Masahiro Tanaka leads surprising Solarte in Rookie of the Year race

Thursday May 22nd, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka has been stellar this season, with a 2.39 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 64 innings.
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Our first full-length look at the Rookie of the Year awards reveals the extreme disparity between the first-year classes of the American and National leagues.

Note: All stats are through Wednesday, May 21. 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.

American League

1. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees (1)

Season Stats: 6-1, 2.39 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 9.13 K/BB, 7.1 IP/GS, 1 SHO, 170 ERA+

Tanaka leads the AL in WHIP, is second in strikeout-to-walk ratio and wins, third in walk rate (1.13 BB/9) and fourth in ERA, ERA+, strikeouts (73) and K/9. Never mind rookies; he has been one of the best players in the league, period. His loss on Tuesday night (6 IP, 3 ER) was his first in his last 43 regular season starts dating back to the 2012 season in Japan, but Tanaka has yet to record a non-quality start in the major leagues.

Even when operating without his best stuff, as Tanaka described his Tuesday outing, he still struck out seven men against just one walk and did not allow a home run for the third straight start. Also worth noting: Tanaka may be a foreign league veteran, but at 25, he's younger than the next two men on this list.

2. Yangervis Solarte, 3B, Yankees

Season Stats: .317/.394/.493, 5 HR, 24 RBI

The 26-year-old Solarte, who passed through Minnesota and Texas before making his major league debut with the Yankees this April, may be the find of the season. Signed to a minor league deal in January, he is currently fifth in the AL in batting average and on-base percentage, and while he's certainly out-hitting even the most optimistic projections of him, there aren't any indicators that would suggest it's a fluke. His .331 batting average on balls in play isn't unsustainably high and he has as many walks as strikeouts.

Solarte is also not a product of hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium — he has performed better on the road than at home -- and he's been even better in May (.333/.382/.530 with four of his five home runs) than he was in what looked like a fluky April. Mix in his ability to play second base, third base and shortstop and his 82-point advantage in on-base percentage, and he'd rank ahead of Jose Abreu even if the latter hadn't gotten injured.

3. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (2)

Season Stats: .260/.312/.595, 15 HR, 42 RBI

Abreu landed on the disabled list last Sunday with tendinitis in his left ankle, but he still leads the majors in home runs and the AL in RBIs and total bases (103). Unfortunately, his lack of defensive value and weak on-base percentage (he's drawn just seven unintentional walks all year), coupled with the injury, undermine those power numbers. If he can return from the DL quickly and improve that walk rate, we might yet get the compelling Rookie of the Year race we had anticipated in the AL. If not, Tanaka could run away with it.

4. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals (3)

Season Stats: 2-4, 2.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.50 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS, 150 ERA+

Ventura is the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in major league history, but he's not just a fireballer. The 22-year-old Dominican has an outstanding curveball, a good changeup and can ease off his triple-digit heat and make his fastball cut and sink in the upper 90s. Ignore his won-lost record (which you should do, anyway), as the Royals have only scored 3.14 runs per game in support of Ventura. Meanwhile, six of his nine starts this season have been quality.

5. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox

Season Stats: .283/.381/.401, 2 HR, 8 RBI

Bogaerts has yet to show the power that is ultimately expected of him, but at 21, there's time for that aspect of his game to develop. Nonetheless, among shortstops he ranks third in the AL in OPS+ and second in the majors in on-base percentage. Bogaerts' impending shift to the less-defensively significant third base in the wake of the Stephen Drew signing might undermine his candidacy here slightly, but if some of the power in his bat starts to come through (he slugged .489 in the minors, most of that as a teenager), he could more than compensate for the position switch.

Billy Hamilton's defense in centerfield has made him of the National League's top rookies so far.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

National League

1. Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks (1)

Season Stats: .275/.318/.408, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 6 SB

Owings has played a slick shortstop thus far this season and is a perfect 6-for-6 in steal attempts while also comfortably out-hitting the average major league shortstop (.252/.314/.379). In a league in which just two rookie hitters currently qualify for the batting title (the other being Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton) and no rookie pitchers qualify for the ERA title, Owings' solid-but-unspectacular play makes the 22-year-old an easy choice for the top spot on this list.

2. David Hale, RHP, Braves (2)

Season Stats: 1-0, 1.57 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 1.27 K/BB, 235 ERA+

Hale leads NL rookies in innings pitched and has excelled in two roles over the course of his 34⅓ frames. Opening the season in the Braves' rotation, the 26-year-old posted a 2.31 ERA in four starts, the last of which saw him hold Cincinnati to one run on two hits over eight innings. Bounced to the bullpen by the return of Mike Minor in late April, he has thrown 11 scoreless innings since and stranded three of his four inherited runners. Hale also has yet to allow a home run in any of his 45⅓ major league innings (adding in two September starts last year). All of that said, something has to give sooner or later between his weak peripherals and low .248 batting average on balls in play.

3. Aaron Barrett, RHP, Nationals

Season Stats: 2-0, 0.53 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 2.63 K/BB, 697 ERA+

Barrett, yet another 26-year-old, has been charged with just one run in his 17 innings this season, but he allowed five of his first six inherited runners to score before stranding his last four.

4. Tommy Kahnle, RHP, Rockies (3)

Season Stats: 2-1, 1.88 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 1.42 K/BB, 228 ERA+

The 24-year-old Kahnle, a Rule 5 draft pick out of the Yankees' system, has recorded four or more outs in 11 of his 17 appearances this season and is tied for second among NL rookies with 24 innings pitched. In sharp contrast to Barrett, he has stranded seven of the nine runners he has inherited, though he also has two unearned runs on his ledger.

5. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds

Season Stats: .257/.293/.350, 1 HR, 19 R, 16 SB

Hamilton takes this spot by default. He's not hitting, and while he is tied for second in the majors in stolen bases, he also leads the bigs in times caught stealing (6), leaving him with a weak 73-percent success rate. Hamilton is, however, playing a strong centerfield, making highlight plays with regularity and grading out as above average according to most advanced fielding metrics. In a weak NL rookie class, his play in center and solid attendance are enough to merit him the fifth spot here.

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