Rookies. So young and innocent. So naive and trusting. So….so….skinny.
Which of these tender young morsels showed the most promise this year? Which of them is most likely to end up, 15 years down the line, with bum knees, a bad back, an HGH-bloated jaw, a contract his team wants to dump, tobacco-stained teeth, kids who barely know his name, two ex-wives who both hate him, tens of millions of dollars, three SI covers, and a venereal disease he picked up on a rehab assignment in Florida after his second wrist surgery?
In the National League, there are many good candidates. I have to start by mentioning Cla Meredith. When the Sox dumped Meredith (sending him to the Padres with Josh Bard in order to reacquire knuckler-catching-specialist Doug Mirabelli) Boston was elated. This trade ended up being a bad move for a number of reasons (not least because the Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield spent a good chunk of time on the DL, rendering Mirabelli’s defensive skills somewhat extraneous, and because Jason Varitek, playing hurt and then missing a lot of time, had a lousy year—and looking back on it, wouldn’t you have rather just stuck with Bard (.333) no matter how many passed balls he had?) but a big reason is that Cla recovered from his previous struggles to pitch the way Boston had initially hoped he would. In 50 and two-thirds innings of relief, he struck out 37, walked just 6, and racked up 5 wins (and only one loss). How did he do it? Well, his 1.07 ERA and .170 BAA didn’t hurt. And looking back at the Red Sox’ season (sorry, I can’t help it) given that two of their biggest problems were filling the spot behind the dish and bridging the gap between the starting pitcher and Jonathan Papelbon (a role formerly filled by Mike Timlin, the ghost of whom was not enough this year), if the Red Sox had kept ahold of Bard and Meredith, we could be gearing up for the playoffs tonight instead of sitting at home watching Netflix movies. So for his great performance in relief this year, Meredith is my No. 3 ROY pick.
Hanley Ramirez is even more impressive. He’s got good offensive numbers for a shortstop (.292/59 RBI/17 HR, along with 46 doubles and 11 triples). But what impresses me even more is that he racked up almost the same number of walks (56) and stolen bases (51). So why am I not giving him my ROY award? Too many errors. A whopping 26, putting him third-from-last among qualified NL shortstops. Yikes. (In fairness, his range factor puts him in the top half of that group, but still.) So Hanley is my runner-up.
For my top NL ROY pick, I’m going to go with Ryan Zimmerman. Yes, he’s got those 110 RBIs and 20 homers (both nice, round numbers). But he also has 47 doubles and 61 walks. Good show, kid. Yes, he made 15 errors on the season down there at the hot corner, but in the NL that’s good enough to put him in a three-way tie for best fielding percentage. It’s a tough call, but Zimmerman edges out Ramirez based on defense.
Now for the AL. Francisco Liriano was quite the stud for the Twins in the first half, but his arm gave out down the stretch. I know that’s not uncommon for a rookie pitcher, but still. This is the bigs, and ROY is a big-league award. No doubt Liriano will come back next year, stronger and tougher, and be as lights-out as before. His 12-3 record and 2.16 ERA are smoking, and even though his teammates have apparently nicknamed him “Franchise,” he didn’t go the full stretch and so I just can’t give him my ROY.
The same stands, sadly, for Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Pap won over Beantown with his fire, consistency, and jaw-dropping ERA (which never rose above 1.00 all season). He even gave rise to the best new turn-of-phrase in sportswriting this year. In short, he’s the hotness. And maybe he would have pitched through his transient subluxation had the Sox stayed in contention. But as it is, they shut him down about a month ago.
There’s a case to be made for Nick Markakis, the bedimpled Orioles rightfielder, who’s already batting third in the birds’ lineup. Unlike some of the other newbs we’ve been discussing here on UmpBump, this is a guy who has only gotten better as the season has gone on, hitting .365 in the second half. If I were a GM and I had to, say, find a promising young rightfielder to replace an old, injury-prone free-agent rightfielder, he’d be right at the top of my list (not that the O’s are going to let him get away). But ROY winner? Not this year. Not even with my weakness for all things tall, dark, and handsome. Sorry, Dimples.
I’ll give Pap my third place vote over Liriano (but just by a hair) and Markakis my number two slot, but first place has to go to—surprise surprise—Justin Verlander. Much of the Tigers’ surprising success this year can be laid at his feet (17 wins and a solid 3.63 ERA). And unlike the other young guns on the list, he hasn’t flagged as the season’s gone on. That makes him my AL Rookie of the Year.