Rookie of the Year awards are tough. There seems to be a real rush to award the player who projects the best the award, as opposed to the player who produced the most during his rookie campaign. The bizarre eligibility rules only serve to murky the waters. Who is a rookie? Is this guy a call-up? Should we value playing time over performance? Should we question the very nature of performance and what it means to produce on the field? (No. Go out and get some fresh air if that is your concern.)
The Jackie Robinson awards end up as mixed a bag as you can find in the vast awards wasteland. Angel Berroa and Eric Hinske alongside Evan Longoria and Dustin Pedroia. Some years the field is shallow but, hey, somebody has to win! Other years feature two future stars splitting votes and starting their long, mirrored careers as sworn enemies.
This is not one of those blood-feud years. To the jump where we celebrate winners Jeremey Hellickson and Craig Kimbrel!
Craig Kimbrel posted one of the finest rookie reliever seasons of all time. His 127 strikeouts are the highest by a rookie reliever since Mark Eichorn posted 166 in 1986 (in nearly twice the innings, it should be noted.) The Braves closer swept the vote, receiving all 32 first-place votes.
Kimbrel was, quite simply, dominant. He was the best reliever in the best bullpen in baseball, the shutdown reliever on a team that famously missed the playoffs by one game on the final day of the season.
The field beyond Kimbrel was deeper than the voting suggests. His teammate in Atlanta Freddie Freeman finished second in the voting while Vance Worley, Wilson Ramos and Josh Collmenter filled out the top five.
The American League ballot was much more top-heavy than anticipated. Hellickson received 17 first place votes with Mark Trumbo nabbing 8, Erik Hosmer picking up four while Ivan Nova and Dustin Ackley each received a single first place nod.
Hellickson led all rookie pitchers with 189 innings pitched, over which he posted a sparkling 2.95 ERA with superlative Rays defense behind him. His rate stats aren’t nearly as shiny as Michael Pineda nor are his decisions as appealing as Ivan Nova but, as he took the ball 30 times for the Wild Card champs and that ain’t not bad.
Again: does Hellickson have a brighter future than Pineda? Perhaps not but the voters saw him as the AL’s best this season, though some might not agree. The real question is who though Dustin Ackley was the very best rookie in the entire league in 2011? He isn’t even the best infielder who played less than 100 games on an also-ran team!