Fernandez cruising to NL Rookie of the Year; Archer heads AL class

Thursday August 22nd, 2013

Jose Fernandez is trying to become the second straight player younger than 21 to win the NL Rookie of the Year.
Keith Srakocic/AP

The past week brought the debut of several possible 2014 Rookie of the Year candidates, but only one rookie on the below lists is making his first appearance in my rankings for this year's award. Both leaders from my last look at this honor remain on top and both are pitchers, but only one of them is putting together an all-time great season for a pitcher his age.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, Aug. 21. 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. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Marlins (1)

Season Stats: 9-5, 2.41 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.08 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 162 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 1.04 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 3.67 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS

Fernandez turned 21 at the end of July, but baseball season ages are determined by a player's age on June 30, so this is still his age-20 season. According to Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement, only 10 pitchers since 1900 have had a better season at the age of 20 or younger than Fernandez has had thus far. Six of those pitchers went on to the Hall of Fame (Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Bert Blyleven and Dennis Eckersely), and only two -- Deadball-era Athletics lefty Harry Krause and late-1970s Tigers righty Dave Rozema -- failed to have careers of significance.

The greatest modern pitching season by a player age 20 or younger was, of course, Dwight Gooden's 1985 season, one of the greatest pitching seasons ever, period. Fernandez has no hope of surpassing that one, but bWAR already has him tied with Fernando Valenzuela's "Fernandomania" campaign in 1981 at 4.8 wins above replacement. Regardless of his exact placement, however, the point stands that we're witnessing one of the greatest season by a pitcher this young in the modern history of the major leagues. Unfortunately, it may not last much longer. If the Marlins cap his innings at 170, the high end of a previously reported range, he would have just 24 1/3 remaining, which would work out to no more than four more starts at his current pace.

The question then becomes, can Fernandez win this award if he's forced to sit out the season's final three weeks? If he pitches as well in his final four starts as he has in his last 14, I think he can. Fernandez would only make seven more starts if he pitched in every fifth game through the end of the season, so his innings limit will only cost him three starts. Four more starts should get him into double-digits in wins, which makes his stats easier on the eyes to old-school voters.

Meanwhile, this is his line in those last 14 starts dating back to June 1: 7-2, 1.64 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 6 2/3 IP/GS. The Marlins -- the Marlins -- have gone 11-3 in those 14 games. They have gone 23-32 (.418) in all games not started by Fernandez over the same span. If the Rookie of the Year vote were held today, he'd deserve to win in a landslide.

2. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves (4)

Season Stats: 10-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.88 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 129 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-1, 2.35 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 3.25 K/BB, 5.8 IP/GS

See that 2.35 ERA from Teheran's last four starts? Well, he has a 2.44 mark in his last 21. Only a rough start to his season, which lasted all of three turns, slowed his progress up this list, and with Yasiel Puig looking less like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson of late, I couldn't rationalize putting Puig's two and a half months of admittedly outstanding play ahead of Teheran's four months of elite pitching.

CORCORAN: Two new rookies who could have a big impact on the races

3. Yasiel Puig, RF, Dodgers (3)

Season Stats: .346/.405/.556, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 48 R

Last Three Weeks: .296/.393/.493, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 13 R

There was much hubbub earlier this week about Puig's lack of maturity on and off the field, something Jay Jaffe covered in detail on Tuesday. Puig's behavior issues have thus far been minor and irrelevant to his candidacy here, and if his over-aggressiveness on the bases and with his throws from rightfield have led to enough mistakes to effectively cancel out the benefits of his speed and arm, what remains is still a rightfielder with outstanding range who is hitting .346/.405/.556 after his first 291 major league plate appearances.

Puig was so hot to start the month that the Rays opted not to pitch to him, intentionally walking him four times in a three-game series from Aug. 9 to 11. He has slumped since, going 6-for-37 (.162) including an 0-for-5 on Wednesday night, but among those six hits are a pair of doubles and a home run and his overall line on the month (see "last three weeks" above) remains impressive.

