|Is this man your (non-Mike Trout) AL Rookie of the Year? (US Presswire)|
It hardly seems fair. Any number of restaurant-quality rookie campaigns in the AL are going to be overlooked because Mike Trout decided to foil the suspense by authoring perhaps the greatest debut season in history. So let us give the distant remainder its due.
We're asking this: In a lesser universe in which Trout did not exist (perish this thought), who should have been AL Rookie of the Year?
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Elsewhere, Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox and Chris Carter of the A's merit a nod, but both lacked the playing time necessary for serious consideration. On the pitching side, down-ballot worthies included Tommy Milone of the A's, Matt Moore of the Rays, Scott Diamond of the Twins, Jake McGee of the Rays, Jose Quintana of the White Sox and Kelvin Herrera of the Royals. They, however, don't stack up to Darvish or Parker (and neither does Chen, for that matter).
So the merits of each serious contender not named Mike Trout:
Cespedes ... He batted .292/.356/.505 and averaged an extra-base hit every 9.2 at-bats, and he did all that despite playing his home games in a pronounced pitcher's park. On the bases, he swiped 16 bags in 20 attempts. His value in the field, though, is up for debate. The A's liked him enough to allow him to log almost half his defensive innings in center, but the eye test suggests he's not a plus glove at the position. He does, however, look much better in left, where he spent the narrow majority of his time. Ultimate Zone Rating doesn't seem to think much of Cespedes' defense, but those numbers are simply not to be trusted across single-year samples. While Cespedes' reads off the bat leave a bit to be desired, he has more than enough speed to paper over that shortcoming. I'm comfortable calling him an asset in left.
Darvish ... Like Cespedes, he toiled in a home yard that was hostile toward his interests. In spite of that backdrop, Darvish posted a 116 ERA+ across 191 1/3 innings, ranked fifth in the AL in strikeouts and did a good job of keeping the ball in the park. Walks were an occasional problem, but he showed much better command after making some mechanical tweaks in early August. Darvish's peripherals say his ERA should've been better than it was.
Parker ... He notched a 114 ERA+ in 181 1/3 innings, so he falls just short of Darvish on those fronts. Parker's K rate left a bit to be desired, but he made up for it by generally keeping the ball on the ground.
The call ... Cespedes' case would be air-tight if he hadn't missed more than 30 games to various hand and leg injuries. Even so, Cespedes is the choice. The completeness of his game in tandem with the inherent advantage that position players have over pitchers when it comes to overall value makes Cespedes the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year.
Except for Mike Trout, of course.