Jose Fernandez earned National League Rookie of the Year honors Monday night, edging out fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig. Fernandez didn’t make the headlines or even come close to as many insane highlights as his countryman did. Puig helped lead the Dodgers from last place in early June to a National League West crown and a spot in the NLCS.
But the Marlins righty quietly assembled one of the best seasons you’ll see from a rookie pitcher, striking out 187 in 172+ innings with a 2.19 ERA and 0.979 WHIP. Maybe you even toss Fernandez , 20, a few bonus points for posting a 6.5 WAR pitching on a crummy Marlins team that went 62-100. That’s a full win better than Dwight Gooden’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 1984, when he also finished second in the Cy Young voting at age 19.
If you were paying close attention to the 2013 season, Fernandez over Puig is a very justifiable, if not easy, choice. The Baseball Writer’s Association of America saw it that way, with Fernandez receiving 25 of the 30 first-place votes. He was also the only player on every ballot. Puig finished second with four first-place votes and 25 second-place votes.
Meanwhile one writer – John Maffei of the Union Tribune in San Diego – left Puig off his ballot entirely. His replacements for Puig? Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller, which is reasonable since he won 15 games on a World Series-bound Cardinals team and contributed throughout the season. Maffei’s third-place vote went to Padres’ rookie Jedd Gyorko, which is downright indefensible.
“A second baseman hit 23 home runs and played great defense,” Maffei said. “Maybe Puig’s antics were in the back of my mind, but I really think the guy [Gyorko] deserved a third-place vote. I just felt he deserved it, not that Puig didn’t.”
Most people reading this are going to “feel” Maffei made a moronic decision. Even though Maffei’s omission didn’t cost Puig the award – Fernandez won 142-95 – you probably need more than a “feel” to keep the Dodgers outfielder off the ballot entirely.
While it’s understandable as a writer you want to vote for your hometown guy to get him a little pub, in the age of the Internet when everyone knows who everyone votes for, it’s foolish. In fact it probably backfires since instead of giving Gyorko some pub people are going to associate him with getting a random vote over Puig. Guys like Nolan Arenando and Evan Gatties each received a third place vote, but we’re not talking about them today since whomever voted for them also had Puig on their ballot.
Above all it’s hard to believe Puig’s “antics” – a huge talking point during the NLCS during the Cardinals – was honestly an issue writers considered. Strip away whether or not he “plays the game the right way” or abides by the game’s “unwritten rules.” Before Puig’s call-up on June 3, the Dodgers were 23-32. After his arrival Los Angeles went 69-38, thanks in large part to Puig’s .319/.391/.534 line with 19 home runs. So let’s be honest, who cares if he flips his bat on balls that don’t leave the park – he was clearly the second-best rookie in the circuit after Fernandez.
But the Internet Age coupled with the Steroid Era vis-a-vis the Hall of Fame has placed the BBWAA voting practices firmly under the microscope. When someone makes a strange choice – Gyorko over Puig as an example – it’s going to come under increased scrutiny.
In late September during my trip to MLB Network Studios, I spoke with Larry Bowa, since hired as bench coach for the Phillies. The topic of the Hall of Fame for Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter came up and how how one member of the BBWAA will make a point not to vote for him to ensure he doesn’t receive 100 percent of the vote.
“To me he’s a 100 percent first ballot Hall of Famer,” Bowa said. “The person who doesn’t vote for him needs to look themselves in the mirror.”
Today Maffei will have to look himself in the mirror as anyone and everyone with an Internet connection can scratch their heads over his baffling Gyorko-over-Puig Rookie of the Year vote.
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