Correction: Although listed as a rookie by several sources, including fangraphs.com, Alexi Ogando is not eligible for the award because the service time he accrued in 2010. As a result, all references to him as a contender for the award are invalid, which makes Nova’s candidacy all the more stronger.
For much of the season, most of the award-related speculation surrounding the Yankees has centered upon CC Sabathia’s pursuit of a second Cy Young and Curtis Granderson’s candidacy for MVP. However, without much fanfare, Ivan Nova has emerged as a dark horse candidate in the Rookie of the Year race.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Nova’s 14-4 season has gone relatively unnoticed. After all, back in July, he was demoted to the minors in favor of two struggling pitchers (AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes), so if the Yankees’ brass was slow to realize his contribution, it’s easy to why everyelse has been. Nonetheless, since returning from his stint in triple-A, the 24-year old right hander has won six consecutive victories (seven including a start before his demotion, besting Vic Raschi’s single-season franchise rookie record) to go along with a 3.60 ERA. As a result, Nova has emerged as the Yankees’ most reliable starter during a turbulent August that has seen the rest of the rotation struggle significantly.
Although Nova’s rookie-leading 14 wins are sure to garner votes from the more traditional voting bloc, his candidacy remains an uphill climb. Not only does he rank fourth in average WAR among AL rookie pitchers, but three position players also rate ahead. Granted, most of the beat writers casting a ballot do not necessarily consult sabermetrics, but the combination of underlying statistics and name value still make the rest of the field formidable competition. In particular, Mark Trumbo’s 23 HRs and 71 RBIs could counter the “face value” of Nova’s 14 wins, while the more heralded Desmond Jennings, Michael Pineda and Jeremy Hellickson could have a built-in recognition advantage.
Top-10 Rookies, Ranked by Average WAR (Position Player and Pitchers)
*Jordan Walden currently has 26 saves.
Note: AvgWAR = (bWAR + fWAR)/2
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
As things currently stand, the Rookie of the Year is probably Alexei Ogando’s to lose (unless voters are hesitant to give it to a relatively older player). Of course, if Ogando continues to struggle in the second half (his ERA after the All Star break is over 5.00), he could very well do just that. If so, the balloting is likely to be very close, with the trio of Nova, Pineda and Hellickson featured prominently atop the final rankings.
One more interesting point to note about a potential September battle between Nova and Pineda for the Rookie of the Year is it could have been a contest among teammates if the Mariners had decided to accept the Yankees’ final trade proposal for Cliff Lee. Although Seattle may eventually be vindicated by the development of Justin Smoak, Nova, who was considered a secondary piece after Jesus Montero, has, at least for the time being, proven to be a more valuable commodity. With several other Mariners’ rookies listed among the current season’s leaders, the combination of Nova and Montero probably would have fit better into Seattle’s rebuilding process.
Of course, even if Nova wins the Rookie of the Year, that doesn’t mean the Yankees are better off. That determination will be made well into the future, and will likely also hinge heavily on the development of Montero. As good as Nova has been, Cliff Lee (assuming last July’s acquisition would have increased the chances of him signing in the Bronx) would still greatly enhance the Yankees’ chances of winning the World Series, which, after all, is the trophy that matters most.
Past Yankees’ Rookie of the Year Winners