The National League Rookie of the Year balloting should come down to three players: Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur, Houston's Willy Taveras and Philadelphia's own Ryan Howard. Here's a look at the ups, downs and potential to win the award for all three players.
|Jeff Francoeur was hitting over .400 in late July, but cooled off and finished the season hitting an even .300|
The Atlanta Braves relied heavily on young talent this season. Jeff Francoeur is probably the best known and has the highest potential of all of the young players who saw substantial playing time for Atlanta.
Making a successful jump from AAA to the Braves, Francoeur wound up playing in 70 games for the Braves and hit an even .300 with 14 homeruns and 45 RBI. Francoeur showed a lack of discipline at the plate and there were moments when the fact that he had made the jump from AA to Atlanta were evident. Overall though, Francoeur became a big part of the Braves run to yet another NL East title. The 21 year old, who was born in Atlanta, is on the Braves post-season roster and should see a good amount of playing time in the playoffs and beyond - if the Braves get there.
Why he'll win it: The Braves were ravaged by injuries and needed help from their young players. The fact that they got as much help as they did was simply awesome and nearly amazing. Francoeur was a key part of that help and while his post-season performance won't count in the balloting, the fact that the Braves will look to him to provide the help they need is a key factor.
Why he won't win it: The fact that there were so many rookies who contributed to the Braves this season sort of put Francoeur under a bit of a shadow. If you want to compare power-hitter to power-hitter, even if you give Francoeur the same amount of at bats as Howard and pro-rate his stats, he would still finish with just 17 homeruns and 54 RBI on the season. Granted, he hit 12 points higher than Howard, but his lower numbers on the run production side of things are telling. The fact that he didn't play as much as Howard - 55 less at bats - will be a small factor, but it will be considered by some voters.
Early in the season, it appeared that Taveras may have been able to run away with the Rookie of the Year honors. Taveras came back to the pack a little and Francoeur and Howard closed the gap.
If Taveras has anything over the other two, it's that he was in the starting lineup from opening day to the final day of the season; Francoeur and Howard joined the season already in progress. The fact that Taveras was there for the entire season and played such a big part of Houston's run toward the NL Wild Card, should throw some ballots in his direction. After all, the guy had more at bats this season than anyone else on the Astros' roster and he played a key spot in the lineup as the leadoff man for the 'stros.
As for the numbers, Taveras isn't a power guy, but he did hit .291 and steal 34 bases. On the down side, he struck out over 100 times, which isn't what you want a leadoff hitter to do. Those strikeouts - and the fact that he only walked 25 times - kept his on-base percentage at .325 for the season. Taveras will need to take some lessons from the likes of Jimmy Rollins in learning exactly what a leadoff man can do when he actually gets on base.
Why he'll win it: The fact that Taveras was an everyday player from day one says a lot. There is no denying that the Astros wouldn't be in the playoffs if not for Taveras, after all, they won the wild card by just one game as Phillies fans can certainly recall. Remember that the ballots are already in, just not counted, so what Taveras does from here on out won't help or hurt him.
Why he won't win it: Francoeur and Howard are power guys and Taveras is a get-on-base and use your speed guy. While it's different to compare two different style of players, the fact is that Taveras didn't get on base as much as he really needs to in order to take advantage of his tools. In other words, in some aspects, he failed.
Taking over at first base for an injured Jim Thome, Ryan Howard had the biggest shoes to fill. While fans wanted him with the club from opening day on, he only joined the team when it became apparent that there were issues with Thome's health. There are many players though that would love to have the stats that Howard put up in just 88 games for their full season numbers. Not only did Howard lead all rookies in homeruns (22), but he hit 10 homeruns in September, something that no other rookie in the history of baseball has ever done.
Howard showed a lot of poise and certainly wasn't effected by the pressures of a race toward the playoffs that came down to the final day of the season for the Phillies. In fact, Howard became somewhat of an on-the-field leader and seemed to relish in hitting in key spots of the ball game. As for where Howard will be next season, that's anyone's guess, but the fact that many fans and baseball people alike believe that he has surpassed Jim Thome should say something about the future for Ryan Howard.
Why he'll win it: Simply put, Howard put up better numbers in a lot of categories than either of the other two. He also accomplished something - the 10 September homeruns - that no other rookie in the history of the game has done and that says something. He also had the biggest shoes to fill and there would have been no way that the Phillies even sniff the wild card had Howard not produced the way he did.
Why he won't win it: The fact that the Phillies fell short of the playoffs could influence some voters. If they look at the value to their team, then the argument that the Phillies didn't make the playoffs, so how valuable was Howard, can be made. It may not be a huge factor, but had the Phillies squeaked their way into the post-season, it could easily have been the thing that put Howard over the top.
You can never tell how voters are going to vote; different writers see things differently. There is also a wide variable in comparing the power hitters to the speed guy and some voters will give a lot of weight to the fact that Taveras was there from day one. Had he kept his OBP higher, Taveras may well have run away with the balloting. Instead, it's a horse race.
The numbers and the fact that Howard played a significant role and did something that no other player has ever done - and did it in the middle of a run toward the playoffs - would be the deciding factor for me and may be for the voters. Call it a "homer" vote, but the nod goes to Ryan Howard.