Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Early NL ROY Talk Has Puig, Ryu Behind Marlins' Fernandez

Early National League Rookie of the Year projections are starting to surface, and's Jerry Crasnick thinks the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu should be second and fifth, respectfully:

At first glance, the 2013 National League rookie class appears noteworthy for its depth and international flair. The list of top candidates includes two Cubans (Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig), a high-priced free agent from Korea (Hyun-Jin Ryu) and a bonus baby from Colombia (Julio Teheran). It's stacked with pitching talent and includes a few players who arrived too late to enter the rookie of the year debate. New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler and Cincinnati stolen base machine Billy Hamilton quickly spring to mind.

Time will ultimately bring perspective on how good this group is. But it looks like the deepest and most productive rookie class since 2006, when Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Prince Fielder, Matt Cain, Andre Ethier, Dan Uggla and Russell Martin debuted in the National League, and Justin Verlander, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Liriano, Jered Weaver, Ian Kinsler and Nick Markakis first appeared in the American League.

"It's a little weird in that almost all the prominent rookies are in the National League," said Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau. "That's just the luck of the draw. You also have rookies like Teheran and Ryu who are playing big roles for contending teams. I always think that's worth something. I know it's not a popular stance these days. But I think playing games that are important to something more than your own statistical line is of value."

How will the 2013 ballot shake out? Here's a guess: [...]

2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (.327, 18 homers, .941 OPS)

Puig, nicknamed the "Wild Horse" by Vin Scully, has been a polarizing figure during a spectacular rookie year in Los Angeles. He won fans and gained national attention by collecting hits in bunches, running the bases with abandon and challenging baserunners with laser throws from the fence. He also undermined those jaw-dropping moments by running into outs, airmailing cutoff men and banging into walls and nearly injuring teammates.

The Dodgers were limping along at 23-32 in early June when Puig arrived from Double-A Chattanooga and went 2-for-4 with a game-ending throw to beat San Diego 2-1. Hanley Ramirez returned the following day from the disabled list and began tearing it up from the cleanup spot. But Puig, more than anyone, changed the tone of the conversation surrounding the Dodgers.

Feel free to quibble with Puig's .236 batting average (17-for-72) with runners in scoring position, his 11 steals in 19 attempts or diminished production since the All-Star break. It's hard to ignore the fact that the Dodgers are 62-29 when he's in the starting lineup.

Signature achievement: Elias notes that Puig is the first player since Joe DiMaggio in 1936 to amass 70 or more hits and 10-plus homers in his first 50 major league games. Puig's 18 home runs are the most by a Dodgers rookie since Mike Piazza slugged 35 in 1993. He'd have a lot more if he hadn't missed the first two months.

A teammate's take: "Yeah, Puig might come off as cocky to some people," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp told Ramona Shelburne of "But why not think you're one of the best players in the league? Every great player has a swag to their game. That's what makes them great. If he's one of your teammates, you like the way he plays."

Outlook: For all the entertaining copy Puig has generated, the most intriguing questions will be answered in 2014. With Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier still owed a combined $280 million or so in long-term deals beyond this season, there are only so many at-bats to go around. Dodgers management has some important decisions to make this winter. [...]

5. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (13-7, 3.03 ERA)

Ryu outlasted Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to emerge as the Dodgers' No. 3 starter behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. He has dealt with some back issues of late, but still has a 2.94 ERA since the All-Star break. Ricky Nolasco appeared to be moving ahead of him in the postseason pecking order, but the Dodgers might want to stick with Ryu now that Nolasco has been shelled in his past two outings.

As a 6-foot-2, 255-pound lefty with a diverse repertoire and natural strike-throwing ability, Ryu has generated lots of comparisons to David Wells. Ryu has a 3-0 record, 1.64 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 33 innings this season against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis -- the National League's other four playoff teams. That bodes well for him to make a positive contribution in October.

"We had scouted him since he was 18 and had more information on him than any international player we have signed," GM Ned Colletti said in an email. "He competes very well, adjusts mid-game and challenges hitters. He is one of those people who rises to the level of the competition. He's got a great sense of humor, and even though there is some language barrier, he has become a favorite of many in the room."

Signature achievements: Ryu ranks among the NL's top rookie starters in innings pitched (181), strikeouts (144), ERA (3.03) and wins (13). With one more win, he'll tie Kazuhisa Ishii for second-most victories by a Dodgers rookie starter behind Rick Sutcliffe, who set the franchise standard with 17 wins in 1979.

The manager's take: Opponents are hitting .216 against Ryu with runners in scoring position. "He throws the ball around the plate, [and] he's going to give up some hits," Don Mattingly told the Los Angeles Times. "But he's a guy who knows what he's doing. He pitches out of trouble. This guy can pitch."

Outlook: Ryu was a seven-time All-Star in the Korea Baseball Organization and signed for $36 million as a free agent last winter, so the Dodgers had reason to expect an immediate contribution. At 26, he's more experienced and significantly more advanced than the kid pitchers competing with him for the NL's top rookie award. A top-five finish is probably the best he can expect.

Paco Rodriguez was mentioned in the "also of note" section.

Jose Fernandez has indeed had a ROY-worthy year, especially given he's playing in Miami. But his shutdown earlier this month, juxtaposed with Puig getting more time to shine on a playoff stage, may not make this an open-and-shut case. It's quite common for the "X got us into the playoffs" discussion to factor into the voting. So we'll see.

Time to shine, Yasiel!


Steve K said...

I think Fernandez is going to take it. Personally, I don't think voters take team record into account as much for ROY as they do for MVP. Also, if I remember correctly, aren't ballots due before the playoffs specifically so that they don't influence voting?