The NL Rookie of the Year

Earlier this week, I took a look at the American League Rookie of the Year race. There were a number of deserving candidates for the award, led by Elvis Andrus of Texas and Rick Porcello of Detroit. Unfortunately, the competition for the year-end award in the National League is close to being a one-horse race at this point – and none of the players are having a season nearly as good as either Andrus or Porcello.

St. Louis’ Colby Rasmus has a firm grasp on the Rookie of the Year award despite having just an OK season, so far. His current line is .265/.323/.453 with six home runs in 170 at-bats. Rasmus showed good patience at the plate in April with nine walks in 18 games, but he’s walked only three times since… in almost a month and a half. His overall walk rate is down to 6.6 BB%, while his strikeout rate is at a reasonable 20 K%.

While Rasmus’ walks have decreased, his success at the plate has increased – at least in May. After bottoming out with a .212 average in May, Rasmus is heating up with the summer weather. So far this month, the 22-year-old outfielder is just four hits shy of his total for the entire month of May. His 14 hits in just nine games has been good for a .452 average.

Interestingly, he has used his good speed to swipe just one base this season, in as many attempts. In previous minor league seasons, Rasmus has nabbed as many as 27 bases. Defensively, Rasmus plays a very good outfield and he has plus range and a powerful arm.

Rasmus is still young and he has a long way to go to become a star player in the Majors. The talent is there, but there is also some lingering concern over his disappointing 2008 season in triple-A.

I am not a fan of Japanese veteran pitchers being considered for the Rookie of the Year awards. But because of the lack of options in the National League, right-hander Kenshin Kawakami is going to receive some attention. The soon-to-be 34-year-old pitcher spent 10 seasons in the Japanese Central League and twice won 17 games.

He had a rude welcome to Major League Baseball as he posted a 7.06 through April during the first four starts of his North American career. His overall numbers were not bad, but five home runs definitely hurt. Kawakami rebounded in May and posted a 3.03 ERA over five starts – and he did not allow a ball to leave the yard during that stretch.

He has been hittable throughout the year with 65 hits allowed in 64.1 innings of work. His control has been OK, although not as good as it was in Japan, and he has a walk rate 3.50 BB/9. His strikeout rate is a respectable 7.13 K/9. Opponents’ contact rate against Kawakami (79.5%) is actually lower than it is against Toronto’s Roy Halladay (79.7%), a legitimate Cy Young award candidate in the American League.

The good news for the Rookie of the Year race in the National League is that there is still plenty of time for a player such as Milwaukee’s Mat Gamel to get hot and run away with the award. Or perhaps someone like Jordan Schafer, of the Atlanta Braves, can return from his exile to the minors with a renewed approach. If Jordan Zimmermann can gain a little more consistency in Washington, then he is another candidate to consider, even if he does play for a pretty bad club.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect and rookie analysis. He also operates AstrosBall.com and can be reached via email at: marchulet@astrosball.com, or follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

50 Responses to “The NL Rookie of the Year”

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  1. Greg says:

    umm, I’ve got my money on Tommy Hanson.

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  2. Firestarter says:

    Umm, rasmus is having a much better season than Evlis Andrus. What in the world are you talking about. More HRs, RBIs, Better VORP, OBP, Slugging. WTF? You sure you looked at the stats before you said that?

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  3. Chris R says:

    No love for Dexter Fowler? With similar slash numbers, Fowler is not too far off the pace offensively, though his defense is inferior to Rasmus’s.

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  4. Jamie says:

    too early. lots of guys can get called up still and run away with it.

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  5. Manny says:

    I think Randy Wells qualifies as a rookie; his peripherals are great, his FIP is under 3.00, and his BABIP isn’t extremely skewed. He obviously was a early-year callup but given the lack of other quality names, I don’t see how he couldn’t get some nod.

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  6. Isaac says:

    If Randy Wells keeps up his pace, or even if he only regresses a little bit, he should factor into the decision as well.

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  7. Ben says:

    Any thoughts on Ryan Hanigan? At 28, he’s a little too old to be thought of as a prospect, but he’s been putting up fairly solid numbers (.319/.398/.383) while catching full-time for the Reds. While he’s got no power, he does control the zone well (11.3% BB, 10.1% K in 218 career PAs).

    Of course, he might lose playing time whenever Joey Votto returns. Ramon Hernandez has been playing first base and batting cleanup(?!) in Votto’s absence.

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  8. Hector F says:

    No love for Randy Wells? He has been the best pitcher on a lauded Cubs staff.

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  9. Alireza says:

    How about Ronald Bellisario? I believe he counts as a rookie and is having a better season than any of these guys.

