Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson won the AL Rookie of the Year Award while Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was named NL Rookie of the Year. It marks the first time two pitchers have won this honor in the same year since 1981 when Dave Righetti won the AL Rookie of the Year Award with the New York Yankees and Fernando Valenzuela won it in the Senior Circuit with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yet pitchers have been winning this award with increasing frequency in the AL. Hellickson becomes the third straight pitcher to win this honor and the fifth in seven years. But I was surprised at the result. I thought Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo would win it with his 29 homeruns and 87 RBI as he kept the Angels in the AL West race until late in the season. However, Trumbo split the first base vote with Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals.
But if a pitcher was going to win it in the AL, I thought Ivan Nova of the Yankees would have been the likelier candidate. Nova’s won-loss record was 16-4 compared to 13-10 for Hellickson. But Hellickson didn’t lose a game in September as the Rays overcame a 9½ game deficit in the AL Wild Card and surged past the Boston Red Sox on the final day of the season to clinch a playoff spot. Given that the voting by the BBWAA took place the day after the Rays overcame a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees in the 7th inning to win 8-7 in 11 innings, probably played a big role in influencing the vote in Hellickson’s favor.
However, Kimbrel being named NL Rookie of the Year was far less surprising as he easily bested his teammate first baseman Freddie Freeman. Kimbrel set a NL rookie record for saves with 46. Those 46 saves were also good enough to tie him for the league lead with John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Yet this is a bittersweet honor given that the Braves couldn’t hold onto a 10½ game lead in the NL Wild Card and were helpless to stop the St. Louis Cardinals in their run to World Series glory. Kimbrel becomes the first member of the Braves to win NL Rookie of the Year honors since Rafael Furcal did it in 2000. Furcal, of course, was acquired by the Cardinals from the Dodgers at the trade deadline and will receive his first World Series ring. You can bet that Kimbrel would gladly trade places with Furcal.