Nate Stephens


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Rookie of the Year Review

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

With the post-season upon us it's time to evaluate pre-season predictions, and in this case that's the Rookie of the Year preview I penned back in early April. It's the third season of the column, and the 2006 and 2007 versions can be found in the archives. While the names at the top were among the early season favorites, many of the rest of the top contributors weren't even in the majors in April and some didn't even make the 'field' list of candidates. All were covered in this space once promoted, and I'll review those comments along with those from the preview column. At the end of each league I'll cast my wish list of a ballot.

American League

Projected Top 10

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Red Sox (5:1)
2. Clay Buchholz, RHP Red Sox (11:2)
3. Joba Chamberlain, RHP Yankees (7:1)
4. Ian Kennedy, RHP Yankees (9:1)
5. Evan Longoria, 3B Rays (11:1)
6. Alexei Ramirez, 2B White Sox (15:1)
7. Daric Barton, 1B Athletics (18:1)
8. Nick Adenhart, RHP Angels (25:1)
9. Carlos Gonzalez, OF Athletics (30:1)
10. Shelley Duncan, 1B Yankees (40:1)

The performance of Evan Longoria made it moot, but Ellsbury would have finished very highly in the voting if he could have hit .300 or .310 instead of .280. His 50 steals in 61 tries were excellent, but he slugged just .394 and posted a disappointing .336 on-base percentage. There was considerable debate about Ellsbury's power potential this spring, and thus far the pessimists look right on point. I still think he has more potential in that department, and he certainly has batting average upside. He could be a bargain in drafts next season.

A finger injury early in the year affected Buchholz and landed him on the disabled list, but his struggles were much more than that. Despite three plus pitches and a solid fourth offering, Buchholz gave up 93 hits, including 11 homers, in 76 innings. He also walked 41 batters and finished with a 6.75 ERA. Luck was a part of that as Buchholz's FIP was 4.86, but it was still disappointing. The club will try to alter his approach and get his command back to being an asset next spring. He's still just 24, so don't give up on him.

Chamberlain was expectedly dominant in a relief role, then moved to the rotation on June 8. He was sent to the disabled list with rotator-cuff tendonitis after his August 4 start, and returned on September 2 as a reliever. He was still very valuable with a 2.60 ERA in 100 1/3 innings overall, with a 2.76 as a starter and 2.31 in relief…Kennedy couldn't find his command and had a terrible nine starts to begin the year. He then went on the DL with a lat strain and made just one more appearance in the majors. His 8.17 ERA isn't any indicator of his talent, and he was excellent once back in the minors. Give him a mulligan.

Longoria would have been first on this list, and was when I did my prediction for the Rotoworld draft guide during the winter, had the Rays not sent him to the minors to start the year. He had a fantastic spring and it's clear the move was service time motivated, but they appeased those concerns by promoting Longoria to the majors two weeks into the season and then signing him to a long-term deal just a week later. I projected he'd hit .280 with 18 homers and 65 RBI in 105 games, and he ended up at .272 with 27 homers and 85 RBI in 122 games. He would have blown the playing time projection out of the water if not for a wrist injury that sidelined him for a month.

Ramirez ended up playing mostly second base, where he's a poor defender, but both the White Sox and fantasy owners were happy with his .290-21-77-13 season in 135 games. In the preview column I said a .270-20 season couldn't be ruled out, making him a good late flier…Barton drew plenty of walks, but he struck out more than expected, didn't hit for average, and showed as little power as some, including myself, feared. He's been on our radar forever, but he's still just 23 and will be a solid gamble for a cheap price in 2009.

Adenhart's strikeout rate remained down as it was in 2007, but he suddenly added command and home run problems in 2008. He ended with a 5.76 ERA and 110/75 K/BB in 145 1/3 Triple-A innings. His stock has dropped more than anyone else listed here…Gonzalez got his opportunity, but he was still raw as expected and could have used more time in the minors. He ended with a .242/.273/.361 mark in 302 at-bats…Duncan didn't hit at all when given a chance in May, then struggled for the most part in Triple-A. Any chance of being a platoon player is probably gone for the 29-year-old.

