Thursday, October 9, 2014

2014 Willie Mays Award Winners

It’s time for the End of the Year Awards.  This is one of my favorite articles to write each year.  It’s also a mandatory article per my affiliation with the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  However, it’s not a problem as I love writing these and always hope my vote helps pick the individuals I deem as the correct recipients of each individual reward.  So let’s continue with the….

Willie Mays Award (Rookie of the Year)

The Willie Mays Award is the BBA’s version of the Rookie of the Year Award.  I’ll start with my NL Winner.

1.             Jacob deGrom
2.              Billy Hamilton
3.              Ken Giles

This one was tricky as there was no clear winner until late in the race.  And while I really considered multiple players, the 3 I listed above were my top choices.

The number 3 man on my list was probably the most dominant player on the list.  However he was a middle reliever, and while they are extremely important, they are intrinsically not as valuable to a team as a starter, be it an offensive player or a starting pitcher.  That being said, the fact that Giles even made the list shows how dominant he was for the Phillies.  He only appeared in 44 games, but was fantastic in that time.  He struck out 64 hitters in 45 innings pitching to a 1.18 ERA.  He earned a Save and went 3-1 in the season.  He only allowed 1 HR and only walked 11 hitters.  Rookie pitchers don’t perform as well as rookie hitters and to be that dominant really speaks to the talent and stuff that Ken Giles has.

Billy Hamilton was the preseason favorite to win this award in the NL.  The fastest man in baseball was thrown right into the mix, leading off for a potential playoff team in Cincinnati and taking over as the starting center fielder.  That’s a lot of pressure and responsibility for a rookie.  And while he was great in the first half, he struggled in the second half.  And that’s to be expected.  It’s not uncommon for rookies to play well initially in the league and then struggle.  Many don’t recover.  But lots of rookies play well in the first part of their careers.  That’s why people consistently over rank Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig.  And it’s also why Mike Trout’s success is so surprising.  It bucks the trend.  Things become trends for a reason. 

But I digress.  Let’s discuss Hamilton.  At the end of the day, he hit 250.  That’s just fine for a rookie, but not good enough for a leadoff man.  His 292 OBP was low for anyone.  That’s what he did wrong and that’s why a lot of people want to label Hamilton as a bust and a major reason why the Reds didn’t make the playoffs.  That’s harsh.  The Reds lost Joey Votto early and had some pitching issues.  Hamilton was great in the first half, but his slump was not the main reason Cincinnati didn’t make the playoffs.  Perhaps they put too much on him in his first season.  And let’s not overlook what he did well.  This is a player who many thought lacked the requisite power to hit a sac fly if necessary.  He proved that idea was false with his 6 HR and 48 RBI.  He legged out 8 triples and 25 doubles.  He had 141 hits and 71 runs.  And he stole 56 bases!!  All as a rookie!  Let’s keep things in perspective.  Just because he didn’t live up to our expectations doesn’t mean he had a bad year.  Our expectations for new players are consistently too high.  That was the case again here.  He still struggled like all rookies do.  He stuck out too much, didn’t walk enough and got caught stealing 23 times.  He needs to improve.  But for a rookie, 56 stolen bases, 141 hits, a 250 AVG and 71 runs is great.  And he led all rookies with 152 games played.  Plus I didn’t even get to mention his phenomenal defense, which was a huge upgrade over what the Reds has out there in center field last season.  Hamilton had a good year.

But he still couldn’t hold off Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets.  The Mets have been trumpeting their young pitchers for a while.  Matt Harvey was the great one last year.  Wheeler was the young one to watch this season.  And Noah Syndergaard is the future.  But most overlooked deGrom, who stormed into the majors and dominated.  He started 22 games and went 9-6 with a sparkling 2.69 ERA.  That’s phenomenal for anyone and eye popping for a rookie.  On top of that, he did it with the strikeout.  He overpowered hitters with 144 Ks in 140 IP.  That’s incredible.  He pitched to a 1.14 WHIP and 228 BAA.  The ancillary numbers often tell the real story and deGrom’s show that he not only overpowered hitters, he was able to keep runners off base even when he didn’t punch you out.   deGrom came into the league later than others, but dominated in a strong enough fashion to leap to the top of the rookie leaderboards and take home my NL Willie Mays Award.

The AL Winner was much easier to pick.  The hardest part of this award was limiting the rest of the list to only 2 more players.  But here’s what I’ve got for my AL Willie Mays Award Winner.

1.             Jose Abreu
2.              Dellin Betances
3.              Danny Santana

There were lots of names to consider in addition to the ones I listed above.  Jake Odorizzi, Yordano Ventura, Matt Shoemaker, Masahiro Tanaka, Nick Castellanos, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt all make up this loaded AL Rookie class.  All are worthy of consideration.  But after a lot of research, I listed the three names above as my top 3 guys.

Danny Santana was a great addition for the Cleveland Indians.  He played in 101 games hitting an exceptional 319.  He also chipped in 7 HR while stealing 20 bases.  He had 129 hits, 70 R and 27 doubles.  And he played a very challenging defensive position at a high level.  Santana stood out in a loaded rookie class and looks like a future star.  And he certainly played like one this season.

The other name that jumped out to me was Dellin Betances for the Yankees.  I often overlook players on New York teams, as they are consistently overrated.  But Betances dominated in 70 relief appearances this year.  He went 5-0 with 1 Save while striking out an incredible 135 hitters in only 90 innings.  Not to say that 90 innings isn’t a lot.  It’s a ton for a reliever.  He only allowed 46 hits and 24 walks over those innings.  That is downright dominant.  His 0.78 WHIP spoke to that and his 22 Holds shows that he was taking the mound in key situations.  I’ve already talked about how relievers are intrinsically less valuable than starters, so his inclusion on the list shows how much I think of him.  He would have won it in the NL this year and in both leagues in other years.  But he happened to be a rookie in a year where we saw one of the most dominant rookie performances of all time.

And that performance belonged to Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox.  A lot of people don’t think players who have played professionally in other countries should be considered for the Rookie of the Year Award.  And I think they have a point so I generally take that into consideration.  Abreu is 27 and has played professionally for 11 years.  But even so, no one expected him to be this good.  His 37 HR were third in the league and fourth in all of major league baseball.  It was only 4 behind leader Nelson Cruz, and Abreu only played in 145 games due to injury.  That’s 6 fewer than Cruz.  The White Sox slugger also had the fourth most RBI (107) while hitting 317 with a 383 OBP.  He was one of the best power hitters in baseball, in his first season playing in the U.S.  He also hit for a high average and got on base a good bit.  This was a great season for anyone and even better for a rookie.  So while picking the top 3 players for this list was hard, picking Abreu as my AL Willie Mays Award Winner was easy.

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