Miley, Trout hold leads in Rookie races while Harper fades
Wade Miley of the Diamondbacks leads MLB rookies in ERA, WHIP and wins
Mike Trout's season is historically excellent, and not just for rookies
Bryce Harper is falling out of the ROY race and maybe into a part-time role
Wade Miley has held the top spot in the National League since my very first Rookie of the Year column back in May and Mike Trout has an iron-clad grip on the American League's top spot. Nothing has changed this week, though there has been some shuffling in the four spots behind the leaders, including a first-timer in the final spot on the NL list, and the extreme second-half performances of high-profile rookies Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes bear watching.
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, August 8. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics.
1. Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks (1)
Season Stats: 12-7, 2.85 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 3.88 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 151 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 2-2, 1.71 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 5.25 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS
Miley leads qualified major league rookies in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, strikeout-to-walk ratio and wins and he has returned to form after having a bit of a hiccup in his three starts before I last visited this award.
He had his only disaster start (more runs allowed than innings pitched) of the season on June 30 and followed it up with two more non-quality efforts but he has held his opponents to just one run three times in his four most recent starts. In his last 11 starts, dating back to June 6, Miley has held his opponents to one or fewer runs in six or more innings seven times, and 11 of his 12 quality starts this season have seen his opponents score one or no runs.
In that June 30 disaster and the start that followed it, Miley allowed a total of five home runs. He has allowed just five home runs in his other 20 appearances this season, including just one in his last five starts. The 25-year-old lefty also hasn't walked more than two men in any game this year and has only done so twice in 12 starts since the end of May.
2. Norichika Aoki, RF, Brewers (3)
Season Stats: .287/.354/.421, 6 HR, 48 R, 14 SB
Last Three Weeks: .282/.320/.394, 1 HR, 7 R, 3 SB
3. Todd Frazier, UT, Reds (4)
Season Stats: .262/.321/.506, 13 HR, 42 RBI
Last Three Weeks: .222/.260/.375, 3 HR, 12 RBI
Aoki and Frazier are pretty tightly bunched here although they are very different players. Aoki is a contact-hitting leadoff man with little power but who hits for a higher average, gets on base more often and steals bases. Frazier's offensive value is largely tied up in his home runs, which come with a typically high strikeout rate and not enough walks, but he adds value on defense via his flexibility, having filled in at both infield corners during the injury absences of Scott Rolen and Joey Votto, as well as having started five games in leftfield.
Using Gross Production Average, which improves upon OPS by giving proper weight to the more-important on-base percentage and adjusts the results so that they sit on the batting average scale (.200 is bad, .300 is good, etc.), we get a .271 GPA for Frazier and a .265 GPA for Aoki. However, that doesn't factor in Aoki's steals (which have come at an excellent 82 percent success rate) or the fact that he has come to the plate 70 more times than Frazier. Frazier hasn't derived any particular benefit from his homer-friendly ballpark according to his home/road splits, and he does give his manager flexibility, but Aoki is the better fielder. I'm still giving Aoki the edge here, but a hot streak from the 26-year-old Frazier would push him past the 30-year-old Nippon Professional Baseball veteran.
4. Bryce Harper, RF, Nationals (2)
Season Stats: .251/.331/.411, 10 HR, 59 R, 13 SB
Last Three Weeks: .156/.270/.247, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB
Harper has been slumping for more nearly two months now. His high water mark this season was his .307/.390/.553 line after the action of June 12. In 48 games dating back to June 13, more than half his season of 89 games, he has hit just .210/.285/.305. Since July 6, his line has been just .186/.281/.265, and his last three weeks, broken out above, have been even worse.
This is not a major concern as far as how it might reflect on Harper's future, as he's still just 19 and, quite frankly, he's not supposed to be in the major leagues at all. That he put up a .943 OPS in his first 40 games remains remarkable and a great indicator for future success, but the league has caught up to him.
Harper now has seven weeks left to make the necessary adjustments or risk riding pine in the postseason. Even if he fails, it won't cause much change in his long-term projection. Mike Trout hit a mere .220/.281/.390 in 40 games last year in his age-19 season. Being a teenage major leaguer is impressive enough.
5. Mike Fiers, RHP, Brewers (N/A)
Season Stats: 6-4, 1.80 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 233 ERA+
Last Four Starts: 3-1, 1.37 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 8.67 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS
Three weeks ago I had Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario in this spot and wrote this:
"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."
Bingo. Rosario has started just nine games in the last three weeks, hitting .121/.216/.394 in those opportunities, dropping that on-base percentage 11 points to .280. Fiers, meanwhile, has been dominant, most recently retiring the first 18 Reds he faced on Tuesday night in a game that saw him ultimately hold the NL Central leaders to one run on three hits, two singles and a double, over eight innings while striking out seven against no walks. Friers has made just 12 starts and thrown only 80 innings on the season, but the only other NL rookies who have been anywhere near as good are either part-timers, such as Rosario, the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter, and the Nationals' Tyler Moore, or late arrivals, specifically Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge.
Off the list: Wilin Rosario (5)