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  10. ang says:

    here’s top ten rookie pitchers by VORP from BP:
    1. Ramon Troncoso LAN NL 17.1
    2. Randy Wells CHN NL 15.1
    3. Josh Outman OAK AL 14.1
    4. Sean White SEA AL 13.9
    5. Andrew Bailey OAK AL 13.2
    6. Rick Porcello DET AL 12.9
    7. J.A. Happ PHI NL 12.8
    8. Brad Bergesen BAL AL 11.8
    9. Mark Difelice MIL NL 11.4
    10. Scott Richmond TOR AL 10.6

    And here’s the hitters:
    1. Seth Smith COL NL 9.4
    2. Colby Rasmus SLN NL 8.4
    3. Elvis Andrus TEX AL 8.3
    4. Ryan Roberts ARI NL 7.2
    5. Ryan Hanigan CIN NL 6.1
    6. Dexter Fowler COL NL 6.0
    7. Nolan Reimold BAL AL 5.8
    8. Jose Morales MIN AL 5.1
    9. Brett Gardner NYA AL 5.0
    10. Tyler Greene SLN NL 4.8

    From this, you’d have Tronosco or Wells in the NL, Outman or White in the AL.

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  11. Blue says:

    Seth Smith is indeed putting up a ridiculous line, .283/.421/.456 However, he isn’t getting the starts he deserves due to the rockies odd 5 outfielder setup. He’s being rotated in with Gonzales/Fowler/Spilborghs in LF/CF, and being used mostly as a pitch hitter because he “adjusts well to coming off the bench.”

    thats right, the rockies are using a 400 obp guy off the bench.

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    • puck says:

      Do you think Smith is a true talent .400 OBP guy?

      His only real option is LF due to his throwing arm (which seems odd since he was a backup QB at Ole Miss). He’s losing much more time there now that Carlos Gonzalez has been called up.

      I think they’ll find time for him as the season goes on (I assume they’ll make a trade by the deadline). But for now, they’re riding Hawpe’s career year and playing their two young OF prospects in the other two spots. (Smith is 26, Fowler and Gonzalez are 23.)

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      • Blue says:

        He was in AAA ball, 2008 AAA ball he posted a .323/.426/.524 line, I don”t think that a .140 point split between avg and obp is quite his thing, but I think that a .300/.400/.500 line is perfectly within reach for him at his best, and a .280/.380/.450 is pretty likely.

        His increased walks don’t seem too fluky, he’s not seeing particularly more balls then can be explained by random luck. The biggest difference between his 08/09 lines is his O-swing% dropping from 28% to 15%, while still maintaining his contact rate and his Z-Swing% The sample size is of course small, but the data is encouraging.

        You’re right about his age, but I don’t think he has a whole lot of development left. I don’t think that Smith has a whole lot of growth left, but his power is there, well within the 15-20 homer range, and he’s shown solid contact skills, alongside a keen eye.

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    • Mark says:

      Seth Smith isn’t a rookie.

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  12. vivaelpujols says:

    “despite having just an OK season”

    Rasmus has been worth 2.1 WAR in less than a third of a full seasons worth of at bats. Right now he is playing like one of the best players in the league.

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  13. Douglas says:

    The guy who wrote this article, definitely has a vendetta against Rasmus, or it at least seems like it.

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  14. Brent says:

    Yes, it is Rasmus’s to lose. The entire NL rookies class itself is relatively weak and light on hype, so Rasmus could run away with this since he’s got such a head start and is playing more – there is no way someone like Schafer, Gamel and his glove and decent pitcher for a bad Washington team is going to contend. Tommy Hanson has the best chance to catch-up but will have his plate facing the Mets, Phils and Marlins regularly and may be shut down towards the end to preserve his arm.

    Anyways, if Todd Hollandsworth won the ROY with a line of .291/.348/.437, then Rasmus should be okay. -.O

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  15. TheBirds says:

    I think Colby will run away with it. That’s not to disrespect any of the other players but I think he will be a star before the year is over. He is already a 2.1 WAR player. In addition he has been a slow starter every time he’s moved up a level, so the fact that he’s already been this valuable is a very good sign.

    Of coarse I’m a Card’s fan and don’t claim to be objective. I just don’t see many holes in his game, he’s got such incredible bat speed.

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  16. exxrox says:

    Lower contact rate than Halladay? So what? Doc’s GAME is contact, it’s not like he is unhittable. He is just impossible to square up…he has even said it himself, most strikeouts are by accident essentially.

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  17. Justin says:

    What about Andrew McCutchen?

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  18. pm says:

    How could you leave off Shairon Martis. His 5-1 W-L record is the best among rookies.

