The Rookie of the Year voting is a particular favorite of the postseason awards because watching young, heretofore unproven players succeed and make a dent in the game is rewarding. Every year fans and voters can debate which newbies had the best season, and which ones are going to become All-Stars or, better yet, Hall of Famers. However, the voting results tend to be pretty much completely miserable at predicting which players are actually going to hold their value long term, and who will actually blossom into stars.
Just go back two years. Does anybody remember that Chris Coghlan exists? For every Albert Pujols or Evan Longoria there's always a Jason Jennings or Bobby Crosby thrown in. It goes back years. To this day, when a chill wind blows on a moonless night, long time Cleveland Indian fans will tell you the bone-chilling tale of Joe Charboneau. After the jump, lets examine the top AL Rookie of the Year finishers and try to determine who will build on their first season success, and who will sink like so many Bob Hamelins and Angel Berroas.
Hellickson was the BBWAA's choice because of his thirteen wins and low ERA, impressive for a rookie pitching in a division as tough as the AL East. His selection caused some controversy among statheads, though, because of his unspectacular strikeout-to-walk ratio, and the fact that he probably got a lot of help from his defense. Tampa Bay had one of the best defensive units in the majors last season, including a rangy bunch of outfielders who swallowed up pretty much anything that Hellickson allowed to be hit in the air. His ERA was probably artificially lowered because of the defensive artistry behind him (his xFIP was a shocking 4.72). You don't have to be a strict disciple of DIPS theory to realize that some regression here is likely. However...
The Rays just signed Jose Molina. If you believe this study by Mike Fast about catcher pitch framing, then this is great news for managers who own Hellickson. Now, it's possible that the conclusion that Molina has saved 77 runs over the past five seasons is a bunch of hooey, but if he's truly responsible for even half of that, it stands to benefit Hellickson, and any pitcher on the Rays, for that matter. If Molina's pitch receiving skills truly are that much of a difference maker, he could help offset the inevitable regression in Hellickson's defense-aided stats and help keep his ERAs in the low-3's.
Hellickson's relatively low strikeout rate has some fans skeptical about his star potential, but he has good stuff, obviously, and I expect the K's to go up. Heck, Justin Verlander had a measly 6.0 K/9 in his rookie year, and now look at him. Hellickson won't be that good, but he'll be a steady rotation stalwart for the foreseeable future. Don't go too nuts on draft day, though. I wouldn't be surprised at all if his ERA shoots up a full run simply because he has to face the Red Sox and Yankees several times a year.
2. Mark Trumbo
Avast, ye matey! There are troubled seas ahead! Trumbo's brute strength allowed him to amass a shiny home run total, and he was able to fool the ROY voters who don't understand why OBP matters, but there's a lot to be concerned about here. Trumbo drew 19 unintentional walks in 573 plate appearances, which is absolutely terrible. This led to a .291 OBP, which is equally terrible. Pitchers tend to decipher batters like Trumbo fairly quickly. If he doesn't change his approach and learn to take a walk once in a while, he'll be out of the league in no time.
Looking at Trumbo's season, the first thing I'm reminded of is the tragic story of Mike Jacobs. In 2008, Jacobs smashed 31 homers for the Marlins, though like Trumbo, he didn't walk at all and hit all those home runs while putting up an ugly .299 OBP. That winter, he was traded to the Royals.
A lot of Royals fans rejoiced, thinking they had the middle-of-the-order masher that had eluded them for so long. Statheads, though, begged to differ, citing his low OBP as an indication that he was going to bomb. A mini-war was waged at the time on message boards all over the 'net, with both sides hotly debating the merits of Jacobs and the trade that brought him to Kansas City. There were many all-caps diatribes and moms being insulted, let me tell you.
The statheads were right. Jacobs fell apart in '09 and his career immediately fell into a ditch and died. This is what I fear will become of Trumbo. Since first base is a deep position, no manager in their right mind should even consider Trumbo until the late rounds. He'll probably be floating around your league's waiver wire come summer time.
3. Eric Hosmer
I already made most of my thoughts clear on Hosmer in this article a few weeks back. In short, he easily has the highest upside of anyone on this list and I could see him becoming a 30 home run guy as soon as this year. 21-year-olds who can slug .465 in the majors in their first full year don't grow on trees. Hell, he even threw in eleven stolen bases. He's going to be special, and if you are drafting for a keeper league, he should go in the first few rounds.
4. Ivan Nova
Chien-Ming Wang, Part Deux? Nova is an extreme groundballer with very limited upside, though I find it somewhat ironic (and funny, in a sadistic, anti-Yankee way) that he's flourished while Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have basically gone busto. If you draft him, you're doing it for his win total. As long as he's getting bushels of ground balls and has the Yankee offense supporting him, he'll put up solid win totals. However, with Derek Jeter and an aging Alex Rodriguez out there running in quicksand behind him, he's not going to get much help from his defense. That could easily send his value rocketing in the wrong direction, so beware.
A bonafide stud in the making. Pineda would have finished higher, but he wore down in the second half of the season and the Mariners handled him with kid gloves in September. Keeper leaguers need to be on this guy like Kim Kardashian on a crappy professional athlete (topical!). A lot of 22-year-olds with electric stuff tend to have high walk totals and pitch counts that eat them alive in their early seasons. Not Pineda. He struck out more than a batter an inning and kept his walks to under three per nine innings. If he stays healthy (he has a history of elbow trouble...and he's a pitcher), he should combine with Felix Hernandez to form an awesome two-headed monster atop the Seattle rotation.
I was going to stop this at the top five, but Ackley is too cool to not mention. In 2011, Ackley was like the sword Excalibur emerging from the putrid, sludge-engulfed lake that was the Mariner lineup. When he first came up, he put on hitting tutorials for the other zeros on the roster, and briefly reminded Mariner fans what offensive competence looked like. While he wore down in September, the upside is very evident. He's a .300 hitter with 15-20 homer pop who can draw walks. Once upon a time, scouts believed his defense at second base was so bad that he'd have to move to the outfield, thus decreasing his value. Now, he's apparently worked at it enough that he'll be an acceptable infielder. He should be a top five fantasy second baseman in short order.
Which 2011 AL rookie will go on to have the best career?
Jeremy Hellickson (16 votes)
Mark Trumbo (1 vote)
Eric Hosmer (103 votes)
Ivan Nova (6 votes)
Michael Pineda (23 votes)
Dustin Ackley (31 votes)
180 total votes