The fact that a Rays pitcher is among the contenders for the American League Rookie of the Year award isn't surprising. The fact that is it Jeff Niemann and not David Price is a bit surprising. Since being drafted in 2004, Niemann went from potential staff ace to potential middle reliever before "winning" the fifth starter's job this spring. Niemann leads the Rays in wins (9), a category that still has value in award voting. Over the past month, he's been the Rays best and most consistent starter.
Preseason prognosticators pegged David Price or Matt Wieters as the AL Rookie of the Year favorites. However, as we head into August, neither uber-prospect has lived up to the hype. Wieters is hitting .246/.301/.373 and has just nine extra base hits. Around these parts we've seen flashes of brilliance from Price, but overall it's been a work in progress. Price is 3-4 with a 4.86 ERA/5.04 FIP in 10 starts. He, like Wieters, has been worth 0.3 WAR so far. Both have the final two plus months to catch up, but here are my favorites for the award in no particular order.
- Gordon Beckham: We just saw Beckham and his ability to hit the ball this week. The guy should develop into an above average hitting third basemen. In his 167 plate appearances this year, he is hitting .286/.355/.422 with 14 extra base hits. Despite the nice offensive numbers, Beckham has been worth just 0.2 WAR because of below average defense. A short stop in college, Beckham has earned a negative -4.7 UZR at the hot corner.
- Brett Gardner: Known for his speed and defense, Gardner has put up solid numbers offensively for the Yankees this year. He is hitting .274/.351/.391 with 20 steals and five triples. Defensively, Gardner has lived up to the hype and his 8.8 UZR in center field is the forth best ranking among all Major League centerfielders with at least 500 innings played at the position. The surprising solid offense and the well above average defense has Gardner with a WAR of 2.0 making him more valuable than B.J. Upton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adam Jones and well ahead of Vernon Wells(-1.0 WAR) in 2009.
- Nolan Reimold: Oh great, another young hitter with legit 30 home run power in the Orioles lineup. Sure Jones, Wieters, and Nick Markakis get most of the attention, but Riemold is a masher in his own right. Hitting .271/.352/.453, Reimold, has nine home runs in 216 plate appearances. He ISO is currently .182 after never dipping below .200 at any level of the minor leagues. While he is a force offensively, Reimold is basically a DH playing left field. Once Luke Scott vacates the DH position, Reimold and his -6.8 UZR in left field should fit nicely into the slot. The poor UZR has made him worth just 0.3 WAR.
- Elvis Andrus: Offensively there isn't much to like about Andrus's game. He's hitting just .256/.315/.346, but does have 19 steals. Defense is his calling card and he is really good at it. With a UZR of 7.0, Andrus has arguably been the AL's best defensive short stop. With Omar Vizquel as his mentor, Andrus should learn a few tricks that should keep him a top the UZR leaderboard for years to come. His 1.5 WAR puts him in my competition.
- Andrew Bailey: An All-Star, Bailey has been arguably one of the AL's best relief aces this year. Working as "closer" for the A's, Bailey has notched 10 saves to go with his 2.06 ERA/2.69 FIP. Bailey has been a K machine amassing 66 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. His 10.48 is among the AL's best and his 1.5 WAR is 4th best for AL relief pitchers.
- Ricky Romero: Better known to Rays fans as "Canada" for his 8 IP, 0 ER performance against Tampa Bay on Canada Day. In back to back starts, Romero held both defending league champs scoreless over 15 innings. Overall, Romero is 8-4 with a 3.44 ERA, however, his 4.48 FIP suggests that Romero hasn't been that good. His 1.98 K/BB is meh and he has allowed 13 home runs in 96 innings of work. Despite the average K/BB and high home run total, he was racked up 1.3 WAR.
- Josh Outman: One of three A's on my list, Outman's numbers are much like Romero's. He carries an above average 3.48 ERA, but his FIP is 4.32. Also like Romero, his HR/9 is near 1.2. He has allowed nine bombs in 67.1 innings. He is nearly the 1 WAR mark.
- Brad Bergesen: The Rays roughed up Bergesen for four runs off nine hits in 5.2 innings back in May. Since then he has flown under the radar as one of the better rookies in the league. Overall, he is 6-5 with a 3.56 ERA. His FIP of 4.16 is better than Romero's, Outman, and Niemann. His 2.0 WAR is also better than names like Cole Hamels and Yovani Gallardo.
- Brett Anderson: 5-8 4.32 ERA isn't likely to draw much attention, but Anderson has really turned it up as of late. In his last 27.2 innings, he carries a 1.30 ERA/1.78 FIP. He has struck out 25 batters in those 27.2 innings and owns a K/BB of 5.00 over his last four starts. His overall FIP is 4.07 and he has earned a 1.7 WAR to date.
- Jeff Niemann: Finally, we get to our own "Big Nyquil." Niemann leads the Rays starters in wins and ERA. Again, we know better to look at just wins and ERA, but a lot of the voters do not know this. Overall, Niemann's 4.23 FIP is pretty good, but his 5.33 K/9 and 1.55 K/BB are weak. After giving up nine home runs in his first 33.2 innings, he has given zero home runs over his last nine starts (66 innings). In the past 30 days, Niemann has gone 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA, 2.72 FIP. His two shutouts this season ties Niemann with several others for the most in the majors.
If I had to pick a rookie of the year right now, I'd go with Bailey slightly ahead of Gardner. Bailey's numbers are stellar across the board, however a knee injury may slow him down a bit. Andrus and Gardner have been fantastic defenders, but Gardner has been superior offensively. I do like Brett Anderson and his mid summer charge. However, we all know voters aren't going to look at WAR, FIP, wOBA and things of that nature. If Niemann continues to pitch the way he has over the past month, and racks up 14 or 15 wins with a sub 4 ERA, the voters may give us back to back rookie of the year winners.