MLB Rookie of the Year Race Update: Week 22
Man, it feels good to be an American League rookie. Last year, Wil Myers and David Lough were the only A.L. players with a WAR higher than 2.0. This year, there are already six A.L. pitchers and three hitters that have surpassed that plateau. And there's still more than a month left.
At the same time, this also means that winning Rookie of the Year is pert-near impossible. You could average 9.50 strikeouts per nine innings and not even make this list (hello, Collin McHugh). That makes the five players below even more impressive.
In order to rank these guys, we'll be using numberFire's nERD stat. For a hitter, nERD is the number of runs above or below average they're worth relative to a league-average player over 27 plate appearances. For a pitcher, it's the same except based on 27 batters faced. In both instances, positive is good. For more information, you can click here. Let's get to it.
1. Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
nERD: 3.28 | wOBA: .409 | WAR: 4.5 | Previous Ranking: 1
Prior to last Tuesday's game against Baltimore, Abreu had gone a whopping 18 games since his last home run. Doom! Gloom! Demise! Or not.
Abreu proceeded to blast a mammo in two of his next three games and has had a hit in every game since. In fact, even with the home run numbers down, Abreu is straight raking. It has gotten to ridiculous levels. Over the last month, Abreu is hitting .370/.453/.540 with a .430 wOBA. He has reached the Trout Zone.
One aspect of Abreu we haven't touched on yet is his ability to murk both right- and left-handed pitching. Check out this chart of his splits, and you tell me which side he bats from.
He's stupidly good. No matter what. All hail Jose, our new Cuban baseball deity.
2. Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals
nERD: 1.74 | ERA: 3.40 | WAR: 2.1 | Previous Ranking: 4
Ventura has been rocketing up these rankings, partly thanks to elbows being fun-hating killers of love, partly due to a few rough starts from Jake Odorizzi, but also partly because he's pretty good at this baseball thing.
The impressive part for Ventura is that he has been able to keep his fastball velocity up while reaching the highest innings total of his career. Last year, between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors, Ventura threw a total of 150 innings; he's at 145.2 so far this year. Even with that, his average four-seam fastball velocity is still sitting at 96.4 miles per hour. When you add in a 95.0 mile-per-hour cutter, an 82.8 mile-per-hour curve, and a change-piece that clocks in at 86.3 miles per hour, you've got yourself an effective pitcher.
Now the test becomes whether or not Ventura can keep this up once he surpasses that 150-inning mark. Even with his rise in these standings, his walks have been on the rise (3.86 walks-per-nine in July and 5.11 in August). That'll be the next big obstacle for Ventura. The encouraging thing for Royals fans is that he's passed all previous road blocks with flying colors.
3. Jake Odorizzi, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
nERD: 1.78 | ERA: 4.23 | WAR: 2.2 | Previous Ranking: 2
Odorizzi was in line to retain his second-place ranking in the standings heading into Monday's slate of games. Then he went out and laid a four-inning, eight-run egg. Great.
That was just another example of what has been a perplexing season for Odorizzi. At home, nobody has been able to touch him (3.18 ERA in 79.1 innings). On the road, they've been able to go full-blown high-stakes pillow fight on him (5.61 ERA in 61 innings). This is despite Odorizzi posting nearly identical strikeout and walk rates in both situations.
The big difference for Odorizzi has been the long-ball. At home, he allows 0.45 home runs per nine innings; on the road, that number more than quintuples to 1.92. When you have a fly-ball rate at 46.7 percent, that can present some serious problems. Even before Odorizzi's performance Monday, Mike Podhorzer of Fangraphs wrote a blog about Odorizzi's decreasing fastball velocity and why that may hurt him more than others because of his high fly-ball rate. Odorizzi will have to hope that he can turn things around, or at least pitch more at the Trop, to keep his top-three spot in these rankings.
4. Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees
nERD: 1.60 | ERA: 2.51 | WAR: 3.1 | Previous Ranking: 3
Guys guys guys (and gals), it could happen! We could actually see Tanaka pitch again this season.
I've already got my Tanaka snuggie on in anticipation of such a momentous occasion. I'd bet Joe Girardi does, too. The Yanks have a -27 run-differential on August 26th, yet they are still only 2.5 games out of the playoffs. That shouldn't be possible. If they can just keep things close, maybe a Tanaka return may be just the boost they need to make a run.
5. Danny Santana, SS/CF, Minnesota Twins
nERD: 1.47 | wOBA: .371 | WAR: 2.3 | Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
I got embarrassingly excited when I saw that Santana's nERD was high enough to make this list. I had just gushed about him last week in writing about the Twins' young talent, and now I get to slobber on him again less than seven days later. Bless you, numberFire algorithms.
It's not as if Santana just stumbled on this list. He was named Co-A.L. Player of the Week alongside his Twins teammate, Trevor Plouffe. Santana has a nine-game hitting streak and has recorded five consecutive multi-hit games. Since August 2nd (22 games), Santana is hitting .360/.402/.550 with a .415 wOBA, five doubles, four triples and two home runs. That's shirsey material right there.
Not to be a party-pooper, but like I mentioned in the other column, there's no way Santana can sustain this. He had a .313 wOBA in 105 Triple-A plate appearances this spring prior to being called up, and he had never slugged more than .410 in a minor-league season in which he recorded at least 200 plate appearances. He's going to regress pretty hard-core next year. But, hey, it's okay to ignore the future every now and then and just bask in what a spectacular season this young pup is posting.