JAFFE: The good, bad and ugly of Yasiel Puig on full display

4. Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP, Dodgers (5)

Season Stats: 12-4, 2.95 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.80 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 121 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 7.00 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS

Ryu is 4-1 with a 1.87 ERA over his last five starts and isn't all that far behind Teheran in this race. Still, his friendlier home ballpark -- reflected in his deficit in park-adjusted ERA+ -- made room between the two pitchers for Ryu's teammate Puig.

5. Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals (2)

Season Stats: 11-8, 2.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 3.54 K/BB, 5.8 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 122 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-1, 4.41 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 2.33 K/BB, 5.4 IP/GS

Miller was hit in the pitching elbow with a comebacker just two pitches into his start on Aug. 7. That knocked him out of that game, but had no apparent lingering effects. Miller has allowed seven runs in 11 1/3 innings over two starts since, but, with two of those runs being unearned, that's consistent with his downturn prior to being hit on the elbow. Only two of Miller's nine starts leading up to Aug. 7 were quality and, not counting that aborted start (which I omitted from his innings pitched per games started stat above), Miller has gone 4-5 with a 4.40 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 3.8 walks per nine innings over his last 11 starts. The Reds' Tony Cingrani (2.76 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 144 ERA+ in just 35 fewer innings) lurks.

CHEN: Xander Bogaerts joins Red Sox and growing list of phenoms

American League

1. Chris Archer, LHP, Rays (1)

Season Stats: 6-5, 2.95 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 2.07 K/BB, 5.9 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 130 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 0-2, 4.79 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.00 K/BB, 5.2 IP/GS

Aug. 7 wasn't a great day for Rookie of the Year candidate pitchers. Archer left his start that day after just 1 2/3 innings due to forearm tightness. He then gave up five runs in five innings in his next outing, but rebounded with seven innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays on Monday. With virtually everyone else in the AL race slumping, that most recent start was enough to keep Archer on top.

2. Wil Myers, RF, Rays (2)

Season Stats: .312/.364/.488, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 5 SB

Last Three Weeks: .270/.347/.397, 2 HR, 12 RBI

Myers' power has gone missing lately. He hasn't had an extra-base hit in his last 25 plate appearances and just two games separate that current streak from a run of 29 straight plate appearances without an extra-bagger. Since his two-homer game against the Yankees on July 28, he has had just four extra-base hits (two homers and two doubles) in 84 plate appearances, slugging a mere .397 with a weak .118 isolated slugging over that span of 20 games. Despite all that, he is still leading all AL rookies with more than 14 PAs in slugging by more than 45 points.

3. Jose Iglesias, SS, Tigers (4)

Season Stats: .324/.369/.399, 2 HR, 23 RBI

Last Three Weeks: .302/.343/.365, 1 HR, 4 RBI

The "last three weeks" line above is what Iglesias has done since being traded to the Tigers and installed as their shortstop in the wake of Jhonny Peralta's Biogenesis suspension. It's more of the empty-average hitting he was doing in June for the Red Sox, but it's hard to complain about an elite defensive shortstop who averages a hit a day. Iglesias had an 0-for-17 slump last week, but hit safely in 10 of his first dozen games as a Tiger prior to that and broke that slump with an active streak of four straight multi-hit games. Add it all up and Iglesias has 19 hits in 19 games for Detroit.

4. Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers

Season Stats: 6-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.36 K/BB, 6.3 IP/GS, 1 CG, 121 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 2.42 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.86 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 1 CG

Over his last four starts, all Rangers wins, Perez has posted a 2.12 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP while averaging 7.4 innings per outing. He is now 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 11 starts since being recalled in late June. With Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis officially out for the year and Alexi Ogando back on the disabled list, the 22-year-old Perez has an excellent chance of being in the Rangers' postseason rotation if they reach the Division Series.

5. Nick Franklin, 2B, Mariners (3)

Season Stats: .240/.310/.427, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 5 SB

Last Three Weeks: .143/.250/.250, 1 HR, 6 RBI

Franklin was mired in a 5-for-55 slump over 13 games from July 31 to Aug. 18 before picking up a single on Monday and two hits, including a home run, on Tuesday. Unfortunately, after his eighth-inning single against the A's that day, he was involved in a play at home plate in which he slid into Oakland catcher Derek Norris' spikes, breaking Norris' toe and suffering a laceration on his left knee that required five stitches and will keep him out of action at least until the weekend.

Off the list: David Lough

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