We have made a big deal around these parts recently about the great play of Desmond Jennings. He has come a long ways from when we were wondering if the Rays still considered Jennings a top prospect.
Jennings has been so good in his first 35 games that we are beginning to wonder if he is doing enough to make a case for Rookie of the Year, in a season where there is no clear-cut favorite.
Of course, the biggest factor working against Jennings is his late call-up. If Jennings plays in all of the Rays remaining 29 games, he will have played in just 64 games this season.
There is precedent for a player winning Rookie of the Year with limited playing time. In 2004, Ryan Howard won the award having played in just 88 games. But to find a position player that played in less than half of his team’s game, we have to go all the back to Willie McCovey in 1959, who played in just 52 games on the way to top rookie honors.
In the cases of Howard (22 home run), and McCovey (.354 avg, 13 HR) they dominated in limited action. The same can be said for Jennings. Let’s take a look at how Jennings’ numbers compare to some other Rookie of the Year candidates*…
If we look at Wins Above Replacement (WAR), we see that in just 153 plate appearances, Jennings has already been worth 2.3 Wins to the Rays, which is tops among the rookie position players. This tells us that Jennings numbers are so much better than the other hitters, that it makes up for his limited playing time.
The only player that might have a better overall resume is Michael Pineda of the Mariners. Both Ivan Nova and Jeremy Hellickson have FIPs above 4.00 which suggests that their ERA’s might be lower than they should be. That is especially true for Hellickson who has an FIP more than a run higher than his ERA. On the other hand, Pineda has a strong 3.41 FIP and has been worth 2.9 Wins.
Right now, you can make a strong case that Pineda and Jennings have been the two best rookies in the American League. And with a month to go, Jennings has plenty of time to prove he is the better candidate. But will anybody notice?
* Data via Fangraphs.com; Through Sunday’s games.