On NL Rookies, and How This Year's Best Will Be Determined

Will Danny Espinosa win National League Rookie of the Year? Nationals fans sure hope so, and multiple writers, including Jayson Stark and Tom Verducci, named the Washington 2nd baseman their NL Rookie of the Year at the midway point of the season.

However, he is not unrivaled for the award. This is not 2001, when Ichiro (AL) and Pujols (NL) ran away with the rookie hardware. Other strong rookies in the NL this year include: RP Craig Kimbrel, SP Brandon Beachy, and 1B Freddie Freeman of Atlanta; SP Cory Luebke of San Diego; SP Dillon Gee of New York; 2B Darwin Barney of Chicago; and even Washington's own C Wilson Ramos.

Freeman is currently a marginal option, but he could become a serious part of the race if he surpasses Espinosa in counting stats. He is, however, at somewhat of a disadvantage as a first baseman.

Beachy and Luebke haven't pitched enough to really be serious candidates at this point, but if they continue their success they may threaten. Barney has a high average but is mostly a marginal candidate, and Ramos is probably marginal as well.

This leaves Kimbrel and Gee. Gee started off 8-1 with a 3.32 ERA, but is now 8-3 with a 3.76 ERA. If he recovers and ends up at 15+ wins while keeping his ERA in the 3's, he will be a major candidate, but if he continues to slide he will eventually drop out of the picture.

Which brings us to Kimbrel.

The Atlanta closer has converted 28/32 save opportunities, with a 0.00 ERA when he completes a save and a 2.35 ERA overall. He also has 70 strikeouts in just 46 innings. And there's the rub, really; 46 innings: he's a relief pitcher. Does he pitch enough to be winning non-Rolaids awards?

Perhaps. Those 28 saves lead the Major Leagues. In last year's AL race, Neftali Feliz surpassed Austin Jackson while posting 40 saves. Kimbrel threatens to blow well past 40.

Now, Espinosa is a stronger candidate than Jackson was last year. However, will the voters be able to resist, say, a 45 save season by Kimbrel? What if he reaches 50? It seems there is a point at which Kimbrel will have enough saves to lock up the award and render moot all the stats in the world for Espinosa. Where is that magic number?

And does Espinosa have his own magic numbers that could offset this? He probably does, but it's a lot easier to accumulate saves than to raise a .242 average up 30 points while continuing to hit homers.

The writers who gave the midseason ROY nod to Espinosa may not have been taken aback by 28 saves, but 50 is sure to catch many a voter's eye were it to happen. The biggest threat to Espinosa's candidacy might just be the save statistic.

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