Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Myers, Fernandez, and Puig

The Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis for Myers last winter. It paid off
Baseball awards week kicked off tonight with the Rookie of the Year selections, and both choices were the correct ones.

In the American League, preseason favorite Wil Myers ran away with the award. Myers received 23 of the 30 first place votes for his outstanding (albeit abbreviated) campaign. Though he didn't debut until June 18th, the 22 year-old made the most of his shortened season. Myers mashed big league pitching to the tune of .293/.354/.478 (eerily similar to Eric Hosmer's rookie numbers).  He also popped 13 homers and knocked in 53 runs, providing some much-needed firepower for the offensively-starved Rays as well as another big bat to complement Evan Longoria. Just for fun (and to show how productive he was on a per-game basis) here's what his numbers project to over the course of a full season:

92 runs, 180 hits, 42 doubles, 23 homers, 92 RBI, 60 walks, 9 steals, 294 total bases

Those are fine numbers for anyone, let alone a 22-year old kid playing half his games in the pitching-friendly Tropicana Field. Myers had a huge impact on the Rays, who were in fourth place and just three games above .500 when he was called up, but went 56-38 (.596) with him on board. Tampa Bay probably doesn't make the playoffs without him.

Runner-up Jose Iglesias netted five first-place votes and 17 second-place votes. Some thought Iglesias, who logged significantly more playing time than Myers and batted .303 while playing superlative defense, deserved the hardware over Myers. FanGraphs and B-R both have Myers rated as more valuable per WAR because even though he played right field, he was far and away the superior hitter. Iglesias never walked and hit for no power whatsoever despite benefiting from friendly offensive environments in Boston and Detroit, so his 101 OPS+ pales in comparison to Myers' 132 mark.

The remaining pair of first place votes were split by starting pitchers: Myers' teammate Chris Archer and Oakland's Dan Straily. J.B. Schuck, Cody Allen, Martin Perez and David Lough also received consideration. Tampa Bay now has three rookies of the year on its roster: Myers, Longoria (2008) and Jeremy Hellickson ('11).

Fernandez was one of the few bright spots on a horrendous Marlins team
The National League race was even more lopsided, which was surprising given the insane levels of hype generated by Yasiel Puig this summer. Jose Fernandez dominated the voting, hauling in all but four first place votes (which went to Puig) for what was a historic rookie season. The Miami Marlins were god-awful this year, as expected, but Fernandez flourished into one of the league's best pitchers. Just 20 years-old at the season's outset, Fernandez got off to a shaky start (4.50 ERA in April) but quickly settled down and found his rhythm. He got better and better as the season wore on, being voted as the NL's top rookie in July and August. When he was shut down after making just two September starts in accordance with his team-enforced innings limit, Senior Circuit hitters breathed one big sigh of relief.

The former first round draft pick and Cuban defector had emerged not only as Miami's ace, but as a legitimate Cy Young candidate as well. He was all but unhittable, posting the lowest H/9 rate in the majors and holding opponents to .182/.257/.265 figures. His 2.19 ERA and 176 ERA+ ranked second only to Clayton Kershaw among big league pitchers, and his 9.75 K/9 was bested only by A.J. Burnett in the NL. His 0.98 WHIP placed him third, as did his 6.3 pitching WAR. Puig may have been the sexier choice, but there was no denying Fernandez's numbers.

Puig was ridiculously fun to watch, though, and had a tremendous season in his own right. He didn't debut until June 3rd and only got into 104 games, but that was more than enough to know that a new superstar had arrived. The 22 year-old Cuban batted .319/.391/.534, which translated to a robust 160 OPS+ and provided plenty of spark for an underachieving Dodgers club that seemed to have lost its way. His first month in the Show was absolutely off-the-charts, so much so that we were talking about him as an All-Star candidate based on four weeks worth of games. Even at the time it was ridiculous, but like Willie Mays or Bo Jackson, Puig was made for All-Star games. He was must-see TV the way Justin Verlander's starts are, the way Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds' at-bats used to be.

The human highlight reel eventually cooled off, of course, but still managed to do something SportsCenter-worthy on a nightly basis. I can't think of a rookie baseball player in my lifetime, not even Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, who created as much excitement as Puig did. Everything he did, all the rocket throws, towering home runs and majestic bat flips, even the strikeouts, was jaw-dropping. When it comes to showmanship, he is without peer. It's going to be a blast watching him do his thing.

Extrapolate Puig's performance over a full season, as I did with Myers, and you get these numbers:

102 runs, 190 hits, 32 doubles, 29 homers, 17 steals, 317 total bases

That seems like a good baseline for his performance next year.

Apologies to remaining NL-vote getters Shelby Miller, Hyun-jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Jedd Gyorko (what a finish!), Nolan Arenado, and Evan Gattis (great start!), but I've run out out of things to say about this year's rookie class.

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