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Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Baseball Primer’s 2001 Rookies of the Year

Our picks.

In 2001, 110 different players made their major league debuts, with yet more   still retaining their rookie status.? Despite the usual influx of fresh blood,   there really was apparently little question as to the best two rookies of the   year with the BBWAA, the Internet Baseball Awards, and now, the Baseball Primer   voting, all going for Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Albert Pujols   of the St. Louis Cardinals.? The only controversy, if there is one, is whether   or not Suzuki is deserving of being labelled a rookie because of his extensive   career in Japan.

Regardless, this year?s Rookie of the Year election was probably the easiest   since 1997, when voters had the obvious choices of Scott Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra.?   That you can even make an MVP argument for both Pujols and Suzuki with a straight   face is an amazing thing in itself.

AL Voting

               
  Player Total Pts (1st)
1st

Ichiro Suzuki


50 (10)

2nd


C.C. Sabathia


33 (1)

3rd


David Eckstein


?6

4th


Alfonso Soriano


?6

5th


Joel Piniero


?3

6th


Brent Abernathy


?1

Ichiro Suzuki
 
Anyway you look at it, Suzuki had a magnificent season for the Mariners,   creating a reputation of almost mythic proportions while the Mariners destroyed   all comers.? Suzuki?s clear strength was his batting average, leading the league   with a .350 average, strong enough to withstand his pedestrian walk rate and   below-average power.? When on-base, there?s probably no player as fun to watch   as Ichiro, who possessed speed that even Vince Coleman would be unashamed of.?   That speed suits Suzuki well in rightfield and he sports a very accurate and   strong arm, although not one quite as strong as vintage Jesse Barfield.? All   season long I was wondering if pitchers would start to be able to take advantage   of Suzuki?s eagerness to put the ball in play, but they couldn?t.? Perhaps they   won?t be able to until Suzuki?s bat speed slows down as he heads towards middle   age.

C.C. Sabathia
 
In most seasons, Sabathia?s likely a very strong Rookie of the Year candidate   with a 17-5 record, almost a strikeout per inning, mostly before his 21st   birthday.? Even though he ended up with only a league average ERA, he showed   tremendous poise and had stretches in which he was completely unhittable.? Sabathia   probably has the most long-term potential of any of the AL Rookies this season   and perhaps of any current pitcher, period.? Built like a tank, Sabathia stands   6?7? and has to be at least 30 solid pounds over his listed weight of 235.?   Sabathia was generally kept around 110 pitches and after the Indians had essentially   wrapped up the division, was pulled frequently before 100 pitches even when   games were close.? If his arm holds up (not because of abuse, but because of   any pitcher at that age being risky), he could be a great one.

David Eckstein
 
Eckstein was a player that excited me after his big OBP season a few years   ago while still in the Red Sox organization.? Despite being a little disappointing   upon reaching higher levels, the Angels lapped him up when the Red Sox dumped   him in 2000 (while picking guys like Rico Brogna and Ed Sprague) and gave him   every chance to succeed.? Eckstein finally did what injuries and logic could   not, essentially ending Gary DiSarcina?s relationship with the Angels? organization,   making the fairly difficult switch from 2B to SS on the fly.? While Eckstein?s   probably too old to have a high upside, but he?s shown in the minors a greater   ability to walk than he did in the majors this year and if he can avoid too   many months like September (216/293/243), he can be a useful starter for the   Angels for the next 5 years, even if he?s just average.? Not bad for a player   too small to make the WNBA.

Alfonso Soriano
 
Soriano certainly did not suffer for lack of media attention in his rookie   year and even during the year, was frequently hyped as a current star.? He did,   however, display some nice power at times, giving hope that he might someday   slug enough to be a good player and his walk rate improved somewhat during the   season to end up being better than, well, Shawon Dunston.? Undoubtedly, Soriano   worked very hard to become a full-time second baseman when the Yankees decided   to shift Chuck Knoblauch to leftfield, but Soriano still usually looked like   a leftfielder playing second base.? The Yankees, however, might as well think   of Soriano as a full-time 2B and work on improving him there (which seems to   be the plan) as Soriano?s unlikely to be much more than Wil Cordero as an outfielder.?

Joel Pineiro
 
It?s amazing to look at Seattle and see that the formerly-infamous bullpen   has now become one of the team?s strengths.? Whether serving as a starter (2.36   ERA in 11 starts) or a reliever (1 run allowed on 3 hits in 14.1 innings), Pineiro   was a solid contributor to the Mariners despite not even being in Seattle for   a full season.

Brent Abernathy
 
Abernathy is, I believe, the guy who got a vote because of someone deciding   Suzuki was not qualified for the Rookie of the Year candidate.? A starter at   2B for about half the season with the Devil Rays with Russ Johnson and Damian   Rolls covering the job the rest of time, Abernathy, as a player, is about as   vanilla as they come, being slmot dead average in almost every offensive skill   and even defense.? It beat having Damian Rolls starting, however.? Abernathy?s   future is probably more that of a really good utility player than as a starting   second baseman.

