Over at the Baseball Bloggers’ Alliance, we will be voting over the coming weeks on our award winners for the regular season. Last week I posted my votes for the AL and NL Connie Mack awards, given to our managers of the year. I’ll be continuing on today with my choice for the American League’s top rookie, the Willie Mays award recipient.
I wrote about the overall rookie of the class over the weekend, and it occurred to me that the group from the American League is pretty clearly a lot weaker than the Senior Circuit’s group, but there are still some solid rookies worthy of consideration. These are in order from east to west (approximately), and I will have my final vote at the bottom.
Wade Davis (TAM)
Davis was slotted into the Rays’ starting rotation out of spring training, and performed solidly as the #4 starter for the team. He threw 168 innings, striking out 113 and walking 65 batters while posting a 12-10 record and a 4.07 ERA. Some of his secondary numbers show a bit of luck (4.79 FIP). His strikeout rate did drop however from his career rates in the minors to this point, so he could see some improvement in the coming seasons.
Brian Matusz (BAL)
Matusz was my original choice back in the preseason as the most likely person to win the award, but he was let down to some extent by his team. Matusz threw 175 2/3 innings, posting a 4.30 ERA and a 10-12 record. His 143 strikeouts and 63 walks weren’t stunningly good, but he also appears to be a bit unlucky (4.05 FIP, .304 BABIP). Clearly, his run support wasn’t amazing (2.68 per start), and as a result of the win total should improve going into next season if all other numbers hold steady.
Austin Jackson (DET)
Jackson was the main acquisition of the Tigers in the Curtis Granderson trade during last offseason, and was slotted into as the starting center fielder for the Tigers. He got off to an extremely hot start, hitting .364/.422/.495 with 20 runs scored and 5 stolen bases in the month of April. He cooled off some as time progressed, and finished the season with a .293/.345/.400 line, 103 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases. He also played excellent defense for the Tigers in center field all season long.
Danny Valencia (MIN)
Valencia was brought up in early June to play 3B for the Twins, and simply never gave the job back. In just 85 games, he hit .311 with 7 home runs, 40 runs batted in, and played solid defense for the Twins down the stretch.
Neftali Feliz (TEX)
Feliz barely fell under the rookie requirements for last season, and remained eligible for the award again in 2010. He started the season by being put into the bullpen as a setup man, and took over as the closer after only 1 week of games. He clearly took the job and ran with it, finishing with 40 saves, striking out 71 batters to just 18 walks. He also posted a 0.880 WHIP and a 2.73 ERA, and helped to lead the team to the playoffs this season.
When I looked at all the players that were eligible, Feliz stood out as the clear winner to me. While I generally would be more inclined to give the vote to a position player as they have a larger impact on a day to day basis on the team, Feliz helped to solidify the team’s bullpen and the team really started to take off once they had moved him to the back of the bullpen. While the rest of the players had solid seasons, Feliz clearly had the largest impact as a rookie on his team, and set a record for the most saves ever by a rookie. He’s my vote for the AL Willie Mays award.