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    • Teej says:

      He’s walked more guys than he’s struck out and has completely lucked his way into a couple of wins.

      I can never tell when people are joking anymore.

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      • pm says:

        who cares about that if he is getting guys out. He is also a winner as evidenced by his 5-1 W-L. Who cares about Rasmus 2.1 WAR when Martis +4 W-L is better. He is providing about 2 more wins than Rasmus.

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      • Kincaid says:

        Assuming, of course, that in Martis’ absence, Manny Acta would have simply pitched himself in those games.

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  19. tom s. says:

    i love rasmus, but a lot of his value is in his position adjustment and in his defense, something which is bound to be underestimated (if not ignored) at ROY decision-making time.

    i think you’d get different answers depending on whether you’re asking A) who is most valuable among rookies? or B) who is actually going to win the ROY?

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  20. brendan says:

    pablo sandoval qualifies as a rookie, correct?

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    • Greg says:

      Nope-He had about 10 too many AB’s last year.

      It’s too bad for Pablo-if he was eligible, I think you’d have to consider him a candidate (favorite?) for this year’s ROY. .322/.364/.498, and he’s played 3 positions. His .864 OPS looks pretty tasty

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  21. Foster says:

    PM, I really hope you’re joking about Martis. Either that or you can’t look past his W-L record. Wins and Losses are a fairly ambiguous stat, so to speak, and aren’t a great read on how a pitcher’s pitching. You can pitch really well or really badly and get a win either way.

    Let’s take a look at Martis: 5-1, 5.04 ERA, 69.2 IP, 65 H [hittable], 29 BB, 28 K. His WAR is 0.2, not all that great. A guy walking as many as he does (0.97 K/BB ratio, really?) will surely start to get hit around – it’s only a matter of time. He hasn’t been all that effective, he’s just somehow found a way to win 5 games. That won’t keep up.

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    • pm says:

      He’s going to win this. Look at his numbers vs. the Phillies and everyone else. He is 4-0 with an ERA of 3.88 against teams not named the Phillies

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  22. Craig says:

    I would say Ramus had a bit of lead right now. But if Gamel goes on an offensive tear, no one will care about his glove, well people will care but they will still vote for a player (Ryan Braun) if his offensive numbers are amazing. And Ramus is not a stud SS like Tulo, so his defense won’t give him as much as a boost in the minds of the voters.

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  23. Nate says:

    What about Andrew McCutchen? He’s seemed to fit right in place since being called up. His first day in the Majors he went 2-for-4 with a walk and a SB, and his current stat line is .310/.326/.429 in 46 PA. He had a two triple game. He already has 5 RBI batting leadoff. Smaller sample size than the rest to be sure, but most projection systems have him stealing 20+ bases this year. That’s all it really took for Ellsbury.

    We can talk about UZR and the like, but the reality is that the people who do the voting for Rookie of the Year generally don’t know what those stats are or don’t care about them.

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  24. kb says:

    I don’t think he should get it, but no mention of Happ at all?

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  25. frogger6 says:

    NL ROY so far is casey mcgehee of the brewers.

    look it up

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  26. Tim says:

    Happ gets absolutely no love? The guy is 5-0.

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  27. beast says:

    Does Jamie Moyer qualify for rookie of the year?

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  28. Sean says:

    brett wallace will be called up in the last week of september and still win the award.

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  29. monica branan says:

    are kidding me no garrett jones or andrew mcluthen. garrett jones was rookie of the month and has amazing stats . mclutchen has great stats too

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  30. Ron Martin says:

    If you check the recent stats on potential rookies of the year in the NL, one name is emerging, Chris Coughlin of The Florida Marlins. He is leading all rookies in batting average, had 46 hits in August aand has the highest on-base percentage of any other NL rookie. He also has made a great adjustment to play leftfield even though he is a natural infielder. He does all the little things: bunts well, steals when needed, makes the pitcher throw numerous pitches to him when at bat. Keep your eye on this young man.

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  31. Freddy says:

    Looks like Chris Coughlin is stealing the NL rookie of the year. That Kids on fire fire. With multiple hits in each of his first three September games, the Marlins left fielder boasts a .435 average during his 11 game hit streak and an overall average of .304 average over 382 at-bats. It’s hard to believe he’s a rookie with so much patience and a real good eye for the ball. OBP is at .378 and do be surprised if he flirts with .400 OBP by the end of Sept.

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  32. Bob says:

    Buster Posey will run away with the NL Rookie of the Year..I think it’s pretty obv

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  33. Kim Hanft says:

    Solid article and definitely helps with becoming familiar with the subject much better.

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