The Rookie of the Year awards come out today, and I think it says a lot about just how unbelievably stacked the rookie class in the National League is this year that guys like Nolan Arenado, Tony Cingrani, Gerrit Cole, Evan Gattis, Jedd Gyorko, Hyun-jin Ryu, A.J. Pollock, Paco Rodriguez, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Michael Wacha, Julio Teheran — many of whom might have a case to make to win it outright in other years — don’t even sniff the top three. Hell, some of those guys won’t even make the top ten this year, and that’s a shame, because they’ve all been very valuable additions in their big league debuts. I just can’t remember a group of rookies in one league who contributed so much in the same year.
For my money, the top three rookies in the NL are pretty easy for me to get to, and it’s exactly the same three as the finalists were announced – Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, & Yasiel Puig. Miller’s clearly the third of those three, and if you’re asking me why he’s above Ryu or Teheran, who would be my next two, the answer is that there’s no wrong answer. I’ll demerit Ryu slightly because he’s an older player who was a professional elsewhere, and in a field this stacked that’s enough to bump him out. I’ll take Miller over Teheran as a matter of personal preference, I suppose. Otherwise, their profiles are similar, and if you prefer one over the other I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.
Anyway, argue about who’s #3 all you want, because we all know that this comes down to Puig vs. Fernandez, and the fact that one of them is going to lose this seems wrong, because they’ve both been so phenomenal. With obvious credit given to Hanley Ramirez, Puig was one of the catalysts of the Dodger turnaround, and while the Marlins didn’t come close to the playoffs, the 20-year-old (for most of the season) Fernandez was their best pitcher since day one. Forget just mere Rookie of the Year talk, because Fernandez would have a great case for the Cy Young if not for Clayton Kershaw.
There’s a ton of positives for both of these guys, enough to make your argument for either. But the one category they’re pretty dead-even in is “pimping homers,” as you can see from this Fernandez shot against Atlanta in his final game of the season (via FanGraphs) and one of about a dozen Puig examples I could have gone with:
Glorious, both of them. On the 20-80 scouting scale, those are some 70-level pimping efforts right there. MORE CUBANS PLEASE.
The main demerit against Puig is that he didn’t arrive in the big leagues until June 3, which meant that he had about two months less playing time. I get the argument, but I’m not really buying into it; after all, no one seemed to mind that Mike Trout & Bryce Harper missed just about all of April 2012, or that Buster Posey‘s 2010 debut didn’t come until May 29, just a few days earlier than Puig’s arrival this year — or that potential AL recipient, Wil Myers, didn’t appear until June 18 this year. Is that really worse than a rookie who was up on April 1 and struggled for two months? Toss in the fact that Fernandez made only two September starts before being shut down — that’s not equal to two months, of course, but it’s something — and that’s not a consideration that I can really put a ton of weight into.
Still, just like with Ryu, it’s a minor demerit, and in a race this close, that might be all it takes, and for as wonderful as Puig has been, what Fernandez has done is downright historic. After skipping Double-A and Triple-A, not only did he stick in the Miami rotation all season long, he had what might be considered one of the best age-20 seasons of all time. Fernandez isn’t just one of the best rookies in baseball, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, right now.
Puig of course energized the Dodgers with homer and rocket throws and insanity and so on, and 99% of the time he wins this award in a unanimous sweep. As with Fernandez, it’s limiting to just look at him through the prism of “rookies,” because he’s simply one of the best players in baseball, no matter what age. He finished the season seventh overall in wOBA — that’s with an arbitrary 400 plate appearance minimum, so he appears but Ramirez does not — and to think what he can be when he stops making stupid mistakes is just stunning.
Really, there’s not a wrong answer between either, but I guess I’d put it this way — if I’m the Dodgers, and I was given the opportunity to swap Puig for Fernandez straight up, would I do it? You know what? I think I would. And I think Fernandez is going to take this award, easily.