The three-way race for the American League MVP among Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis and Mike Trout may hog the postseason awards spotlight, but the National League Rookie of the Year battle is nearly as compelling. Yasiel Puig could very well end up walking away with the award. He has performed at Troutian levels since his promotion, and it won't hurt that the Dodgers' season seemingly turned around once they brought up the Cuban sensation. However, if I had a ballot (still waiting for that membership, BBWAA), Puig would be No. 3 on it for the time being. That's because pitchers Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller have been just as impressive as Puig while playing in the majors since Opening Day. But which of those pitchers would top my ballot? Time to check the numbers, and it's a perfect moment to do so because both have made 20 starts.
Fernandez: 119.2 innings, 7-5, 2.71 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 1.04 WHIP, 124 strikeouts, 42 walks, eight homers, .192/.272/.285 slash
Miller: 116.1 innings, 10-7, 2.79 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 124 strikeouts, 32 walks, 11 homers, .223/.281/.343 slash
Clearly, this isn't going to be an easy decision, as the difference between their numbers is essentially negligible. The two numbers that do stand out are their batting average and slugging percentage against, where Fernandez has a decent edge over Miller. Other than that, it's hard to draw any real distinction. Miller's strikeout and walk rates are a tad better, but Fernandez has done a better job of keeping the ball in the park and has been harder for hitters to square up. Fernandez has been a bit fortunate with a .250 BABIP, while Miller's 79.8-percent strand rate is better than league average, owing to the Cardinals' strong bullpen. Miller has been just a touch better at missing bats, registering a 9.4-percent swinging-strike rate to Fernandez's 9. You can look at this from all sorts of angles, but the distance between the two has been paper-thin all year.
Some voters would be tempted to lean toward Miller, given that he plays for the team with the best record in the NL while Fernandez toils away for the worst team in the NL. We're not going to penalize Fernandez here for the misfortune of being drafted by the Marlins, though. That mere fact is punishment enough. This is an individual award in which team accomplishment should not matter at all.
Right now, Fernandez gets the nod. In addition to his edge in their respective slash lines, Fernandez has been the more dominant pitcher from start to finish. Miller started stronger, but Fernandez hasn't delivered a stinker since May 27 against the Rays. Nine of his 10 outings since then have been quality starts, and the one that wasn't was a five-inning, one-run performance. Fernandez has also delivered at least eight strikeouts in seven of his starts, compared with five for Miller, and Fernandez fanned a career-high 13 in his last start. Miller has slowed down of late, and has failed to go at least six innings nine times this year. For Fernandez, that number is six, four of which came in April. There's time for Miller to get back on top, and for Puig to pass them both, but for me, it's Fernandez's award to lose.
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Starting pitcher barometer
• Anibal Sanchez, Tigers: It took Sanchez a little while to get back in the groove after returning from the DL, but in his last two outings he has been very solid, though not quite the dominant starter he was in the first half. In games against the Royals and White Sox, he has allowed one run while striking out eight in 12 innings. While results aren't important when a pitcher is making a comeback, they certainly are once he's back on the mound, especially by time he's making his third and fourth starts off the DL. Given what we've seen from Sanchez his last two turns, he appears to be trending toward his pre-injury form.
• Ervin Santana, Royals: With just one day remaining until the trade deadline, it appears Santana will remain in Kansas City, despite the fact that he can provide a pretty strong return for a team that isn't going anywhere this season. If he pitches how he has in his last two starts, though, I don't think his fantasy owners will mind. Back on July 19, he shut out the high-scoring Tigers across 7.1 innings, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out six. In his next outing, the almost-as-potent Orioles only managed one earned run on seven hits in eight innings. Santana continues to be one of the best, most cost-effective pickups of the offseason.
• A.J. Burnett, Pirates: Since throwing 112 pitches in an 8.1-inning outing against the Cubs on June 8, Burnett has allowed 29 hits and nine walks in 23.1 innings, a stretch covering four starts. He's been able to dance around all those base runners, allowing just six runs in the four outings, but he's 0-1 and the Pirates have lost three of those games. His strikeout totals remain high, but at 36 years old, the wear and tear of the season could be starting to show.
• Lance Lynn, Cardinals: Lynn has been all over the place since the calendar turned to June. He gave up just one run in seven innings in a win over the Phillies in his last start, though he walked four batters. In the two starts before that, he surrendered a combined 10 runs on 18 hits in 9.1 innings against the Cubs. Those came of the heels of a strong outing against the Marlins, but that was preceded by subpar starts against the Astros (four runs, 7.2 innings) and Angels (five runs, nine hits, six innings). He just hasn't had anywhere near the consistency he enjoyed in April and May.
What a relief
• We have our first new closer of the trade-deadline season, and if you listened to Eric Mack in last week's roundtable, you would have been all over it. The Astros sent Jose Veras to the Tigers, creating a ninth-inning vacancy that is likely to be filled by Jose Cisnero. In 41.1 innings this year, Cisnero has a 3.48 ERA, 3.50 FIP and 40 strikeouts. He has been generous with the walks, issuing 19 free passes, but he's widely available and will start picking up save opportunities shortly. If you need a closer, grab him now.
• As for you crestfallen Veras owners, if you're in a very deep league or one that uses holds, you can feel free to hold on to him. He'll likely have as many chances to pick up holds in Detroit as he had save opportunities in Houston. However, those of you in shallower leagues can go ahead and let him go.
• Other than that, it could be a quiet deadline for closers. The Cubs are still looking for a trade partner for Kevin Gregg, and the bet here is that they ultimately find one. Relief help is too in demand and Gregg has been too effective for someone not to meet the Cubs' low asking price. He could be the last closer to move, at least before the non-waiver deadline. Jonathan Papelbon's contract makes him impossible to trade. Steve Cishek is too affordable for the Marlins to consider dealing. Same goes for Addison Reed and the White Sox. The talk has been largely non-existent around other closers on also-rans, such as the Blue Jays' Casey Janssen, the Padres' Huston Street, the Twins' Glen Perkins and the Mariners' Tom Wilhelmsen.