Fernandez, Myers the rightful Rookie of Year winners
There were times this season when it seemed you could not walk out your front door without tripping over another National League Rookie of the Year Award candidate. The American League race, on the other hand, looked comparatively tame.
For disparate reasons, then, the choices made by the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on the rookie ballots were difficult ones.
The good news is that they got it right.
2013 ROOKIES OF THE YEAR
Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Wil Myers of the Rays were the correct calls in their respective leagues, and not just so that writers like me can make lame "Florida is the Fountain of Youth!" jokes. Fernandez decisively demonstrated he is not just one of the best young pitchers in the game, but one of the best of any age or rank. And while Myers didn't join Tampa Bay until the club's 70th game of 2013, he squeezed about 162 games' worth of impact into the season's final three and a half months.
In the NL, it came down to Fernandez and Yasiel Puig. Yes, Shelby Miller was also one of the "finalists" announced in order to satisfy the made-for-TV presentation, but Fernandez's numbers were superior to Miller's in every category that counted. Same goes for Fernandez's numbers vs. those of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Julio Teheran. Puig, meanwhile, was clearly the top position-player candidate in a field that also included Nolan Arenado, Jedd Gyorko and the Legend of Evan Gattis.
And those are just the guys that got votes. Poor A.J. Pollock, Gerrit Cole, Juan Lagares and Trevor Rosenthal were victimized by the dizzying depth of the NL rookie group.
Put any of those also-rans in the AL this season, and they might have given Myers a run for his money. But in the NL, the voters ultimately had to decide whether Puig's 104-game assault on MLB -- an arrival that helped lift the Dodgers to the top of the NL West in stunningly swift fashion -- was enough to outweigh all that Fernandez did from early April on.
In the end, it wasn't even close. Fernandez claimed 26 first-place votes to Puig's four.
We'd have to get inside the mind of every voter to know how much Puig's oft-critiqued style of play factored into the equation, or whether he simply got dinged for showing up two months into the party. But no matter what route those 26 voters took to get there, Fernandez was the accurate destination.
Were it not for some guy named Kershaw, we'd be discussing Fernandez as a serious NL Cy Young Award candidate. And that's an incredible accomplishment considering he came into Spring Training supposedly ticketed for Double-A Jacksonville. The Marlins gave him a shot in their Opening Day rotation because, well ... just look at their Opening Day roster to understand. Fernandez, just five years removed from his arrival to America after several failed attempts to flee his native Cuba, seemed to have the raw stuff to at least take the league by surprise.
Instead, Fernandez took it by storm. Deceptive in his delivery and dogged in his determination to be among the best of the best, Fernandez flashed an upper-90s fastball, devastating breaking ball and confounding changeup, and he used that combo to go 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, a ridiculous 0.979 WHIP, a league-best 5.8 hits allowed per nine innings and 187 strikeouts in 172 2/3 frames.
The question was not whether Fernandez had the best season of any rookie pitcher this season; the question is whether he had the greatest rookie season by any pitcher in the live-ball era. After all, no rookie has ever posted a better adjusted ERA (176), opponents average (.182), opponents slugging percentage (.265) and opponents OPS (.533) than Fernandez did this season.
Not bad for a 20-year-old kid who had never pitched above Class A. Fernandez absolutely deserved to stand out among this standout NL rookie class.
Myers' case was more complicated, because the same knock that applied to Puig -- the late arrival -- applied to Myers. In the AL, though, it wasn't nearly as noteworthy, because the field was noticeably thin.
Jose Iglesias was an interesting candidate, and, ultimately, a worthy second-place choice. He not only spent considerable time at two positions -- shortstop and third base -- but he was a major contributor to two postseason teams, the Red Sox and Tigers. It's Iglesias' glove that makes him such a tantalizing talent, but he actually held his own offensively at a time when Boston rose up the AL East standings in the first half.
Chris Archer and Dan Straily, likewise, were pivotal performers for playoff clubs, and Archer's ginormous July (4-0, 0.73 ERA) was enough to earn him prominent placement on several ballots, including one first-place vote (interestingly, that lone vote came from a Cleveland chapter member, just as Straily's lone first-place vote did).
What likely swayed the voters toward Myers, limited as his at-bat count might have been, was this simple stat: 56-38. That was the Rays' record after Myers arrived (they were 36-33 beforehand). And while teams obviously don't revolve around a single player, I feel safe in asserting that they wouldn't have achieved that record or their postseason berth without him.
When all was said and done, Myers led all AL rookies in on-base percentage (.354), slugging percentage (.478) and RBIs (53). And he did it despite a pedestrian start. Myers had a .247/.275/.388 slash line in his first 21 games. By season's end, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had learned he could slot Myers anywhere from second through seventh in his lineup and expect quality at-bats.
Myers' greatest achievement? He gave us one of those rare instances in which a popular preseason opinion -- as a top-10 prospect, he was widely regarded as a Rookie of the Year favorite -- proved true. Us lowly sportswriters are so often outrageously incorrect that we'll take the mental pick me up.
And yes, with Myers coupled with that magnificent Marlin, we'll take the Fountain of Youth gag, too.