Posted: Thursday July 19, 2012 2:32PM ; Updated: Thursday July 19, 2012 2:32PM
Cliff Corcoran
Cliff Corcoran>MLB AWARDS WATCH

Trout locks up AL Rookie of the Year but NL race too close to call

Story Highlights

Mike Trout has played 70 games and if he stays healthy for the next 70 he'll win

The rest of the AL rankings get shaken up, with three players dropping off

Bryce Harper is in a three-way battle for top rookie in the National League

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Mike Trout
Even a second-half slide likely won't keep Mike Trout from winning Rookie of the Year.
UPI/Landov

Mike Trout is going to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. It's not a sure thing just yet because there are some 70 games left in the season, but all Trout really has to do to wrap up the hardware at this point is stay healthy. That's especially impressive considering the depth of rookie talent in the AL. Eleven players -- not including preseason favorites Matt Moore and Jesus Montero -- are having compelling seasons worthy of consideration for this list and three of the four spots below Trout are new this week.

Things are equally competitive in the National League, where the order of the top three spots below were the best I could do in the absence of a three-sided coin.

Note: Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. All stats are through Wednesday, July 18. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics.

American League

1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels (1)

Season Stats: .353/.406/.584, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 65 R, 30 SB

Last Three Weeks: .382/.421/.750, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 9 SB

How large is Trout's lead for the AL Rookie of the Year award? Consider this: He has played in 70 games this season and the Angels have 70 games remaining on their schedule. That makes the math easy. If Trout plays as much over the next 70 games as he has over the last 70, he could hit .247 over the remainder of the season and still finish the season with a .300 average, and if he has just half as many home runs, stolen bases and runs scored over the next 70 games, he'll end up with 45 steals, roughly 20 homers and close to 100 runs scored.

Given his play in the field -- he's a strong Gold Glove candidate as well -- his clear impact on the Angels' fortunes in the first half, and his pedigree (first-round pick, top prospect, 20-year-old budding superstar), I doubt any of the men below could pass him even after a comparatively weak second 70 games. If his next 70 games are a repeat of the last 70, he'll finish with 60 steals, 26 homers, 88 RBIs and 130 runs scored, plus that fantastic slash line above. That could well lead to him adding AL Most Valuable Player honors to the ROY award.

2. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, A's (N/A)

Season Stats: .288/.346/.507, 11 HR, 42 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .345/.387/.517, 2 HR, 10 RBI

It seems clear now that the only thing standing between Cespedes and major league stardom is health. He missed nearly all of May due to a hand injury, played just two innings across a 10-game span in mid-June due to a hamstring strain and would have missed more time had the All-Star break not synched up perfectly with the thumb strain he suffered on the final day of the first half.

Cespedes came out firing for the second half, however, going 10-for-18 with two homers and two doubles as a designated hitter in the first four games after the break. Thanks to those four days off, he has now played in 21 consecutive games, his longest such streak this season. He won't catch Trout in this race, but if he stays healthy in the second half, he could put up a 20-homer, 90-RBI season with double-digit steals (he has six in eight attempts), a nice start for a 26-year-old player whose only minor league exposure has been three mid-season reahab games.

3. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox (3)

Season Stats: .291/.324/.520, 11 HR, 42 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .195/.214/.390, 2 HR, 6 RBI

It's been three weeks since I last visited this race, but of those 21 days, four of them were the All-Star break and Middlebrooks missed seven others due to a hamstring injury. Thus, as poor as that Last Three Weeks line above is, it only covers nine games (and one scheduled off-day), which is one reason that Middlebrooks remains third on this list.

The other reason is that the other non-Trout contenders from three weeks ago have all fallen off the list entirely. Second-place Yu Darvish went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in those three weeks and his current 3.96 ERA is his highest season mark since mid-April. Fourth-place Jarrod Parker went 2-1, but with a 5.71 ERA and would have ranked sixth if this list was longer. Fifth-place Wei-Yin Chen went 0-2 with a 5.32 ERA.

4. Tommy Milone, SP, A's (N/A)

Season Stats: 9-6, 3.54 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.92 K/BB, 1 CG, 6.4 IP/GS

Last Three Starts: 1-1, 2.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 9.50 K/BB, 6.0 IP/GS

In stark contrast to the three pitchers who have fallen of this list, Milone has dominated over his last five starts, going 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, a staggering 8.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio (26 strikeouts against three walks in 34 innings) and averaged 6.8 innings per start. In addition, in the first of those starts, he became the first AL rookie this season to complete a game. On the season as a whole, Milone hasn't been the most dazzling of the AL's crop of rookie pitchers, but he leads them in innings pitched with 114 1/3, the 14th most among all American Leaguers. Even after adjusting for their wildly disparate home ballparks, he has a slight edge over Darvish, who is next among AL rookies with 109 innings, in ERA+ 113 to 112 as well as the advantage in WHIP (1.22 to 1.34) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.92 to 2.12).

