Harper's NL Rookie honors richly deserved
The voting was close, but the result was right. Bryce Harper was the appropriate yang to Mike Trout's yin, a worthy winner of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's National League Rookie of the Year Award.Nothing against Wade Miley, who had an underrated and unexpected impact on the D-backs' rotation. Nothing against Todd Frazier, who was such a boon off the bench when the Reds were besieged by injuries to Scott Rolen and then Joey Votto. Yet when we reflect on 2012, as we are undoubtedly doing here in awards week, we'll remember it as the season in which Trout and Harper first made their mark, first turned heads, first landed in the record books. They'll be forever linked in our minds, and so they are appropriately paired atop the rookie class. But whereas Trout was an obvious (and, as it turned out, unanimous) selection for the AL honor, there was an air of intrigue surrounding the NL vote. Harper, Miley and Frazier all presented compelling cases and were all deserving in their own way. The BBWAA, though, made the right choice. Harper received 16 first-place votes and 112 points in the voting, narrowly edging Miley, who had 12 first-place votes and 105 points. The BBWAA gave the edge to the guy who not only played a prominent everyday position and filled a high-profile lineup spot on the team that had the best record in baseball, but did so at the tender age of 19, with the baseball world watching and monitoring his every move. That's what made Harper such a compelling character going into 2012. Baseball had never had a player so hyped and so hounded so long before his debut. So one had to wonder not only if he could live up to the incredible expectations on the field but also if he could handle the enormous demands and attention he'd assuredly receive off it. Kudos to Harper, then, for turning in a season worthy of an award and for carrying himself in a laudable manner in the process. People had their concerns about this kid, and some simply won't like him no matter what course his career takes from here. But if you're paying attention to the stats and the storylines, Harper was the most prominent member of the NL's rookie wrecking crew. These were the final numbers of the three final candidates: Harper: .270 average, .340 on-base percentage, .477 slugging percentage, 22 homers, 59 RBI, 18 stolen bases in 139 games
Miley: 16-11, 3.33 ERA, 37 walks, 144 strikeouts in 194 2/3 innings over 32 appearances
Frazier: .273 AVG, .331 OBP, .498 SLG, 19 HRs, 67 RBI, 3 SB in 128 games It's inherently difficult to compare position players and pitchers. But if you want to go the WAR route, Harper's 5.0 mark (as calculated by Baseball Reference) was the best of the bunch, followed by Miley (3.2) and Frazier (1.9). The worth of WAR is debatable, of course. But here it illustrates how Harper came up clutch for a Nationals team that likely wouldn't have won its division without him. Harper was promoted and became a lineup fixture well ahead of the Nats' prescribed timetable, thanks to injuries to Ryan Zimmerman and then Jayson Werth. In his first 40 games, his slash line was .307/.390/.553. Had he kept up that pace, this Rookie of the Year stuff is not even a discussion in the NL, just like it wasn't even a discussion in the AL. But Harper slumped in a big way over the next 11 weeks. Through Aug. 28, his season numbers were .248/.319/.410. And at that point, the rookie award looked out of reach. Harper, though, showed a flair for the dramatic. He surged in September/October (.330/.400/.643), while Frazier (.176/.235/.257) and Miley (2-2, 5.40 ERA) sagged. And in the final analysis, while you could make a strong argument for the others for the Rookie of the Year Award (and the Brewers' Norichika Aoki and Rockies' Wilin Rosario were also particularly worth noting), you really can't make the case that what they accomplished this season was at all historic in nature. With Harper, you clearly can. Only one other teenager (Tony Conigliario, in 1964) hit more home runs in a single season. Only one other teenager (Buddy Lewis, 1936) scored more runs. Only one other teenager (Ty Cobb, 1906) stole more bases. Only one other teenager (Rusty Staub, 1963) drew more walks. Only two other teenagers (Mel Ott in 1928, Conigliaro in '64) posted a higher OPS. Taken from that historical perspective, you see how special Harper's season truly was. And when you factor in the unprecedented attention given to his every move made and every word uttered, you gain a greater appreciation for his accomplishments. Harper let his temper flare from time to time, breaking a bat that splintered in his face and twice getting ejected -- one time for questioning a call at the plate, another for firing his batting helmet into the ground after a double play. Were these the actions of an ordinary big leaguer, they would have been but a small blip on the radar. With Harper, they became a big story, much like his oft-quoted dismissal of a certain "clown question." Well, bro, the No. 1 takeaway from Harper's rookie year was the way he handled that intentional plunking from Cole Hamels. He calmly took his base, and then he wreaked havoc on the bases. He proved then and throughout the course of 2012 that he is every bit the high-hustle, high-impact player we anticipated him to be. And now he has the Rookie of the Year Award to cement that status.