Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Red Sox May Place 1, 2, 3 In The AL Rookie of The Year Voting

It's very likely that the prime candidates for the AL ROY haven't emerged yet as Phil Hughes and others have spent some time nursing injuries at the beginning of this year and still have plenty of time to state their cases, but if you were to rank the contenders for AL ROY right now, the Sox would have 3 of the top 5 candidates. I'm not sure it's a record (actually it's not, as the Marlins had 3 of the top 4 vote getters in the ROY voting last year), but I do think it's worthy of a mention. Here's how they rank (according to me) if the voting were held today:

1. Jeremy Guthrie
Who? Yeah, JEREMY F'N GUTHRIE. If you're not familiar with Guthrie's work, that's because he plays for the worst team in baseball: The Baltimore Orioles. He's 28 (advanced age due to mormon mission) and was first called up by the Indians in 2004, though his stay did not last long (a "cup of coffee" as Rick Sutcliffe would say over and over and over again. Get a new phrase, Ricker.). He had a couple more cups of coffee with the Indians before being released by the Indians in '06. He threw out of the pen for the O's this year until the unthinkable happened... Jaret Wright went down with an injury. In his 8 starts since joining the rotation, Guthrie has pitched 6 innings or more in all of them and hasn't given up more than 3 runs in any. He is also undefeated (2-0 in 8 starts, thanks O's). His ERA and WHIP are both 2nd in the A.L. and players are hitting .210 off him on the year. If he were on any other team he'd be 6-0 at least. As of today, Guthrie is the ROY. Unfortunately, even if he stays within spitting distance of his current pace, he's going to finish the year with a losing record, he doesn't have killer K numbers (due to his early bullpen stint) and when compared against the other rookie contender (Dice-K) at least with regard to those two stats, he'll get killed. Guthrie would win if we were voting today, but he doesn't have a shot unless he can keep his ERA under 3.00. That ain't happening in Camden.

1A. Hideki Okajima
With apologies to Pat Neshek and Dan Haren, you could make the argument that Hideki Okajima has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball this year. In 32 appearances, he's given up 4 runs. He's only given up 19 hits all year and only two of those were extra base hits (one those, a home run by John Buck, was off the first pitch of his career). He also benefits from playing on a good team and Tito will use him in situations where the game is either close or tied late, so he has the chance to pick up a few cheap wins. And while the ROY isn't as dependent on your team being good as the MVP vote is, because of his position and because of the Sox exposure, it is more likely both that Okajima can keep this up and that people will ngive him credit for the Sox success than it is that Guthrie keeps up his pace and he stands out in Baltimore enough for people to take notice. If Guthrie slips at all, he will fall completely off the ROY radar and Okajima will have an open door.

2. Reggie Willits
The Angels' Reggie Willits is probably more of your prototypical candidate for ROY. He's on a good team. He's one of the reasons this team remains good and he's not doing things so out of the ordinary for this good team that he can't keep it up. His pace is reasonable. Prior to Monday, Willits had hit safely in 38 of his last 50 games, while reaching base safely in 43 of 51 games with an at-bat. He is first among American League rookies in batting average (.329), on-base percentage (.433), runs scored (34) and stolen bases (16). His 57 hits are second among his rookie peers. He's not doing anything terribly terrific, but if he keeps this up (and especially if he gets near 100 runs) and if the Angels make the playoffs, he probably has the best shot out of any of these five to take the award.

2a. Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia is a bit of a longer shot. His most significant problem is that he'll be compared to Willits and Willits has been a little more consistent. After starting the season off with a .182 average in April, Pedroia has been absurd. He blistered the month of May with a .415 average and OPS of 1.072, earning rookie of the month for May (Okajima won ROM for April). He has calmed down a little this month but is still hitting .340 for the month and .320 overall. He doesn't have big power but he's got 3 home runs to Willits's zero, has almost double the amount of doubles that Willits has and has the second highest OPS amongst rookies. He's also playing a solid 2B and is on a team that is on their way to the playoffs. Pedroia is probaly the longest shot of all these 5 candidates but if he can get his HRs into the 12-15 range, hit over .300 and drive in 75+, he's got a decent shot.

3. Dice-K
The Gyroballer is the wildcard in all of this discussion. Dice-K, while not piching up to his standards (or the standards of his country and hype), has pitched pretty solidly. He's top 5 in K's, he's top 20 in OPS against and in his last 3 starts he's given up 2 runs or fewer and struck out an average of 8.3 while pitching 6 and change. So it's possible that he's getting better (it's also possible that he just likes pitching against Oakland and the NL). The big Ace in Dice-K's pocket is the fact that he has a legitimate shot to win 20 games. He's 8-5, pitches deep into games and has lights out relief behind him and a good lineup getting run support for him. If he wins 20, that may be game set and match no matter if he has a 3.50 ERA or a 5.00 ERA. He has the highest upside of any of the candidates (including the honorable mentionees) and with his experience, he is probably even money with Willits to take it home.

Honorable mention goes to: Travis Buck, Alex Gordon, Phil Hughes (maybe) and Delmon Young (if only he wouldn't strikeout everytime he stepped up to the plate. He makes WiMP look like Ty Cobb).

I'm not saying it is likely that the Sox will finish 1, 2, 3, but it is possible and it has left me with some questions: How many teammates ever finished 1, 2 in the ROY voting and what is the highest number of players from one team have to have finished in the top 10? Seriously, I'd like to know.

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