MLB Rookie of the Year Race Update: Week 8
This is just a stupidly good season for rookies in baseball. Last week, numberFire's Dan Weigel gave his picks for the American League awards after the first quarter of the season. One rookie was in the lead for the Cy Young award, but that same guy wasn't in the lead for Rookie of the Year. Fan-freaking-tastic.
After a National League race last year that saw Jose Fernandez (Regresa rápidamente, mi corazón!) beat out the dazzling Yasiel Puig, it seemed like we were a bit spoiled. But the American League has picked right up where those pups left off. Let's see what the computers have to say about this race.
For each of the guys on the list, you will see their nERD. If you don't know what nERD is, you can click here for a full explanation. For batters, it's a measure of how many runs above average they would produce if they were to record 27 plate appearances in a game (can you imagine 27 Mike Trout's?). For a pitcher, nERD is the number of runs they prevent relative to the league average in a 27-out game. Capiche? Capiche.
1. Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees
nERD: 2.68 | FIP: 2.78 | WAR: 1.6 | Previous Ranking: 2
After a one-week hiatus, the baddest mamajama in the Big Apple is back at the top of the standings. Tanaka was Mr. Weigel's selection for the A.L. Cy Young Award, and nERD has him rocking this chart as well.
If we consider Tanaka's most recent start against the Mets as an audition for this list, you could say that he passed. In nine shutout innings, Tanaka recorded eight strikouts while allowing only four hits. I would have mentioned his walk total from the game (zero), but that has come to be expected. Tanaka has walked one batter in the month of May compared to 20 strikeouts. That ratio is 66:7 on the entire season, which is one of the more disgusting things I have ever seen.
I wrote a lot earlier this season about how opponents were swinging at pitches outside of the zone. That still holds true eight starts into Tanaka's career.
He leads the league in o-swing percentage at 38.8 percent, a measure of how often opposing batters chase pitches outside of the zone. Even better? Opponents only make contact 47.9 percent of the time they swing at those pitches, the third lowest total in the league. Overall, opponents only make contact 69.9 percent of the time they swing against Tanaka, the second lowest percentage in the league. Dude tosses straight filth. If you haven't seen him yet, this GIF can serve as the abridged version of his season thus far.
2. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox
nERD: 2.52 | wOBA: .382 | WAR: 1.4 | Previous Ranking: 1
I hate baseball so much. It's the world's greatest tease, allowing its lust-inducing Sirens to lure you in before snatching them away in the most cruel means possible. The latest such temptation was Abreu, jettisoned to the 15-day disabled list with an ankle injury. Darn you, baseball. Darn you to heck.
Now, it doesn't sound like Abreu's injury is too serious, but any stretch without this phenom is simply unfulfilling. Abreu still has a two home run cushion over the unhuman Troy Tulowitzki for the most in the league with 15. If he ends up winning the A.L. dinger crown, it'll be hard to not give him the Rookie of the Year award.
Right now, the only thing (outside of his stupid, stupid ankle) keeping Abreu out of the top spot is his .312 on-base percentage. You think you can win the coveted, prestigious, legendary numberFire Rookie of the Year award like that? Not up in here, yo! Abreu needs to bring his 5.3 walk percentage up and his 26.5 strikeout percentage down once he comes back from injury. This is super dumb and nit-picky, but a) he's deliciously good, so there's not a lot to criticize, and b) the competition is tough, so that'll make a difference in the end.
3. Yangervis Solarte, 3B, Yankees
nERD: 2.44 | wOBA: .386 | WAR: 1.2 | Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
I had basically counted Solarte out of this race in Week 2, which was just another dazzlingly idiotic prediction by me. He had a bit of a lull between there, but this man has been raking over the last few weeks.
From May 4th to May 14th, Solarte had a nine-game hitting streak in which he was 14-31 with a double, 3 home runs, 10 RBI while scoring 9 runs. After another jack last night, Solarte is hitting .328/.364/.915 with four home runs in the month of May.
The reason I discounted Solarte in the first place was that he was a 26-year-old in his first year in the big leagues who hadn't really torn up the minors. That still stands, so I keep thinking that, eventually, he'll come back down to Earth. That hasn't happened yet, though, and it's fun to enjoy Solarte's success while he's still having it.
4. Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals
nERD: 2.24 | FIP: 3.28 | WAR: 1.1 | Previous Ranking: 3
After a hot start, Ventura has cooled off a bit in the month of May. Fortunately for the Royals, "cooled off" for Yordie is still pretty freaking good.
In his three starts this month, Ventura has thrown 18.2 innings with 22 strikeouts and 5 walks. This has brought his K/9 up to 9.80 and his BB/9 down to 2.96. All of that said, he's 0-2 in the month, so #KillTheWin.
At this point in the season, people just aren't hitting Ventura hard at all. Opposing batters have a 15.4 line-drive percentage against him (10th lowest in the league), 52.3 groundball percentage, and an 11.9 infield-flyball percentage. That's pretty dirty. You can't really blame them, either, because he's throwing a 96.7 mph fastball and a 94.2 mph cutter. Nasty, bruh.
5. Dellin Betances, RP, Yankees
nERD: 2.89 | FIP: 1.26 | WAR: 0.8 | Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Seriously, I swear that I am not a Yankees fan. They knocked my Twins out of the playoffs basically every year of my childhood, so the scars are real. Betances has just been that good.
Up through his 2012 season in the minors, Betances had largely struggled and looked like he'd never make it. Then he developed a slider that he says is almost a slurve that has helped transform his career.
That slider, mixed with his high-90's fastball, has helped Betances post a 15.53 K/9 in his 24.1 innings this year. That is so dumb. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings, that is the best in the league... by over two strikeouts. I am generally averse to having relievers on a list like this, but Betances has been too nasty to be ignored.
Feel free to tweet your thoughts to @numberFire or leave them in the comments section below. But if that list doesn't get you excited to go out there and watch some baseball, check yo pulse, son! These are some world class studs we're watching, and you don't want to miss a second.