Awards week begins with Trout, Harper favorites for top rookie
The format for how the awards will be announced is different this year
Both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were heavily-hyped phenoms before the season
Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Todd Frazier and Wade Miley are also candidates
The Baseball Writers Association of America will hand out its major awards this week, starting with the American and National League Rookies of the Year on Monday, continuing with the Managers of the Year on Tuesday and Cy Young winnesr of Wednesday and concluding with the leagues' Most Valuable Players on Thursday.
In a change from previous years, when the awards were announced in the mid-afternoon over the course of six days, this year the awards will be announced live on MLB Network over the course of four evenings, with both leagues' Cy Young and MVP recipients being announced on the same night (they had previously been spread over four days). The awards shows on MLB Network will start at 6 p.m. ET and last one hour with one league's winner being announced at 6:17 and the other at 6:47. The American League winner will be announced first on Monday and Wednesday nights (Rookie of the Year and Cy Young) and the National League winner being announced first Tuesday and Thursday nights (Manager of the Year and MVP).
Another change this year is that the BBWAA announced a short list of finalists for each award last week, five for the MVPs, three for the other awards. That undermines the suspense of this week's announcements to some degree, but it also sharpens the debate by eliminating potentially distracting long-shot candidates from the discussion. From Monday through Thursday this week, I will look at the finalists in each league for the award being announced that night and offer my take on who should win and who will win. We start here with the Rookie of the Year awards.
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. League leading statistics are in bold, major league leading stats are in bold italics.
Announcement: 6:17 p.m. ET
Yoenis Cespedes, LF/CF, A's
Season Stats: .292/.356/.505, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 70 R, 16 SB (80%), 137 OPS+, 3.4 bWAR
American audiences got their first look at Cespedes in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where he played for the Cuban team and ranked among the top hitters in the entire tournament by hitting .458/.480/1.000 in six games and leading all hitters with 10 or more at-bats in slugging. After Cespedes defected to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2011, it took a while for him to clear all of the legal hurdles to become eligible to sign with a major league team. Once he did, he signed last February with, quite surprisingly, the Oakland A's for $36 million over four years.
At that point the big questions were, would the 26-year-old Cespedes open the season in the major leagues or would he need some time in the minors, and would he or incumbent centerfielder Coco Crisp move to left? As it turned out, Cespedes started in centerfield for the A's on Opening Day, which happened to take place in Tokyo, and homered in three of his first four games. He also struck out 13 times in his first 32 major league plate appearances.
Cespedes ultimately struggled with injuries and adjustments in the first half of the 2012 season. He hit a respectable but unspectacular .263/.326/.465 prior to the All-Star break, appearing in just 54 of Oakland's 86 games to that point due to soft-tissue injuries in his left hand, thigh and thumb and moved to leftfield after returning from the disabled list in June. The second half of the season was a different story. Cespedes missed just one game and hit .311/.376/.533 with 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases, playing a key role in the A's mad dash to the AL West title.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Rangers
Season Stats: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 116 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 (221 K), 2.48 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 4.0 bWAR
Like Cespedes, Darvish impressed in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, striking out 20 men in 13 innings across two starts and three relief appearances, but his regular season numbers for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan's Pacific League were even more impressive. His career ERA over five seasons in Japan was 1.72 and he struck out 276 men against just 36 walks in 232 innings in 2011 at the age of 24. In December, the Rangers spent $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate with Darvish, ultimately signing him to a six-year deal worth $56 million. That resulted in a a total investment of more than $100 million for a pitcher who had never thrown a major league pitch.
Darvish's major league career got off to a rocky start when seven of the first eight men he faced reached base, four of them coming around to score. He settled down from there and over the remainder of April, including 4 2/3 more innings in his debut, he went 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA and roughly a strikeout per inning. That dominance didn't last however. Across 16 starts from the beginning of May through August 6, he went 7-8 with a 5.35 ERA and a whopping 5.1 walks per nine innings with just seven of those 16 starts being quality. That despite an outstanding 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
Darvish's Rookie of the Year candidacy seemed all but over by that point, but he finished strong. He went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his final eight starts, all of them quality, cutting his walk rate by more than half, to just 2.4 per nine innings, while largely maintaining his dominant strikeout rate. He did all all of that while much of the rest of the Rangers' rotation was collapsing around him.
Darvish's final line was underwhelming relative to the expectations that greeted his arrival in the major leagues. However, his strikeout rate, the most impressive part of his season, was the highest ever by an American League rookie who qualified for the ERA title, and those final eight starts, combined with his strong April, made him a deserving finalist for this award.
Mike Trout, CF, Angels
Season Stats: .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 R, 49 SB (91 percent), 171 OPS+, 10.7 bWAR
Trout, the overwhelming AL favorite for this award, almost wasn't eligible for it. In 2011, he made 135 plate appearances across two stints in the major leagues and spent 38 days on the Angels' active 25-man roster prior to Sept. 1. He nearly lost his rookie eligibility for 2012 due to a technicality that assigns days spent in the minors to a player's major league service time if he spends less than 20 days on a minor league option in between major league stints. Fortunately, Major League Baseball recognized the absurdity of that rule last fall and kept Trout's rookie status intact. The result was nothing less than the greatest rookie season in the Liveball Era (1920-present).
Trout lost the chance to win a major league job out of spring training when he was felled by the flu, which caused him to lose more than 10 pounds. Nonetheless, on Opening Day in Triple-A, he went 3-for-3, kicking off a 19-game hitting streak. Meanwhile, the Angels and their new superstar first-baseman Albert Pujols struggled. Los Angeles was just 6-14 when the 20-year-old Trout was called up on April 28, but went 37-21 (.638) from his first game through the end of June, with Trout hitting .336/.391/.526, playing spectacular defense and stealing 22 bases in 25 attempts.
Then, in July, Trout found his power stroke, more than doubling his season total with 10 home runs and producing a .392/.455/.804 line on the month. From July 1 through the end of the season, he hit 22 home runs in 381 plate appearances, a 40-homer pace over 700 PA, while slugging .590. Though his batting average dipped a bit in August and September, he still hit .287/.383/.500 in those months, and his major league-leading basestealing and eye-popping defense never wavered.
Who Should Win: Trout
Who Will Win: Trout
Trout is not only a slam-dunk to win this award, he's a slam-dunk to win it unanimously.
NEXT: Will Bryce Harper, another highly-touted rookie take NL honors?
SI Now Live Friday December 20, 2013
SI Now: Olympians on Liberty Mutual, gearing up for Sochi