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Monday, November 11, 2013
Voters make right calls in Fernandez, Myers

By David Schoenfield

Baseball's future is in good hands. And good arms. A year after Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes burst on to the major league scene, 2013 gave us Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig, two players who have the ability to win even bigger awards than rookie of the year in the future.

Fernandez outpointed Puig for National Rookie of the Year in one of the more interesting rookie votes in recent seasons: Pitcher versus hitter, both explosive talents with unrivaled raw talent. Maybe the most surprising part of the seasons these two put together is that back in March neither was supposed to be here, let alone be this good.

Fernandez had spent 2012 in Class A ball. Considering he wouldn't turn 21 until July, he was expected to begin the year in Double-A, maybe Triple-A. The Marlins were heavily criticized when he opened the season in the rotation, with analysts wondering why the team would rush him to the bigs and start his arbitration and free-agent clocks so quickly. As Fernandez showed, however, the Marlins couldn't keep him down -- he was too good.

Puig is a couple years older than Fernandez, but after signing with the Dodgers last summer he played just 23 games in the minors, none above Class A. After a torrid spring training, he began the year at Double-A Chattanooga. With the Dodgers struggling in early June and facing injuries in the outfield, Puig got the call after just 40 games in Double-A. Like Fernandez, he was ready.

I think the voters made the right selection in both cases. Fernandez, also one of the three finalists for the NL Cy Young Award, went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 28 starts, striking out 187 in 172 2/3 innings. Baseball Reference estimated his value at 6.3 WAR, third among NL pitchers. Puig, in 104 games, hit .319/.391/.534, with 19 home runs, 42 RBIs and 66 runs. Baseball Reference estimates his value at 5.0 WAR.

How good was Fernandez? Over his final 18 starts he allowed more than two runs just twice -- and both of those times he allowed just three. His ERA over that span was 1.50 and opponents hit just .161 against him. For the season, opponents hit .182/.257/.265. Basically, he turned the entire National League into Mario Mendoza.

If there's an argument for Puig, it was that he played a major role in helping the Dodgers reach the playoffs while the Marlins lost 100 games. The Dodgers were scuffling in June when Puig was recalled (and Hanley Ramirez returned from the disabled list); they took off soon thereafter with that historic 50-game run. In games Puig appeared in, the Dodgers went 66-38.

But the award isn't the most valuable rookie, so while MVP Award voters consider things such as quality of teammates (sorry Mike Trout), the rookie of the year voters focus on the individual contribution and ignores a team's place in the standings.

So Fernandez it is. A historical rookie season and now a shiny trophy for his fireplace mantel.

* * * *

The American League crop was pretty uninspiring, with all three of the top candidates being partial-season players. Wil Myers became the first AL Rookie of the Year position player who played fewer than 100 games (he played 88 for the Rays) but still won the vote easily, collecting 23 of the 30 first-place votes.

By uninspiring, I don't mean that as a knock against the Myers' future, or that of Jose Iglesias or Chris Archer. I don't think this is Chris Coghlan beating out J.A. Happ.

I do think the voters got this one correct as well. In fact, look back to that Coghlan vote in the NL in 2009. Andrew McCutchen finished fourth that year with similar numbers to Coghlan (and much better defense). It was pretty obvious, however, which player was the better bet for the future and McCutchen would have been a more astute choice.

Should rookie of the year voters factor that in? Certainly, between Myers and Iglesias, Myers is the guy everyone would bet on to make the bigger impact over the next decade. I would argue that if you have two rookies who had similar value, go with the guy with more upside. NL voters did this a year ago in choosing Bryce Harper over Wade Miley and AL voters did it in choosing Myers over Iglesias.