The NL Rookie Of The Year Race Is Over -- Or Is It?

Starting pitcher Vance Worley of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

About three weeks ago, my colleague Rob Neyer examined some of the candidates for National League Rookie of the Year; he mentioned as possible winners, among others: Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman of the Braves, Danny Espinosa of the Nationals, Darwin Barney of the Cubs and Dillon Gee of the Mets.

Since then, Espinosa and Barney have fallen off the charts; Espinosa is hitting just .206/.285/.311 since the All-Star break and his overall .229 average isn't going to impress voters who often stop there; Barney, too, wore down in the second half, with a triple slash of only .222/.276/.311.

So does that leave Freeman, a position player on a team headed to the playoffs, as the likely winner? Maybe, but Freeman has only 18 HR and 67 RBI to go along with his solid .814 OPS; again, many award voters look only at TV graphics numbers.

That might make his teammate Kimbrel a favorite; Kimbrel has shattered the rookie save record (OK, so it was set just last year by Neftali Feliz). Kimbrel not only has that record, but leads the NL with 43 saves and a ridiculous 115 strikeouts in 69.2 innings. But voters might decide that a closer, who throws only one inning at a time (and Kimbrel isn't even averaging that; his 69.2 IP are in 71 appearances) shouldn't rate this award. (I'd disagree, because Kimbrel is one of the primary reasons the Braves have been so good this year. But I don't get an official vote.)

That being the case, who's left? Gee looked good early in the year, but no one with a 4.42 ERA should win this sort of award. Josh Collmenter has helped the Diamondbacks tremendously, but his 9-8 W-L record and 3.10 ERA, while good, are likely to be viewed as ho-hum by award voters.

Brandon Beachy, another reason the Braves are headed to the postseason, has a better W-L mark (7-2), but his 3.29 ERA won't impress. His 142 strikeouts in 128 innings, as my colleague Grant Brisbee pointed out earlier today, ought to: Beachy's 10.1 K/9 inning ratio is the fourth-highest in history for a rookie. The only pitchers to better that, Kerry Wood, Hideo Nomo and Dwight Gooden, all won the Rookie of the Year award. And Wood won it with just 166.2 innings pitched, barely enough to qualify (although finishing third in the NL with 233 strikeouts and setting a National League record for strikeouts in a game probably got him a little attention that Beachy won't get).

There is one other man who's flown a bit under the radar this year and who just might have enough of both numbers and notoriety to win this award, while the three Braves split that team's votes: Vance Worley of the Phillies. Worley has thrown just 110 innings -- and so won't qualify for the ERA title -- but he's had four starts where he's gone at least six innings and allowed three or fewer hits. He's got a solid 2.85 ERA and very good 1.169 WHIP.

And there's that 11-1 W-L record. Award voters often look for gaudy numbers, and there's one. Of course, it helps that the Phillies are an outstanding offensive club and that Worley, at 6.2 runs of support per start, is second in the NL in that category. If you're reading this, you likely agree with me that wins and losses for individual pitchers mean less now than at any time in the history of the game.

But that's not how many people who will be voting for this award will see things. Worley will start on Sunday against the Brewers in Milwaukee and will likely have three more starts after that. If he winds up at 13-1, 14-1 or even 15-1, you can bet that voters will notice.

He may deserve the award for his other numbers, too. Don't count this race over just yet.

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