Awards Watch: Injuries shake up Rookie of the Year races in AL, NL
If there’s one overarching trend in the awards races this year, it is injuries. Troy Tulowitzki, formerly the National League MVP frontrunner, will miss the rest of the season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip; fellow NL MVP contenders Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt also currently reside on the disabled list. The NL Cy Young award race has been complicated by the month Clayton Kershaw missed due to a shoulder strain, while the AL Cy Young race has been altered by injuries to Masahiro Tanaka (also briefly an MVP candidate) and Chris Sale.
However, the impact of injuries on the awards races is perhaps most significant when it comes to the Rookie of the Year awards. Four of the 10 players listed below are currently on the disabled list, three of them with no clear target for a return, and two others have spent time on the DL this season. Those injuries have simplified the races to their detriment. It’s perhaps fortunate, then, that the next time Awards Watch looks at the Rookie of the Year award chase, it will list just three candidates in each league as part of our annual September “lightning round.”
Note: All stats are through Aug. 13. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.
1. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds (1)
Season Stats: .263/.295/.387, 6 HR, 43 RBI, 60 R, 44 SB
Last Three Weeks: .178/.211/.219, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 11 R, 4 SB
With his two closest challengers on the disabled list, Hamilton could win this award by default. He’s the only rookie hitter or pitcher in the NL to qualify for the batting or ERA title, he’s an excellent defensive centerfielder, and his midseason hot streak (.326/.354/.551 in 145 plate appearances from June 14 to July 21) fluffed his batting line enough to make him a legitimate candidate. However, in his other 316 PA this season, he has hit .234/.268/.309, and his once-legendary basestealing continues to sag too close to the break-even point (a 71-percent success rate on the season, including just 4-for-7 in the last three weeks).
Season Stats: 6-5, 2.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.85 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 124 ERA+
Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 2.29 ERA, 0.97, 6.9 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS
The 26-year-old deGrom went 6-1 with a 1.82 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning, and four strikeouts for every walk in nine starts from June 21 to Aug. 7. After the last of those starts, however, he began to feel some soreness in his pitching shoulder and was placed on the disabled list with rotator cuff tendinitis. The injury is considered minor and deGrom feels as though his shoulder is responding well to rest and anti-inflammatories, such that there’s hope he could return on schedule next weekend. If so, he could make a real run at this award, but he’ll have to prove he’s healthy first.
Season Stats: .277/.313/.458, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 26 R, 7 SB
Last Three Weeks: On disabled list
All you need to know about the strength of this year’s NL rookie class is that Owings hasn’t played a game since June 25 due to strained left shoulder but remains in the top-three on this list with a .313 on-base percentage and just six home runs. He is expected to face live pitching on Friday, but there is still no timetable for his return.
Season Stats: .252/.292/.406, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 35 R, 17 SB
Last Three Weeks: .276/.269/.447, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 10 R, 5 SB
Since being activated from the disabled list on July 6, where he spent two weeks nursing a sore left shoulder, Wong has hit .283/.302/.542 in 123 plate appearances with eight of his nine home runs and eight stolen bases in nine attempts. On the season, his 17 steals have come in 19 attempts, an excellent 89-percent success rate, giving him 15 net steals to Hamilton’s 26 and making Wong the more valuable basestealer of the two 23-year-olds. However, he is cooling off at the plate, though not as severely as Hamilton has.
The biggest concern about Wong is that he hasn’t reached base by means other than a hit since July 22, a span of 85 plate appearances without a walk or hit-by-pitch. As a result of that and a pair of sac flies, his on-base percentage has been lower than his batting average over that period, seriously undermining what remains solid power production for a speedy second baseman. The lack of walks is uncharacteristic: Wong averaged 60 per 162 games in the minors, so it should be corrected. For now, though, it’s keeping him from making a serious run at Hamilton.
5. David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks (5)
Season Stats: .299/.332/.464, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 29 R
Last Three Weeks: .266/.309/.469, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 7 R
Now a rightfielder in the wake of the Gerardo Parra trade, Peralta had struck out three times in a major league game just once before earning the Golden Sombrero by whiffing four times on Wednesday night. He’ll look to rebound from that performance on Thursday, his 27th birthday.
Off the list: Tommy Kahnle
Season Stats: .300/.359/.600, 31 HR, 86 RBI, 61 R
Last Three Weeks: .354/.456/.523, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R
As Abreu’s batting average and on-base percentage continue to climb, his home run rate has slowed. He has made 60 plate appearances since his last home run, on July 29, and is now on pace for “just” 43 on the season, six shy of Mark McGwire’s rookie record (though still enough for second all-time on the rookie list ahead of Frank Robinson's and Wally Berger’s 38). Abreu still leads the majors in home runs and RBIs, but he's now tied in both categories, with Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton in the former and with Miguel Cabrera in the latter. He will reclaim the major league lead in slugging percentage on Thursday, however, as the only man he trails, Tulowitzki, will cease to be a qualified batter after the Rockies’ game against the Reds.
2. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees (1)
Season Stats: 12-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 7.11 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 153 ERA+
Last Three Weeks: On disabled list
Tanaka’s last start was July 8, but he’s still just 5 1/3 innings shy of the major league lead among rookie pitchers, and he was so good in his 18 starts and 129 1/3 innings that he could remain on this list even if he never throws another pitch this season. Tanaka is trying to work his way back from his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament with the help of platelet-rich plasma injections. He began a throwing program last Monday and took yet another step forward on Wednesday, throwing 10 fastballs on flat ground and reporting no pain. But he is still a long way from returning.
3. Dellin Betances, RHP, Yankees (5)
Season Stats: 4-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 13.4 K/9, 5.30 K/BB, 1.4 IP/G, 262? ERA+
Last Three Weeks: 0-0, 1.69 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 12.7 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 1.3 IP/GS
Even after giving up a game-tying home run on Wednesday, Betances' ERA is still just 1.52. Notice how much his numbers from the last three weeks conform to his season marks. Betances has been remarkably consistent this season, reliably giving the Yankees dominant performances in extended outings over high leverage innings. He has recorded four or more outs in 31 of his 52 appearances this season and his 71 innings pitched, all in relief, have come with an average leverage index of 1.27, which means those innings have been 27 percent more important to the outcomes of the games he's pitched in than a typical frame. At this point, it’s clear that his has been the third most impressive rookie performance in the AL this year.
Season Stats: .295/.343/.407, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 51 R
Last Three Weeks: .205/.256/.260, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 11 R
Holt has hit safely in his last seven games but is batting just .250 over that span with one extra-base hit and two walks. Since July 22, he has posted a mere .490 OPS. His positional flexibility remains very valuable, but he has reverted to being an overextended bench player over the last three weeks. He could disappear from this list completely when we get into the lightning round.
Season Stats: .331/.369/.483, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 39 R, 11 SB
Last Three Weeks: .342/.384/.519, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 16 R, 5 SB
A shortstop in the minors, the 23-year-old Santana bounced between shortstop and centerfield after making his major league debut in early May and hit .328/.366/.448 through his first 37 games before landing on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his left knee in late June. Activated immediately after the All-Star break, Santana has started in centerfield in every Twins game but one since, hitting .333/.373/.529 in 110 plate appearances.
Santana's major league production bears little resemblance to his minor league numbers, so don’t expect him to keep this up, and he’s grading out as sub-par in the field despite his speed. But he’s been productive enough for long enough now to edge out the likes of Kevin Kiermaier (whose fielding, one could argue, should have him ranked above Santana) and still-injured Astros slugger George Springer for the final spot on this list.
Off the list: George Springer