In Focus: NL Rookie of the Year Candidates

Posted on 28 August 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Wade Miley

If you want a good idea of which NL Rookie has the highest Q Score, then you probably have not watched much baseball this season.  Media darling Bryce Harper has absolutely owned the spotlight for much of the year as the RoY front runner.  Has he lived up to the hype, or has another rookie given him a legitimate run for the award?

Bryce Harper (Nationals OF, age 19) – .248/.320/.412/.732, 18 doubles, 6 triples, 12 home runs, 37 rbi, 98 OPS+, 2.1 WAR in 104 games.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis (Mets OF, age 25) – .252/.315/.376/.691, 12 doubles, 1 triple, 7 home runs, 28 rbi, 91 OPS+, -0.1 WAR in 91 games.

Wilin Rosario (Rockies C, age 23) – .245/.292/.516/.809, 15 doubles, 20 home runs, 51 rbi, 100 OPS+, 1.1 WAR in 86 games.

Wade Miley (Diamondbacks P, age 25) – 14-8, 2.80 ERA, 151.0 IP, 154 ERA+, 1.106 WHIP, and 3.8 WAR in 25 appearances.

Zack Cozart (Reds SS, age 27) - .247/.290/.406/.696, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 14 home runs, 30 rbi, 82 OPS+, 2.1 WAR in 121 games.

Todd Frazier (Reds 3B/1B/OF, age 26) – .293/.354/.550/.904, 21 doubles, 5 triples, 18 home runs, 60 rbi, 134 OPS+, 2.0 WAR in 101 games.

With just a quick glance at the raw numbers, Nieuwenhuis and Rosario drop out immediately.  Nieuwenhuis simply lacks the overall production the rest of candidates have generated, and he hasn’t shown an impressive amount of power or defensive prowess.  He does not cover a spectacular amount of ground, and he does not possess a particularly strong throwing arm, either.  He may very well be a very solid corner outfielder who eventually grows into more of a power bat for the Mets, but right now he falls short of the other players on the list.

Granted, Rosario plays the toughest position on the field, and he does so pretty well.  If RoY voters take that into consideration, then maybe he makes the top 3.  He also needs to change the perception that every Rockies player benefits significantly from inflated numbers due to Coors Field.  In truth, Rosario splits .237/.289/.520/.809 at home and .256/.296/.512/.808 on the road.  Rosario’s defense could very well be undervalued by voters, but I’m sure his teammates in Colorado appreciate it.  That still will not be enough to make him a top 3 candidate, but he at least deserves to have his named mentioned on most short lists.

Frazier has the distinction of being a great rookie and not even being considered the best rookie on his own team.  That speaks volumes about the young talent on the Cincinnati roster.  He has all the makings of a legitimate major league hitter, although his defense could use some work.  The lack of great glove work may be explained by his ability to play multiple positions.  In fairness, he probably spends too much time getting work at multiple infield positions and in the outfield as opposed to concentrating on 1 spot.  The 2.5 oWAR indicates that his bat will earn him playing time, and his defensive flexibility does not hurt at all.  If he can improve his defense at a specific position, he has the makings of an All-Star.

At this very moment, Bryce Harper finishes in 3rd place, but that should not be considered a knock on Harper.  If you take age into consideration, he wins the award running away.  To be honest, I think voters will use age as a factor, and that will push him to the front by the end.  His numbers at age 19 put him in elite company in terms of what he can do with a bat.  He has tremendous raw skills that helped get him to the big leagues.  What he does to refine those skills should keep him there for a long time.  That still does not mean he’s the best “rookie” in the NL.

If the RoY award was limited to position players, Cozart would have probably have to consider making room for a new trophy on his shelf.  Defensively, he plays SS about as well as someone can play the position.  Among qualifying shortstops, he ranks 3rd with 7.4 UZR/150 (per Fangraphs).  Offensively, he has basically equaled Bryce Harper, but his slightly better defense at a more important defensive position gives Cozart a distinct advantage.

Unfortunately for Cozart and company, Wade Miley has been pitching like a machine out in the desert.  He stands 5th in the NL in ERA, 6th in wins, 6th in WHIP, 9th in SO/BB, and 2nd in ERA+.  Forget just the RoY, those rankings make him a top 5 Cy Young candidate as well.  Unless he falls apart down the stretch or voters hold his 40.0 IP in 2011 against him, Miley stands out just a bit above the rest at this point.

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