The Field (18:1)

Aaron Laffey (LHP, Indians), Brandon Wood (3B, Angels), Jeff Niemann (RHP, Rays), David Murphy (OF, Rangers), Masahide Kobayashi (RHP, Indians), Jed Lowrie (SS, Red Sox), Wladimir Balentien (OF, Mariners), Rich Thompson (RHP, Angels), Nick Blackburn (RHP, Twins), Adam Miller (RHP, Indians), Kevin Mulvey (RHP, Twins), Yasuhiko Yabuta (RHP, Royals), Reid Brignac (SS, Rays), Jeff Clement (C, Mariners), David Price (LHP, Rays), Luke Hochevar (RHP, Royals), Gio Gonzalez (LHP, Athletics), Chuck Lofgren (LHP, Indians), Philip Humber (RHP, Twins), Kazuo Fukumori (RHP, Rangers), Garrett Olson (LHP, Orioles), Ryan Sweeney (OF, Athletics), Wade Davis (RHP, Devil Rays), Aaron Cunningham (OF, Athletics), Alan Horne (RHP, Yankees), Radhames Liz (RHP, Orioles), Luis Hernandez (SS, Orioles)

Laffey had an excellent April, but started mixing in disaster starts in May and then collapsed in mid June. The Indians were proactive and sent him to the minors with a 4.23 ERA, but he struggled in Triple-A and then missed the rest of the year with an elbow injury. He's still a potential No. 3 starter or innings eater…Wood got hot late, but he's still not making progress in the strikeout department and his stock continues to fall…Murphy had a nice 74 RBI in 108 games, but his 786 OPS was hardly inspiring. He's a third outfielder at best, and quite possibly just a good fourth…Lowrie excelled early after being promoted, then struggled badly and will end the year with a 739 OPS and just two homers in 260 at-bats. His 25 doubles are very promising, however.

Balentien still swings at too many bad pitches, and misses too many hittable ones. He's not good enough to strike out 79 times in 243 at-bats…Blackburn was a clear miss as he posted a 4.14 ERA in 32 starts. However, his 93/36 K/BB isn't very pretty and neither is his 1.37 WHIP. I'll be expecting some regression next season…Miller got hurt again; he's not a Top 100 prospect any more with his thesis-length injury list…I was more disappointed with Clement's 654 OPS in 203 at-bats than any other performance on this list. He's much, much better than that; buy-low…Gio Gonzalez, Garrett Olson, and Radhames Liz simply all weren't ready despite significant opportunities...Sweeney turned in a solid 733 OPS in 384 at-bats.

Top 10 Other Rookies

1. Mike Aviles
2. Brad Ziegler
3. Armando Galarraga
4. Chris Davis
5. Denard Span
6. Jose Arredondo
7. Joey Devine
8. Justin Masterson
9. Greg Smith
10. James Johnson

Aviles was gangbusters for the first two months after being promoted, posting a combined 890 OPS. He dipped to a still solid 794 over the last two months, but his overall .325/.354/.480 mark was a big plus for the Royals. He's already 27, but he's now the club's starting shortstop for the foreseeable future…Ziegler broke a 101 year-old record for scoreless innings to start a career with 39. He finished with a 1.06 ERA and 11 saves in 59 2/3 innings. He's also given up just two homers in 162 1/3 innings since switching to a sidearm delivery. I strongly recommended him in AL-only formats when he was promoted due to his command, tricky delivery, and high ground ball rate…Galarraga had a solid 3.73 ERA in 28 starts, but his 4.89 FIP suggests he's the most likely player on this list to be a flash in the pan. I don't see much reason to disagree.

Most of the rest of the list is pitchers who either excelled in relief or did solid jobs split between the bullpen and the rotation. Smith was one exception with a solid 4.16 ERA in 32 starts; he should have been on the pre-season list…Davis hit 23 doubles and 17 homers in 295 at-bats. High strikeout totals in the minors were a concern, but I wrote when Davis was called up that, "Davis is the most likely player on this list to help a fantasy team win a title...[Davis] hits the ball with such authority and so frequently squares the bat on the ball when he does make contact that I think there's a decent chance he hits .280 or better right away." He ended up batting .285 with 88 strikeouts in 295 at-bats and was one of the best mid-season claims of the season…I wasn't' as high on Span, but he put together a solid .296/.386/.435 in 345 at-bats while also picking up 18 steals in 25 tries. He's a legitimate starter if the batting average and walk rates remain that high, but it's a new skill for the 24-year-old and I have some doubts.

American League Ballot

1. Evan Longoria
2. Mike Aviles
3. Brad Ziegler

Longoria is the choice here, but it's not as close as some may think. Aviles had an OPS 40 points lower in 67 less plate appearances, but relative to position Aviles was nearly as impressive. Aviles also rated out surprisingly solid defensively. There isn't a question who you'd take going forward, but for this year Aviles bridges the gap. Ziegler over Galarraga and Chamberlain is a tough one. He has the lowest VORP of the three, but also the highest WPA and is in the middle in WPA/LI. I'll use his historical accomplishment as the tie-breaker, but I'm not averse to any of the three.

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Now in his fifth season, Nate Stephens is one of Rotoworld's most tenured baseball analysts. He heads up the minor league coverage for the site while also contributing other columns and analysis.
Email :Nate Stephens

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