Rookie of the Year preview (cont.)
Announcement: 6:47 p.m. ET
Todd Frazier, 3B/1B, Reds
Season Stats: .273/.331/.498, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 55 R, 115 OPS+, 1.9 bWAR
Drafted out of Rutgers as a shortstop in the first round in 2007, Frazier bounced around the diamond in the minors, playing all four infield positions and leftfield. That flexibility served the 26-year-old well in 2012. After getting some major league exposure at third base in place of an injured Scott Rolen in 2011, Frazier's big opportunity in 2012 came as a result of another Rolen injury. As the Reds' starting third baseman from May 12 to June 16, Frazier hit .260/.322/.529 with six home runs in 31 games, and when Joey Votto went down with a knee injury right after the All-Star break, Frazier took over at first base, hitting .300/.347/.500 with eight home runs in 48 games from July 16 to Sept. 4.
However, whenever Votto and Rolen were healthy simultaneously, Frazier had to settle for being the first man off the bench, even down the stretch in September. As a result, he had just 465 plate appearances on the season, well short of a total that would qualify him for the batting title.
Frazier had a fine rookie campaign and was very valuable to Cincinnati in the absence of its veteran cornermen, but, in my opinion, he was not one of the top three rookies in the National League this year. In fact, I would rank both Brewers rightfielder Norichika Aoki (.288/.355/.433, 30 SB, 3.3 bWAR) and Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario (.270/.312/.530, 28 HR, 71 RBI, 1.9 bWAR) ahead of him.
Bryce Harper, CF, Nationals
Season Stats: .270/.340/.477, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 98 R, 18 SB (75%), 119 OPS+, 5.0 bWAR
The top pick in the 2010 draft and the top prospect in the game each of the following two springs, according to Baseball America, Harper's hype preceded him to the major leagues. He didn't hit much in Double-A late last year or Triple-A this April, but Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who was instrumental in the aggressive promotion of another 19-year-old phenom named Dwight Gooden 28 years ago, was eager to have the 19-year-old on his team this year.
Harper was called up on April 28, the same day as Trout, and doubled in his major league debut. A week later, the Phillies' Cole Hamels intentionally hit him with a pitch in a nationally-televised Sunday night game. Harper retaliated later in the inning by stealing home on a lazy pickoff throw to first base. That was his first major league steal and a play that announced Harper as a far more complex, heady and athletic player than the brash slugger he had been portrayed as prior to his debut.
A week after that, Harper finally hit his first major league home run and found a groove, hitting .340/.419/.650 with seven homers over the next month to raise his season rates to .303/.384/.548. That was followed by a two-month slump in which he hit a mere .204/.275/.287 with three home runs in 241 plate appearances, dropping his season line to .245/.321/.396 and briefly dropping him out of the conversation for this award and nearly out of Washington's lineup.
However, Harper finished strong, hitting .327/.384/.600 with 12 home runs over his final 179 PA, including a 14-for-30 performance with three home runs in his final eight starts. That final push added 10 points to his season batting average and on-base percentage and 17 points to his slugging percentage and, in combination with his excellent play in centerfield and solid work on the bases, did much to boost his candidacy for this award.
Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks
Season Stats: 16-11, 3.33 ERA, 125 ERA+, 1.18 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.89 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS, 3.2 bWAR
Miley was solid but unspectacular in seven starts down the stretch in 2011 and wasn't expected to be a part of Arizona's rotation in 2012. An early elbow injury to Daniel Hudson, ultimately leading to Tommy John surgery, forced Miley into the rotation in late April after two scoreless long-relief appearances and a rockier third one.
Miley ran with the opportunity, allowing just one unearned run across 12 1/3 innings in his first two starts and reeling off four straight starts of at least seven innings pitched and exactly one run allowed in June that dropped his season ERA to 2.19. His worst start of the season followed that streak, but he continued unfazed, posting a 2.81 ERA over 10 starts in July and August to carry a sub-3.00 ERA and 14 wins into September.
At that point, Miley seemed to have this award in the bag, but his final five starts, only two of which were quality, inflated his ERA and opened the door for Harper, who seized the opportunity with his strong finish.
Who Should Win: Harper
Who Will Win: Harper
There is still an argument for Miley as the deserving winner given his consistency over the first five months of the season and the fact that Harper was quite terrible at the plate for half of his season. That argument probably undervalues Harper's play in the field, however, which could prove to be the difference in this race.
Ignoring the ups and downs of Harper's season and looking only at his final line it's still not clear that he was more valuable at the plate than Miley was on the mound (indeed, Baseball-Reference rates Harper as 3.4 wins above replacement at the plate and on the bases, a near match of Miley's 3.2 bWAR), but when you add in Harper's contributions defensively it gives him the edge.
The vote may not be that close, however, as the 19-year-old budding superstar Harper is clearly the better story than the 25-year-old Miley, who doesn't project as a front-of-the-rotation starter going forward. In fact, Harper's youth and potential may influence the electorate more than they otherwise would have.