Feliz, Garcia strengthen grip on lead in Rookie of the Year chase
This week's look at the Rookie of the Year candidates completes this column's fifth cycle through the three major awards. With just five weeks left in the season, Awards Watch will shift gears starting next Monday as we enter the home stretch. Rather than rank the top five contenders in each league for a single award each week on a rotating basis as we have been doing, we will move into the lightning round, in which we will look at the top three contenders in each league for all three awards every week.
Three spots are more than enough for the American League Rookie of the Year race, which seems to have already produced a winner due to the variety of slumps and injuries experienced by the few legitimate challengers in that league's shallow rookie pool. The National League rookie field, however, remains impossibly deep, though the same name keeps rising to the top of my list.
Feliz has topped this list since this column began in May, and having survived a mid-season threat from
Had this column started in April, Jackson would have been the first man atop this list on the strength of his .371/.420/.508 performance through May 9, but a wicked slump (.228/.274/.299 from May 10 to June 25) brought him down to earth. Since then, he has stuck pretty close to the season line you see above, which seems to represent Jackson's real level, particularly given its resemblance to his batting line from Triple-A last year (.300/.354/.405). Or does it? Jackson's .438 average on balls in play suggests he's still hitting over his head, and his poor walk and strikeout rates (the latter leading to a league-leading 130 Ks) are also red flags. Still, Jackson has been an above-average center fielder on both sides of the ball this season, which makes him the only real lingering threat to Feliz.
Speaking of wicked slumps, Boesch has hit .144/.212/.208 in 137 plate appearances since the All-Star break. His hot hitting before the break (.342/.397/.593 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs) was enough that he's still keeping his head above the level of the average corner outfielder, but unless he can find his stroke and have a big September, he looks to have fallen out of this race.
Converted infielder Santos keeps sneaking back onto this list as one of the few American League rookies to have made his team's Opening Day roster and performed at a consistently high level all season. Santos's ERA is a bit deceptive. He's been exactly league average at preventing inherited runners from scoring, which gives him a Fair Run Average (which factors in a share of responsibility for allowing inherited runners to score and bequeathing runners to subsequent relievers) of 2.85, still good, but not as eye-catching.
Injured Indians backstop
Garcia has been remarkably consistent at a very high level of effectiveness all season, and thus may already has this award put away, which is impressive given the depth of the rookie class in the NL this year. He has allowed more than four runs just once in his 24 starts this season, and on Sunday he turned in his best performance of the year, a three-hit, no-walk shutout of the wild card-contending Giants in which Garcia threw a total of 89 pitches. Thanks to a pair of double plays, Garcia faced the minimum in that game until the 27th batter he faced, pinch-hitter
Season Stats: 8-5, 3.33 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.56 K/BB
Last Four Starts: 1-0, 1.38 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 4.00 K/BB
Niese is surreptitiously sneaking up on Garcia with a surprisingly similar season in sum to what the Cardinals' lefty has achieved. When the calendar flipped to June, Niese was on the 15-day disabled list, nursing a sore hamstring and a 4.79 ERA. Activated five days later, he allowed just one run in 16 innings over his first two starts back in action, including a one-hit shutout of the first-place Padres. In total, he has gone 7-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 15 starts since coming off the DL. Of those 15 outings, 11 were quality starts, only two were disasters, and Niese has not allowed more than one run in any of his last four starts. Still, despite a 2.89 ERA in his last nine starts, Niese picked up a win in just two of those appearances due to an average of just 3.11 runs of support per game. That lack of wins could (unfairly) cost him this award if he continues to excel and Garcia struggles in September. Another potential problem for Niese is the chance that the Mets will impose an innings limit on him, something manager
The Giants kept Posey in the minors until late May and played him primarily at first base until July, but Posey has swung a hot enough bat over the last two months (.369/.422/.592, 8 HR, 36 RBI since July 1), particularly relative to the standard of his position (the average major league catcher has hit .249/.320/.381), to make him both the major league VORP leader among rookie batters and a serious contender for this award. Still, the seven weeks he missed at the beginning of the season seem likely to prevent him from overtaking the two pitchers above him without both having disastrous Septembers.
The prohibitive favorite for this award entering the season, Heyward nearly fell off this list as he was hitting just .183/.296/.300 in August through Saturday, but a big day on Sunday (4-for-4, with two homers and two walks), puffed his season averages back up. That was a reminder of why it would be foolish to count Heyward out completely; he has the ability to go on an absolute tear in September, but his various aches and pains this season and the resultant slumps have likely put the consistent Garcia out of his reach.
An almost perfectly average first baseman, Sanchez's consistency and reliability have made him the rookie leader in RBIs (the Cubs