5. Scott Diamond, SP, Twins (N/A)

Season Stats: 8-3, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 3.69 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

Last Three Starts: 2-0, 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 4.7 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS

Diamond leads all AL rookies with at least 10 starts in ERA+ (138), innings per start, K/BB ratio and WHIP. He has thrown just three innings less than Parker in two fewer starts, and has finally reached the point at which I feel it's appropriate to include him against pitchers such as Milone and Darvish who have been in their team's rotations all year, though the nearly 30 extra innings Milone has thrown are still enough to overcome Diamond's superior rate stats.

Diamond, like Milone, is a 25-year-old lefty who isn't projected to be much more than a back-of-the-rotation arm over the long term. His 4.46 ERA over his last six starts would seem to support that projection. What got him on this list was the 1.61 mark he put up over his first seven major league starts.

Honorable mention in this increasingly deep AL rookie field goes to Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry, A's closer Ryan Cook, and Rangers reliever Robbie Ross.

Off the list: Yu Darvish (2), Jarrod Parker (4), Wei-Yin Chen (5)

National League

Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper has gotten most of the attention but he's a long way from wrapping up Rookie of the Year in the NL.
AP

1. Wade Miley, SP, Diamondbacks (1)

Season Stats: 10-5, 3.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 3.62 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

Last Three Starts: 1-2, 8.44 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 5.3 IP/GS

2. Bryce Harper, CF, Nationals (2)

Season Stats: .278/.349/.458, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 44 R, 11 SB

Last Three Weeks: .271/.320/.386, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 11 R, 3 SB

3. Norichika Aoki, RF, Brewers (3)

Season Stats: .288/.363/.428, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 40 R, 11 SB

Last Three Weeks: .300/.394/.383, 1, HR, 6 RBI, 11 R, 1 SB

I generally try to avoid the easy crutch of using Wins Above Replacement statistics in these rankings, for several reasons. The first is that one could too easily turn these awards lists into a list of the bWAR (or fWAR or WARP) leaders without bothering to consider the dynamics of the performance from which those totals were assembled. Though I think there is value in those figures, I prefer to get my hands dirty with the actual things the players are doing (how often they are reaching base, giving up a run, etc.), to figure out not just how valuable the player was according to one particular formula or another, but to understand what they're doing that makes them that valuable (as well as what they're doing that might be undermining that value).

Second, though they were conceived by some brilliant minds whose facility with advanced statistics greatly surpasses mine, no all-in-one statistics is perfect, in part because there are still aspects of the game (fielding being the most obvious) that the numbers don't fully capture and that, on some level, we don't fully understand (such as, say, the relationship between fielding and pitching).

Lastly, over small samples, such as the fractions of a season being considered for these lists, those imperfections are magnified (the reverse of which is why I'm more comfortable using something like bWAR to compare players' entire careers).

All of which is my big disclaimer for the fact that, with the top three men in the National League Rookie of the Year race impossibly close after Wednesday night's action, I ultimately just threw up my hands and went to WAR. What I found is that Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs are largely in agreement on these three and that, despite his recent rough patch, Miley, who has been my leader on this list since my first look at it in mid-May, hasn't fallen back into the pack as much as it might seem:

Player bWAR fWAR
Miley 2.3 2.2
Harper 1.6 1.6
Aoki 1.3 1.3

Neither version of WAR fully supports the other rankings on these lists, save for Trout's, of course, but for these, I'm happy to let it be the tie-breaker.

4. Todd Frazier, UT, Reds (4)

Season Stats: .277/.343/.554, 10 HR, 30 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .319/.385/.596, 3 HR, 8 RBI

Three weeks ago I was lobbying for Frazier to remain an everyday player in Cincinnati at the expense of either Scott Rolen or Ryan Ludwick (or some combination thereof). I'd still prefer that solution to the current one, which has him filling in for an injured Joey Votto at first base. Still, if there's an upside to one of the game's best players missing a month due to knee surgery it's that a deserving rookie like Frazier will get more time to prove to his somewhat rookie-phobic manager that he's for real and deserves to play, and his doing so will make the Reds a better team in the postseason.

Frazier hit .280/.353/.475 in the minors and while, at 26, he doesn't have a future that's much brighter than his present in terms of production, what he's doing right now is plenty. Besides, his future is much brighter than that of the 37-year-old Rolen, who will be a free agent this fall and should yield third base to Frazier sooner than that.

5. Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies (5)

Season Stats: .255/.291/.535, 15 HR, 39 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .333/.389/.727, 4 HR, 7 RBI

Rosario has made the most of his playing time of late, but that playing time is now being constricted by the return of Ramon Hernandez from the disabled list. Between that restriction on his opportunities and his lousy on-base percentage, it seems likely that there will be someone else in this final spot three weeks from now, with 27-year-old Brewers starter Michael Fiers the leading candidate at the moment.

 
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