Yasiel Puig surges to lead in NL Rookie of the Year race

Thursday July 11th, 2013

Yasiel Puig didn't debut until June 3 but he's already moved to the head of a strong NL rookie class.
Robert Beck/SI

When Awards Watch last checked in on the Rookie of the Year races on June 13, Shelby Miller was running away with the award in the National League and a viable American League candidate had yet to emerge. Things have changed considerably in the last four weeks, however, as the NL race has tightened up considerably and the AL field, while still shockingly weak overall (there are no rookies in the AL with enough playing time to qualify for either the batting or ERA titles), has at least produced a legitimate leader for the time being.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, July 10. 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.

National League

1. Yasiel Puig, RF, Dodgers

Season Stats: .394/.428/.634, 8 HR, 19 RBI

Last Four Weeks: .364/.400/.551, 4 HR, 9 RBI

Puig has been very slowly cooling off, which is actually encouraging. The cooling off was inevitable, but rather than falling into a deep slump, as so many rookies do after a hot streak, he's still getting a hit every day (he has just one 0-fer in his last 14 games), he's just not getting two or three as often, and he hasn't had an extra base hit in his last five games. At the same time, after not drawing an unintentional walk in his first 69 major league at-bats, Puig has walked six times in his last 83, a rate of one walk every 13.8 plate appearances. Compare that to his minor league rate of 10.8 PA/UIBB and the career rate of a true hacker like Jeff Francoeur, who's first major league month greatly resembled Puig's but who was released by the Royals earlier this month with a career rate of one unintentional walk every 24.1 plate appearances.

2. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins

Season Stats: 5-5, 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.68 K/BB, 5.8 IP/GS, 137 ERA+

Last Four Weeks: 2-2, 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.67 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS

Over his last seven starts, Fernandez has posted a 1.75 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, struck out more than a man per inning, allowed just one home run and averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per start. Six of those seven starts were quality, and the one exception saw him allow just one run in five innings but get the hook after throwing 94 pitches. That's a Cy Young-quality performance and it helped make Fernandez the only rookie in either league to be named to the All-Star team this year without the help of the Final Vote.

3. Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals (1)

Season Stats: 9-6, 2.92 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 3.96 K/BB, 5.8 IP/GS, 1 SHO, -132 ERA+

Last Four Weeks: 2-2, 5.41 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 1.75 K/BB, 4.7 IP/GS

Since opening the season by going 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA in his first dozen starts, Miller has just one quality start in his last six turns. In four of those outings he didn't miss by much, but in his final start in June he was torched for five runs in 1 2/3 innings by the A's.

4. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves

Season Stats: 7-4, 3.09 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.33 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 126 ERA+

Last Four Weeks: 3-1, 1.76 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 5.50 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS

Teheran gave up 13 runs and five home runs in 16 innings in his first three starts this season. Since then, he has posted a 2.36 ERA across 14 starts while allowing just eight more homers. Eleven of his last 14 starts have been quality and he has averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per start over that span. It's tempting to present him as the tortoise to Miller and Puig's hares as he slowly and steadily climbs into this race.

5. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Dodgers (3)

Season Stats: 7-3, 3.09 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.38 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 1 SHO, -128 ERA+

Last Four Weeks: 1-1, 3.74, 1.44 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 1.29 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS

Ryu had a string of eight straight quality starts broken by the Diamondbacks, who became just the second team to score five runs against Ryu in a single start this season. Ryu's season has taken on a curious shape. In April, he was a fly ball pitcher with a high strikeout rate (11.0 K/9, 0.71 GB/FB). Since then, he has been a contact-oriented groundballer (5.4 K/9, 1.25 GB/FB). He has been similarly effective in both guises.

Off the list: Didi Gregorius, Evan Gattis, Jedd Gyorko

American League

1. Jose Iglesias, 3B, Red Sox (1)

Season Stats: .387/.440/.491, 1 HR, 14 RBI

Last Four Weeks: .329/.389/.412, 0 HR, 7 RBI

Only five American League rookies -- Conor Gillaspie, Aaron Hicks, Brandon Barnes, Oswaldo Arcia and J.B. Shuck -- have come to the plate more than Iglesias has this season. None of them has been anywhere near as productive as the Red Sox' glove-only shortstop turned two-way third baseman. The 23-year-old Iglesias's minor league hitting line (.257/.307/.314 in 1,209 plate appearances) strongly suggests that he's going to come back to the pack, but right now there's no one even close to him in this race.

2. Nick Franklin, 2B, Mariners

Season Stats: .275/.329/.463, 6 HR, 19 RBI

Last Four Weeks: .263/.295/.434, 4 HR, 15 RBI

Franklin, who took over the Mariners' second base job on May 27, has just 21 fewer plate appearances that Iglesias and is second to Iglesias in OPS among the league's rookies with more than 50 PAs. In a league in which the average second baseman is hitting .270/.328/.395, the 22-year-old Franklin has been legitimately above average, something that can't be said of any other AL rookie regular other than Iglesias.

3. Cody Allen, RHP, Indians

Season Stats: 4-1, 2.39 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 3.83 K/BB, 37 2/3 IP, 163 ERA+

Last Four Weeks: 3-1, 2.79 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 9 2/3 IP

A pitcher has never won the Rookie of the Year award with fewer than 15 saves, even back before the saves stat was invented (the Dodgers' Joe Black retroactively was awarded 15 saves for his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1952), so it's unlikely the 24-year-old Allen will be taking home this hardware even if Iglesias and Franklin slump. Given the lack of alternatives, though, his strong performance out of the Indians' bullpen deserves to be recognized here.

4. Dan Straily, RHP, A's (3)

Season Stats: 6-2, 4.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.54 K/BB, 5.7 IP/GS, 92 ERA+

Last Four Weeks: 2-0, 3.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 1.90 K/BB, 5.3 IP/GS, 4 GS

Who is more valuable, a short-reliever who is well above average or a starter who eats up more than twice as many innings but is a bit below average? This year two good test cases are Allen and Straily, and Baseball-Reference.com's wins above replacement has them dead even, though both are less than win above replacement level. That seems about right. The 24-year-old Straily was recently recalled from Triple-A, allowed just one run on three hits over 13 1/3 innings in two starts, then was optioned back to the minors. Allen is at least still on a major league roster.

5. David Lough, RF, Royals

Season Stats: .286/.304/.442, 3 HR, 16 RBI

Last Four Weeks: .305/.321/.463, 2 HR, 8 RBI

The 27-year-old Lough, who replaced Francoeur as the Royals' primary rightfielder in late May, isn't a prospect, but he is fast and he's an above-average fielder. There's actually potential for improvement here. He has drawn just three walks in 158 plate appearances this season and attempted only two stolen bases and been caught once. Lough can do better in both categories given his minor league rate of one unintentional walk every 17.8 plate appearances and his 26 steals in 30 attempts at Triple-A last year. The rest of his performance has been in line with his minor league rates.

Off the list: Nick Tepesch, Brandon Barnes, Oswaldo Arcia

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