The Nats need to close out 16-22 or better to make it to 70 wins. In case you haven't noticed, this is not a good team. But you've probably noticed that it has a few good players. Two, in particular, are worthy of consideration for major awards: Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Zimmerman. Now, both Frank Robinson and Soriano himself have noted that Soriano faces long odds of winning the National League Most Valuable Player award; the team's poor record serves to undermine Soriano's prospective candidacy. But Zimmerman is quite a viable candidate for NL Rookie of the Year; at the risk of playing the multiple endpoint game, it's worth noting that two of the past four NL Rookies of the Year have played for teams with losing records. So it's possible.
Will Zimmerman win? Should he win?
As an introduction, here are the NL rookies who have garnered enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title:
It's an introduction, but this table doesn't advance us far enough. Particularly, the table leaves out: 1) these players' counting stats (e.g., homers, ribbies, runs, steals); 2) players who have not qualified for the batting title yet, but who have played enough---and wiil play enough---to merit consideration; and 3) pitchers.
Fielder leads these rookies with 22 homers. Zimmerman leads with 83 runs batted in. Ramirez far and away leads with 39 stolen bases, and also tops the list with 88 runs scored. Zimmerman has 38 doubles, which leads this list by a mile. (Okay, maybe a half-mile; Jacobs has 31 two-baggers.) Uggla has six triples, one more than Ramirez.
Now here's the list of all NL rookie position players, regardless of whether they currently qualify for the batting title. (With one exception, a player must average 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for the batting title.) At the risk of arbitrarily excluding good guys like Brandon Harper, I'm going to arbitrarily exclude guys like Brandon Harper. Unless a player already has at least 200 at-bats, I'm not including him for consideration; no player is going to win this award unless he has something like 350 at-bats by the end of the season. This criterion barely cuts out Eliezer Alfonso of the Giants, but oh well. And I'm going to go beyond this standard and cut out Jeremy Hermida (276 at-bats) of the Marlins---there's enough Florida guys already.
Ethier and Martin of the Dodgers would need about 384 plate appearances right now to qualify for the batting title. (The Dodgers have played 124 games.) Ethier has about 325 plate appearances, and Martin has about 330. Paulino has about 360 plate appearances. It takes 502 plate appearances over the course of a team's 162-game schedule to qualify.
I bring up qualifying for the batting title, first, because it's a reasonable standard of regular playing time and, second, because Ethier might well win the batting title. His .343 batting average would rank second in the league, behind Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez (.352). Ethier needs about 177 plate appearances over the Dodgers' final 38 games---or 4.66 per remaining game---to qualify. If he qualifies, and if he wins, Ethier will most likely win the ROY award.
There are a number of impressive rookie pitchers in the NL, but I only see three serious contenders for the top rookie award.
First observation: Florida has a lot of young talent, doesn't it? Second observation: Los Angeles has a lot of young talent, doesn't it? Third observation: Florida really has a lot of young talent, doesn't it? Scary good talent.
Anyway, Josh Johnson has been by far the most impressive rookie pitcher this season---one of the most impressive NL rookie pitchers in quite awhile, I'd think. Johnson currently leads the league in ERA, having recently qualified for the leaderboard. Absent injury, he'll qualify at the end of the year; absent a collapse, he'll more than likely finish in the top five. That's impressive.
Nolasco has to be considered a contender, because when you've got 11 wins on August 21, you might just end up with 17 somehow. And if you win 17 games, you have a good chance of winning the ROY award. Nolasco probably won't finish 17-8, and he probably won't win the ROY, but he can't be discounted at this point.
Saito is a wild card. He's the closer on a first-place team, but he lacks gaudy save totals. However, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he rips off 15 saves in the final six weeks, ending up with around 30 and perhaps a sub-two ERA. On the other hand, remember when I said the Dodgers had all this young talent? Well, Saito ain't young; he's thirty-six. That didn't hurt Kaz Sasaki in 2000, but it might have hurt Hideki Matsui in 2003.
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I think we can narrow this down to five serious candidates, in no particular order:
Ramirez is a fun young player and may well reach a 100 runs/50 steals standard. If he raises his average to, say, .285, he might slip in with a Pat Listach Memorial ROY.
However, I consider both Uggla and Ramirez long-shots. I have no idea if there exists a "vote-splitting" phenoenon in ROY voting (i.e., "Well, Johnson is my Florida vote"), but Johnson is the most impressive Florida candidate. He leads the NL in ERA! There appears to be no ROY-related anti-pitcher bias held by the BBWAA, especially the NL members; two of the past four---and five of the past eleven---NL ROYs have been pitchers.
Finally, there is Ethier. There is a lot of buzz surrounding him. The Dodgers are winning (a lot), Ethier is hitting (a lot), and the media appear to be correlating the two (a lot). He'll probably get up to around 15 homer and 75 ribbbies. If his average holds well above .300 (and, if you believe in the vagaries of batting average on balls in play, it might not), then Ethier will be a formidable candidate. If he wins the batting title, then I think he's a shoe-in, even if Johnson wins the ERA title.
Where all of this is going, you can see, is that I don't think Zimmerman will win. Of course, he might. Let's say he has a big September and ends up near .300 with something like 110 ribbies. In that case, it might be hard not to place him at the top of a ballot. On the other hand, Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, or Prince Fielder might smack 15 homers between now and the end---1990 Dave Justice-style---and steal the award. Probably not, but I suppose it's possible.
Just the same, barring a collapse, I think Zimmerman still has an uphill fight.
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That's who I think will win the award. But who do I think should? I don't know; it's still too early. But, when considering the ROY vote, I don't necessarily know if voters explicitly consider "value" as they would in an MVP vote. Stated another way, I don't know if they explicitly consider the value of playing time. That's why guys like Ethier---who wasn't recalled from Triple-A until May---can jump in there. Taking a look at a measure like Win Shares, which does contemplate playing time (and defense, too), gives us a different perspective:
|Player||Total Win Shares|
Bottom line is that I think Zimmerman is obviously a viable candidate. Perhaps he should win; however, I think---absent a huge September---he probably won't.
I think Ethier wins.