When compared to the incredibly strong year by NL rookies, the 2010 AL rookie class seems to be a pale imitation. Nonetheless, there were a few worthy candidates.
This year's winner was one Austin Jackson, a 23 year-old outfielder who prior to the 2010 season was traded from the New York Yankees to the Detroit Tigers as part of the megadeal that landed the Yankees Curtis Granderson. Jackson had been seen as a prized prospect for years by the Yankees, but they used him as a trade chip to acquire yet another star player (because they can). Jackson did his best to make the Yankees regret the trade:
#14 / Center Field / Detroit Tigers
Feb 01, 1987
|2010 - Austin Jackson||151||618||103||181||34||10||4||41||47||170||27||6||.293||.345||.400|
The rookie started off the season with a bang, scalding the ball to the tune of a .364/.422/.495 line (.410 wOBA and 160 wRC+) in March/April. Jackson cooled down from that line somewhat (.295/.345/.400, .333 wOBA, 108 wRC+), meaning that he was a slightly above league average hitter. Combined with his slick CF defense (5.4 UZR), Jackson compiled 3.7 WAR over 675 PAs -- more than any other AL rookie and 0.1 more than Granderson managed to produce.
Are there signs for concern going forward? Sure there are. Jackson enjoyed the benefits of a historically high .396 BABIP (league average is around .300). This means that even if Jackson's speed and high line drive % equate to a higher naturalized BABIP, he's still probably going to regress closer to league average in that department in the future. Jackson's 27.5% K rate (and 7% BB rate) is worrisome as well going forward, but for this one season it all came together for him to produce a ROY-caliber season.
Continue for the rest of the PR AL ROY ballot
Second Place: Neftali Feliz
Feliz, a fireballing righthander for the Texas Rangers, was a top starting pitching prospect for the Braves until he was traded in 2007 as part of the package for Mark Teixeira. Now, he's striking out Teixeira and the Yankees as the 22 year-old closer of the Rangers during the ALCS.
#30 / Pitcher / Texas Rangers
May 02, 1988
|2010 - Neftali Feliz||4-3||69||0||0||0||40||3||69.1||43||21||21||5||18||71||2.73||.88|
Feliz can hit triple digits on the radar gun but he also showcases a plus curveball that helped him achieve a 9.22 K/9 ratio and decent control (3.94 K/BB ratio) in his 69.1 IP this year. His 2.96 FIP and 3.68 xFIP suggest that he was a little lucky (.234 BABIP against), but the fact that opponents hit only .180 off of him is enough to convince me that he'll be a success going forward in this role. In addition, Feliz's 40 saves set the AL rookie record, which more than most things is going to sway voters his way.
Despite his dominance, Feliz's low usage meant that he only compiled 1.8 WAR, less than half of Jackson's total. Yes, Feliz compiled 3.89 WPA this year, but much of that simply comes with the territory of being the closer (very high leverage situations). I maintain that Feliz would be more of an asset to the Rangers if they stretch him out next year and let him start unleashing his fire on helpless opponents six innings at a time instead of measuring the dosages into one inning stints.
Letting your stud starting prospects get their feet wet in the bullpen is a formula that has proven to work very well (David Price is a prime example), but I think that Feliz is ready to be a starter for this team. Texas moved CJ Wilson from their bullpen to the rotation this year; in 2011 they should do the same with Feliz.
Third Place: Brian Matusz
My ROY pick coming in to the year, Matusz, a 23 year-old LHP for the Baltimore Orioles, made the best of a bad situation in 2010.
|2010 - Brian Matusz||10-12||32||32||0||0||0||0||175.2||173||88||84||19||63||143||4.30||1.34|
While his 4.30 ERA and 1.34 WHIP sure didn't help my CBS league fantasy team, Matusz held his own in the toughest division in baseball with a bad team playing behind him. The southpaw's 4.05 FIP indicates that he pitched a little better than his ERA, but then again, his 4.51 xFIP thinks he was a little worse. Part of this is because Matusz is an extreme flyball pitcher (45% FB, 18.8% LD), so high HR rates are expected. His 2.27 K/BB ratio, attained with the help of three plus pitches, was respectable. On the whole, Matusz was an above average pitcher in 2010, posting 2.7 WAR.
Also Receiving Votes
Danny Valencia -- The Twins' 26 year old third baseman came out of nowhere but was arguably the most impressive AL offensive rookie on a rate stats basis (.311/.351/.448, .351 wOBA, 122 wRC+), accumulating 2.7 WAR in only 85 games (322 PAs). He also provided plus defense (5.9 UZR) in a small sample. Because he came out of nowhere and because he only played half the season, Valencia's fine campaign seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Brennan Boesch -- The Tigers' 25 year old outfielder is here likely because of his hot start (163 wRC+ in May, 180 wRC+ in June), but his cold finish (monthly wRC+s of 61, 40, and 38) dropped him to a 101 wRC+ season.
It was a close vote, but the PR staff rewarded Jackson for his day-in, day-out production over Feliz's moments of brilliance.