We’ve been moving over the course of the last week, and for the first time in five years I was able to play a Brewers’ broadcast on my home stereo. Boy, it sure felt good to hear Ueck and Block coming through my speakers, and dialing up a receiver always sounds better than my GameDay broadcast (no knocking MLB radio, though). In honor of our blog’s namesake, I thought I’d start today’s post by saying it’s great to be back in my home state.
Mike Fiers: Rookie of the Year
One of the top stories of the Brewers’ 2012 season must be the MLB explosion of Fastballer Mike Fiers. After a breakout minor league campaign in 2011, Fiers currently boasts the best Fielding Independent stats of any MLB rookie hurler. His ERA is even better, as Fiers always seems to get himself out of trouble with runners on base (and he seems to be hogging whatever efficiency the Brewers’ fielders can manage).
While there are certainly other National League rookie pitchers that are deserving of consideration for this season’s top prize, Mike Fiers’s sheer dominance overshadows his comparatively small innings pitched total. Compared to someone like Wade Miley, Fiers’s workload does not look all that impressive this year, but his actual performance still stands up. As J.P. Breen notes, no starting pitcher with 50+ IP has a better ERA than Fiers.
Although young, budding stars (or superstars-in-waiting) seem to be appearing in the field, the National League also has a strong class of pitchers emerging over the last few years. Jaime Garcia, Vance Worley, Brandon Beachy, and Stephen Strasburg are just a few examples of NL pitchers that produced strong rookie campaigns.
Hype can be a funny thing, and the headlines certainly do not align themselves with merit when analyzing baseball players. When analyzing the merits of Fiers’s rookie campaign, consider this: the last starting pitcher to match Fiers’s FIP or come close to his IP / ERA combination was Strasburg’s 2010 season. Strasburg worked 68 innings in his first year, suffering a 2.91 ERA despite striking out more than 12 batters per 9 IP. Oddly enough, Strasburg did not place in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Before Strasburg, Joba Chamberlain was the last notable rookie hurler with a FIP below 3.00; he placed 8th in 2008 AL ROY voting. Dominance over small IP totals does not yield sympathetic votes for starting pitchers (except for Bud Smith, perhaps).
Questions remain about whether or not Fiers can keep up his torrid pace, and dominate the NL for another 8-10 starts (or so). By that time, his workload should jump into the 140 IP range. If Fiers continues to dominate batters while approaching 150 IP, his chances at winning the NL ROY change:
2001: Roy Oswalt places 2nd with 141+ IP
2002: Jason Jennings places 1st with 185+ IP (and a 4.52 ERA! In Colorado!). Notably, seven other pitchers placed in the voting during this season.
2003: Dontrelle Willis places 1st with 160+ IP and a 3.30 ERA. Brandon Webb‘s season did not produce a media-friendly sensation or gimmicky delivery, but he still managed to place in the voting.
2004: Not one NL SP places in ROY voting. (Noah Lowry might have been the best NL rookie starter that year, going 6-0 in 88 IP with a 3.48 ERA. No dice!).
2005: Voters reconcile their Lowry snub by voting for Zach Duke‘s 8-2 campaign. Jeff Francis places 6th with a 14-12 record and 5.68 ERA over more than 180 IP.
2006: The new class of NL starters begins to emerge. Josh Johnson, Matt Cain, Scott Olsen, and Anibal Sanchez all place between 4th and 9th in NL ROY voting (and thankfully, hindsight shows me that I should never have promoted so many Brewers trades involving Mr. Olsen).
2007: Kyle Kendrick gets some love for his 10-4 campaign in 20 starts. He places 5th, behind Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Hunter Pence, and Chris Young The Outfielder.
2008: Jair Jurrjens and Edinson Volquez receive 3rd and 4th place for their excellent full season campaigns. Both are among the NL’s very best starters for that season.
2009: The 2009 NL is probably the best evidence that a pitcher like Fiers won’t receive Rookie of the Year honors. J.A. Happ, Tommy Hanson, and Randy Wells arguably post some of the very best rookie starting pitching seasons of the new century, but they don’t yield a ROY for pitching; 2nd, 3rd, and 6th is the best they can do.
2010: Jaime Garcia goes 13-8, posts a 2.70 ERA, and works 163+ IP for a 3rd place ROY finish (behind Buster Posey and Jason Heyward).
2011: A reliever wins the ROY! Craig Kimbrel wows voters with his excellent 77 IP campaign, but Vance Worley and Josh Collmenter arguably produce more valuable seasons. They finish 3rd and 5th, respectively, for their 130-to-155 IP range campaigns, despite serving as valuable substitutes or surprise fill-ins for their clubs.
If anything, the history of National League Rookie of the Year voting in the new century suggests that the best Fiers can hope for is to be yet another notable snub in the voting process. Fiers throws an unassuming fastball, hammers the strike zone, and limits the damage; he doesn’t have a gimmicky delivery, and he doesn’t play for a surging, notable ballclub.
Frankly, we need to make as much noise as possible about Mike Fiers. He might be pitching the very best rookie campaign of the entire 21st century, and it would be a shame to see him go unrewarded for his performance.
AP Photo (John Bazemore): http://www.tristarproductions.com/Willis/gallery.htm
“Late Life Rookies and the Milwaukee Brewers” by Marc Normandin. http://mlb.sbnation.com/2012/8/9/3230206/milwaukee-brewers-mike-fiers-marco-estrada-jim-henderson
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2012.