NL Voting

       
  Player

Total Points (1st)

1st


Albert Pujols


55 (11)

2nd


Roy Oswalt


28

3rd


Jimmy Rollins


11

4th


Adam Dunn


11

5th


Ben Sheets


?1

6th


Bud Smith


?1

Albert Pujols
 
Although probably not the slam-dunk choice that Ichiro was in the AL (aside   from the rookie definition controversy), Pujols clearly was a deserving choice   for the NL award.? Not to take anything away from Roy Oswalt, but by the time   Oswalt finally became a full-time starter in June, Pujols had already spent   two months terrorizing NL pitching, ending up at a super 329/403/610.? Even   more amazingly, despite jumping a few levels of minor league ball and ostensibly   only being 21, Pujols went through the entire season without any kind of prolonged   slump.? All this while shuffling back and forth between all four corners during   the season based on injuries and/or Tony LaRussa?s whims.? I do hope the Cardinals   come to their senses and leave Pujols alone at 3rd as he?s perfectly   capable there.

Roy Oswalt
 
If only Oswalt had been able to be in the rotation for the entire year,   we may have had a great debate between Pujols and Oswalt for the Rookie of the   Year award.? As it was, Oswalt will half to settle for merely being one of the   top starting pitchers in baseball for 4 months with a 2.73 ERA in 141.2 innings   and a miniscule 24 walks.? Despite the excellent strikeout total (around a K   an inning for Oswalt), he?s almost the polar opposite of Sabathia, slight of   build and without the eye-popping fastball.? Oswalt?s as polished as any fine   gemstone, however, with command well above what you would expect from a player   who just turned 24 near the end of the season.? All this took place in the unfriendly   confines (although not near the unfriendliness of Planet Coors) of Enron Field.

Jimmy Rollins
 
Rollins enjoyed a nice little year, even making the All-Star game as one   of the last optional selections of Bobby Valentine.? Add 20 or 30 points of   OBP to Rollins and you have a good shortstop to have hitting 2nd   in your lineup.? Rollins might even be smaller than David Eckstein but still   managed to hit 14 home runs, which is a pretty impressive total, all things   considered.? He won?t be one of the Rodriguez/Garciaparra Gods, but Rollins   should be an above-average shortstop for a long time, especially if he can continue   to crank out the surprising power and leg out the triples.? Rollins is, however,   the type of player to whom a leg injury could be devestating.

Adam Dunn
 
Yet another fine NL Rookie and only down this low because he only played   66 games in the majors,? Dunn is a polished slugger and hit an impressive 19   home runs in only 244 at-bats.? For a 21 year-old slugger, Dunn had an impressive   ability to not flinch at hearing the words ?ball four? with 38 walks, giving   him a .371 on-base percentage despite only having a .261 batting average.? Dunn   is a huge guy, too, well-built and plenty capable of hitting 50 home runs as   soon as next year barring some unforseen misfortune.? He might very well battle   with a healthy Ken Griffey Jr. for the title of Best Cincinnati Red.

Ben Sheets

Sheets is an unfortunate example of a young pitcher getting severely injured
even when the manager takes great pains to be careful.? After pitching through
what was diagnosed as rotator cuff tendinitis for a month (and very carefully
as he was generally under 100 pitches at that point), Sheets had to be put on
the shelf, prematurely ending his season.? Don?t be fooled by his 4.79 ERA at
the time he was placed on the disabled list; it was a run lower when he started
to have arm problems.? The Brewers were careful at putting Sheets back on the
mound, but he was less impressive in 4 limited September/October starts.? A full
offseason should do Sheets good.

Bud Smith
 
June callup and another good rookie starting pitcher, Smith burst into the   public consciousness with a 134 pitch no-hitter against the Padres at the beginning   of September and ended the year with a solid 3.83 ERA in 84.2 innings.? To LaRussa?s   credit, Smith?s 134 pitches in his no-hitter was by far the highest of the season,   with Smith only throwing over 100 pitches on two other occasions.? For people   that get the Cards? young pitchers confused, Smith is the one that isn?t trying   out for the NFL or trying out to be a Steve Dalkowski impersonator.

 

Dan Szymborski Posted: November 20, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 2 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: November 21, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604267)
Good article overall, but I'd love to know how you feel you can make an argument for Albert Pujols (or anyone other than Barry Bonds) for NL MVP. Even the BBWAA got this one right, voting unanimously for Bonds.
   2. Dan Szymborski Posted: November 21, 2001 at 01:14 AM (#604271)
I don't think a convincing one can be made. However, you could conceivably argue that Pujols playing multiple positions while hitting so well had a great deal of extra value to the Cardinals this season with their specific injuries. Like Pete Rose in the mid-70s, Pujols created a lot of roster flexibility for LaRussa.

I'm not convinced by this argument in the slightest; in fact, in our NL MVP voting, I left 2nd place blank on purpose, stating that Bonds was so far ahead of the competition that placing someone 2nd makes them seem like they were in the same galaxy of Bonds. However, I think the case can be made without any self-irony and Pujols might very well have a better NL MVP case than Ichiro did.

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