Playing baseball well is hard. All winter long, we salivate over the young prospects who will soon make their way to the major leagues and quickly establish themselves as shining beacons of diamond talent ... and then they arrive, and our beacons have dashed themselves upon the perilous Rocks of Reality. Most of our prospects do eventually make names for themselves, but it rarely seems to happen as quickly as we expect, or would like.*
* This website cannot be held responsible for mixed metaphors or any other manifestations of sloppy writing.
But it's so hard to play baseball well as a rookie that few rookies are even given that chance.
This season, 90 pitchers have thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.
Five of them are rookies.
What's actually sort of amazing is that four of them have pitched exceptionally well. Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Julio Teheran have all been pitching all season, and they've combined for a 2.86 ERA. In a normal season, those four would give us the rare experience of four starting pitchers vying for one Rookie of the Year Award, all of them making great case. But this isn't a normal season (more on that in a moment).
The fifth rookie starting pitcher? Wily Peralta, who's struggled. I'll point out that all five are National Leaguers. When it comes to rookie starters, the American League this season is basically a dead zone, with a couple of Rangers -- Nick Tepesch (4.71 ERA) and Justin Grimm (5.56) -- leading the way, and neither of them have enough innings to qualify.
And relief pitchers?
Number of Rookie Pitchers with More Than 2 Saves: 0
Number of Rookie Pitchers with More Than 1 Save: 1
Yeah. And that one rookie pitcher with two saves is 32-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa. Managers just don't trust rookies in the late stages of close games. Not this year, anyway. Which isn't to say there haven't been some good rookie relievers, as Trevor Rosenthal, Alex Torres, Preston Claiborne, and a number of others have pitched well. They just haven't closed. And if you want to win an award as a reliever, you gotta always be closing.
Rookie hitters don't often play much, either.
This season, 158 major leaguers have played enough to qualify for the batting title in their league.
Three of them are rookies. Three.
Three: Arizona's A.J. Pollock, St. Louis's Pete Kozma, and Miami's Adeiny Hechavarria. Again, all National Leaguers. I haven't checked the interleague results this season, but if you're looking for evidence that the National League's catching up to the American League, here's one argument: They've got all the best rookies. But before we touch on the bestest rookie, I'm suddenly wondering if there's even a point in the American League Rookie of the Year Award this time around. None of the starting pitchers are doing anything, there aren't any closers, and none of the rookie hitters have played every day so ... who's got a shot at the award?
At this point, there's exactly one exciting American League candidate: Jose Iglesias.
Remember him? Slick-fielding shortstop prospect, couldn't hit a lick? Well, now he's a third baseman who's hitting .409 in 39 games. Go figure. If Iglesias should falter, Seattle's Nick Franklin and Kansas City's David Lough have also done well with essentially the same playing time. My guess is that one of those guys wins, but it's so wide open that somebody could come up tomorrow and take the prize. Or maybe somebody who's just come up, with Wil Myers the most notable candidate.
Now, back to the National League. In a normal season, those four starting pitchers would be slugging it out for Rookie of the Year. In a normal season, they might be joined by the likes of Nolan Arenado, Evan Gattis, Jedd Gyorko, and Didi Gregorius. In a normal season, this would be a BANNER YEAR for rookies in the National League.
But it's not a normal season. It's a Yasiel Puig season. He's not played nearly enough to qualify for the batting lead, but he's played more than enough to win the Holy Crap lead. Statistically speaking, he's matched all the other top rookies in Wins Above Replacement, which of course means he's on pace to destroy the competition.
What's that? Puig's not going to hit .436 all season? No, he probably won't. But he doesn't have to. If he doesn't gets hurt and finishes the season with a batting average higher than .300, he's going to win, even if the Dodgers don't. Sometimes award voting is a slave to the storyline, and the storyline this summer is all Puig, all the time. With good reason.
But what might deserve even more attention is the National League's near-monopoly on premier rookie talent. Wil Myers, a league turns its lonely eyes to you ...