The AL Rookie of the Year

My, how time flies. It’s already June and the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft takes place today, which will cause an (exciting) influx of talent into the sport. But there are already some pretty gifted, young players in Major League Baseball. A number of those players are currently vying for the American League Rookie of the Year award. If you sift through all the names, two players float to the surface: Texas’ Elvis Andrus and Detroit’s Rick Porcello.

When the season began, there weren’t many people (outside of Texas and Detroit) that thought these two players would be in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race at this point of the season. It’s not that these two players aren’t talented – they are, and have been at the top of their organizations’ prospect charts (Andrus was signed by Atlanta and traded to Texas) since they signed as amateurs – but they are the youngest players in the Majors at the age of 20. As well, Porcello was just drafted out of high school in 2007 and, after signing too late to play that year, he spent just one year in the minors, which is virtually unheard of for a prep prospect.

So, to this point, which player deserves the Rookie of the Year award? One of the most exciting things about comparing these two players is the fact that both 20-year-old rookies are playing for first-place clubs, so they’re both contributing to a winning team. The biggest difference between the two players is that Andrus is a position player (shortstop), while Porcello is a starting pitching. Andrus likely gets the immediate edge because he impacts his club everyday, while Porcello takes to the mound once every five days. Unfair, perhaps, but a valid point nonetheless.

Elvis Andrus

Currently, Andrus is hitting a solid .276/.330/.405 with three home runs and nine stolen bases in 12 attempts. In 49 games (163 at-bats), the Venezuelan shortstop has plate rates of 6.3 BB% and 13.% K%. Obviously, he’s a bit of a free swinger with a low walk rate, but his strikeout rate shows that he makes good contact. His line-drive rate of almost 20% shows that he’s not just flicking his bat at the ball to make contact with non-strikes; He’s hitting the ball with some authority.

As well, Andrus is playing to his strengths with a ground-ball rate of 57.2%. He’s not a power hitter, so he’s putting the ball on the ground (or on the line) and good things have been happening. Another encouraging number is the BABIP rate of .304. He hasn’t been very lucky with his balls in play, so we can expect a few more to drop in over the course of the season, which could increase his batting average even more.

We also, of course, need to discuss Andrus’ defense because, well, that’s the main reason he’s in the Majors. The gifted fielder has already received some consideration for a Gold Glove. His fielding percentage is a little below the league norm, but that can be blamed somewhat on the fact that Andrus gets to a lot more balls than the average fielder. His RF/g (range factor per game) is 5.16, compared to the league average of 3.94. Obviously, Andrus is impacting the club with his glove just as much as with his bat, if not more.

Rick Porcello

Porcello, on the other hand, had a bit of a slow start to the year and lost three of his first four decisions (Like it or not, win totals seems to be a popular category amongst RoY voters). However, the young hurler then went on a tear in May and won all five of his starts. In those five starts, the New Jersey native allowed just five runs in total.

Overall, in 11 starts on the season, Porcello has a 3.98 ERA, but his FIP is 5.10 which suggests he’s been getting a lot of help from his fielders. That’s not surprising considering that he’s a ground-ball pitcher who lives and dies by his defense. The right-hander has a ground-ball rate of 55.4%. However, when batters get the ball in the air against Porcello, they usually hit it hard and he’s already allowed 10 home runs (17.1 HR/FB) while pitching in a spacious home ballpark.

Despite putting a lot of balls in play (His strikeout rate is just 5.31 K/9), Porcello has allowed just 59 hits in 61 innings of work. For such a young pitcher, he controls the strike zone very well and he’s walked just 20 batters (2.95 BB/9). He is struggling a bit in the splits column. Porcello has handled right-handed batters very well (.186 batting average) but he’s allowed a line of .300/.362/.500 to left-handed batters. An improved changeup (which he uses just 9.3% of the time) might help to combat those troublesome match-ups.

The Conclusion

At this point, my feeling would be that Andrus deserves the Rookie of the Year award a little more than Porcello, who is showing that there is still some work to be done when you look at his FIP and HR/FB rate. As for those actually voting on the award, they will likely be attracted to Andrus’ flashy play and the fact that Texas has improved significantly over last year – in no small part because of Andrus’ defense, which has allowed the Rangers’ pitchers to put balls in play with confidence.

Regardless of who is deserving of the award, both teams should be incredibly excited for the future. Both rookies are building solid foundations for what should be excellent MLB careers.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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