Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Friday, August 19, 2011
Top rookies: Pineda, Trumbo battle in AL

By Eric Karabell

Mark Trumbo
Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo is hitting .259 and leads the club with 23 HRs and 68 RBIs.
If there is anything to be learned from last Friday’s exercise when I ranked my top 10 choices for each respective league MVPs, it was that plenty of fans just aren’t interested in non-traditional stats like Wins Above Replacement. Some just want home runs and RBIs. And that’s OK. Stats like WAR aren’t the most important thing to me, either, but certainly a basis for discussion. Perhaps defense shouldn’t count a great deal in MVP voting. Oh, and Yankees fans love their Yankees and nobody else, Red Sox fans love their Red Sox, Phillies fans ... well, you get the picture. You can’t please everyone!

This week I’m taking a deeper look at the top rookies, because I think it’s definitely fun and always a good conversation starter. For example, some people will look only at home runs for this award. Others will look at wins. I judge the rookie of the year candidates similar to the MVP leaders from a week ago: Myriad factors are relevant and essential, from traditional stats to otherwise.

In the National League, it appears to be a runaway for Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel, based on his dominance along with the fact no reliever has more saves and he’ll soon break the rookie record in the category -- Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers had 40 last season. Yes, Kimbrel’s teammate Freddie Freeman has had a nice season after a slow start, and in other years he would have won it all, but Kimbrel is on pace for 47 saves and a reliever-high 123 strikeouts, to go along with his 1.81 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. It’s over, people. It’s not just rookies or closers, he’s been baseball’s top relief pitcher. I just hope he doesn’t go all Marmol on us in September to make the race close.

As for the rest of the NL top 10 -- and remember, things can change -- I hadn’t realized just how poor a defender and baserunner Freeman had been. Still, he’s got the counting stats, and I can’t put a guy hitting .223 second, even if he leads all big league rookies in WAR. Danny Espinosa could be a terrific player if he hits .270, and I hope he eventually will. After that, we’re pitching heavy. I don’t think any of the NL rookie starting pitchers have distanced themselves, or even pitched enough. If Brandon Beachy could have made 30 starts, he could have been second on my list. Vance Worley will get a bit too much attention because of a flashy win-loss record. Fernando Salas has not been Kimbrel, so don’t go there. And while I find it hard to believe Darwin Barney will play this well every season, hey, give him a break. He really hasn’t been bad at all.

My choice for now: Kimbrel.
The numbers say: Kimbrel.
The voters would say: Kimbrel. Though Freeman and perhaps Worley, if he goes something like 13-3, will get (too much) support, too.

* * * *

In the American League, the race is considerably closer with a number of worthy candidates. First of all, Alexi Ogando of the Texas Rangers is not a rookie, even though his 2010 season fell short of the 50 innings minimum. Based on service-time requirement he lost rookie status. If Ogando was eligible, however, he would get my vote. Hey, no rookie hitter or pitcher -- Kimbrel included -- has a better WAR than Ogando. Alas, Seattle Mariners right-hander Michael Pineda certainly is a rookie, and he gets my vote today, despite struggling with a 6.69 ERA since July. Pineda’s ERA has spiked, but he still has more strikeouts than innings, more innings than any rookie and a cool 1.11 WHIP. Back in March I predicted Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson would earn the award, but Pineda has been better. Plus, if I had chosen Hellickson over Pineda, not only would I have been wrong, but SweetSpot writer/editor Dave Schoenfield loves the M’s and wouldn’t talk to me for a month. Hmm, on second thought ...

I admit Mark Trumbo is an interesting case. Surely there have been other sluggers to win top rookie honors with fewer home runs. Trumbo stepped in when Kendrys Morales couldn’t play and leads the Angels in home runs and RBIs. But he doesn’t lead in on-base percentage; I can’t get past that .295 mark. Wow. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Trumbo earns the award if he hits 30 home runs. I barely ranked Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, despite his 19 home runs and demanding position. He hasn’t been a good catcher though and the .210 batting average and .274 OBP hurt the team more than the power helps it.

By the way, the No. 2 rookie hitter in WAR according to Fangraphs.com is Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley, a future star. Ackley hasn’t played enough yet for real award consideration, but he’s going to be very, very good. As for other random AL rookie thoughts, sorry, Ivan Nova has not been on par with Pineda, despite the 12 victories; the case for him against Hellickson, a pair of low-K right-handers, is closer. As for Jordan Walden, nobody in baseball has more blown saves. It’s been a good year otherwise, but not a great one, and again, he’s not Kimbrel in terms of the WHIP and strikeouts.

My choice for now: Pineda.
The numbers say: Pineda and Ackley lead AL rookies in WAR.
The voters would say: If Trumbo whacks 30 home runs, and Pineda barely pitches in September, the slugger will probably win it going away.

Follow Eric Karabell on Twitter @karabellespn.