doing the same. Even at 25, few rookies stick around in a big league rotation all season, racking up almost 200 effective innings in their first crack at big league competition. This year, an AL rookie was by far the best player in baseball. Seven NL rookies played enough (and well enough) to accumulate two or more fWAR, while just four pitchers did so. Darvish is the same age as Miley, came with all the hype in the world, and put up similar numbers, while Miley had a better ERA in more innings with no fanfare. Harper will be the better player, and perhaps it’s unfair that his excellent season will be overlooked in some circles, but I’m not convinced he was better this year.