While baseball pundits may be calling this year "The Year of the Rookie," it seems to me like all of those rookies are in the American League. Eric Hosmer, Dustin Ackley, Mark Trumbo, Ivan Nova, Jordan Walden, Jeremy Hellickson, etc... The AL ROY race is destined to be a good one and it would not surprise me if more than a few Hall of Famers come out of this class. Not so much with the NL. The odds on favorite at the outset of the season seemed to be Giants 1st Baseman Brandon Belt, but after disappointment and injury, he's all but dropped off the radar. As have a lot of other potential NL candidates. The good news for Vance Worley is that there are only three serious contenders for the NL ROY award this season. The bad news is that he's probably still third on that list. With a 9-1 record and a streak in which the Phillies have won each of his last 12 starts, Worley really couldn't be doing much more to get himself into contention. He's pitched well in both the minors and majors this year, often on odd days rest and in a multitude of situations. But he falls behind the Braves duo for a couple of reasons.
First of all, his cumulative stats just aren't there. Since 2000, only three starting pitchers have won the ROY award in either league. The worst collective season among those pitchers was Dontrelle Willis' 14-6 record with 142 Ks and a 3.30 ERA in 160.2 innings in 2003 for the Marlins. If everything goes perfectly and each starter throws on a regualr schedule for the remainder of the season, Worley will get 5 more starts. The best record he could accumulate would be 14-1. That might do it, but at 98 IP right now, I think he'd have to mix in a couple of complete games to accumulate the innings and more importantly strikeouts to get in the right ballpark. On the season, Worley is averaging just under 6IP/start, but assuming he's as lights out the rest of the way as he's been for the past few months, the best he can really hope for is 33 more IP and maybe 28 more strikeouts. So being optimistic, let's project Worley at 13-2, 2.65 ERA, 131IP, and 111 strikeouts. While the ERA is impressive, the rest of the stats rank well below the other three ROY winners (Willis, Justin Verlander, and Jason Jennings).
Looking for a more accurate comparison? Look no further than the Phillies of the last few years. Kyle Kendrick finished 5th in 2007 voting with a 3.87 ERA, 49Ks, a 10-4 record and 121 IP. JA Happ finished 2nd in 2009 voting with a 2.93 ERA, 119 Ks, a 12-4 record and 166 IP. Worley will likely fall somewhere in between.
But with a weak crop of rookies in the NL, those numbers are almost enough to get the job done. Almost. Enter, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and closer Craig Kimbrel. Freeman has rebounded from a tough start to the season by putting up a line that currently sits at .291BA/18HR/63RBI. He fell right into the Braves every day first base role and at times, held the offense all by himself while Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward struggled, and Chipper Jones and Brian McCann spent time on the DL. His rookie numbers are on pace to eclipse Ryan Howard's of 2005 to put it into perspective.
But even Freddie Freeman pales in comparison to Craig Kimbrel. Just how good is Kimbrel this year? Take a look at what MLB Dirt has to say:
But if we look at comparable recent ROY winners the same way we did for Vance Worley, the contest isn't even close. Since 2000, there have been three other closers who have won ROY honors (all in the AL: Kaz Sasaki, Andrew Bailey, and Neftali Feliz). Kimbrel has already converted more saves than any of them (tied at 40 with Feliz), K'd more batters than any of them (103 to Bailey's 91), and is on pace to throw more innings with a lower ERA than any of them. Kimbrel benefits from the fact that he won the starting job out of Spring Training and the fact that his setup man Jonny Venters is probably the best in the business right now. He's a pedigree pitcher who was bred for this role.
"Kimbrel has appeared in 65 games and logged just 63.2 innings, or less than one inning per outing, something I hate. But what he has done in those 63.2 innings is nothing short of historic. He has already eclipsed 100 strikeouts and has a K/9 rate of 14.56 which stands as a record for rookies with at least 60 innings of work and ranks 6th all-time among any pitcher with at least 60 innings of work in a season and is one of only 8 pitchers to accomplish this feat. Billy Wagner is the only one to accomplish it more than once and he did it three times.
What is even more remarkable is that he also has a 1.70 ERA and 1.21 FIP and has allowed only one homerun. Only two other pitchers have had a K/9 greater than 14.0 and an ERA lower than Kimbrel’s 1.70. Eric Gagne is one, and he won a Cy Young award, and Billy Wagner is the other and finished 4th in Cy Young award voting."
Worley is a nice little story of a pretty decent minor leaguer who wasn't on anyone's radar or prospect lists, got the call with some real big shoes to fill, and filled those shoes admirably. He won't win NL ROY, but he's been invaluable to the Phillies this year.