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2011 NL Willie Mays Award

September 27, 2011

It is that time, once again, to start taking a look at each of the major year end awards. As I did last year, I will be submitting a ballot here on the blog for each of the awards selected by the BBWAA. However, as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, we use a different selection of names for our awards – our own tribute to some of the game’s greats and because the BBWAA has actually asked us to do so (to avoid confusion, I presume). Over the past two seasons the BBA and BBWAA have chosen the same recipient for nearly every award.

We’ve already taken a look at the Connie Mack Award (given to the league’s top manager) and now we’ll turn our attention to the top rookies. The 2011 National League Willie Mays Award goes to …..

If we stick to the same qualifying levels (i.e. total number of at bats or total number of innings pitched) as the regular season statistical leaders are calculated, then we only have a pool of four players to choose from – New York’s Dillon Gee, Washington’s Danny Espinosa, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, and Chicago’s Darwin Barney.

Gee grabbed a foothold in the Mets starting rotation this year, pitching 160.2 innings over 27 starts. He finished the season with a 13-6 record, 4.43 ERA, and 6.39 K/9. While Gee pitched well enough to assure himself of a spot in the team’s rotation moving forward, his strong rookie performance wasn’t even the best by a pitcher in his own division, let alone the NL.

Philadelphia’s Vance Worley outpitched Gee, once he made his debut at the end of April. In 130.2 innings over 21 starts, Worley would post an 11-3 record, 3.03 ERA, and 8.06 K/9. As if the Phillies didn’t already have a strong starting rotation, Worley’s surprising emergence made them even more of a threat.

Yet, the top pitching rookie in the NL didn’t do his work starting games, but rather closing them out. Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel dominated (with fellow rookie Jonny Venters) the late innings for the Braves, saving 46 games with a 2.00 ERA and 14.86 K/9.

From an offensive standpoint, the discussion is led by Freeman. The first baseman made a brief appearance as a September callup in 2010 and came into the 2011 with relatively high expectations. Throughout the season he’s done nothing but answer that call. In 562 at bats he’s batted .285/.349/.452 with 21 HR and 76 RBI. He’s been solid defensively and has helped solidify the middle of the Braves lineup.

Espinosa tied with Freeman for the HR lead amongst rookies, but his batting average sits nearly 50 points lower. In 567 at bats he’s hit .238/.325/.418 and added 17 stolen bases. Barney started off stronger than he finished, but did hit .276/.311/.354 in 525 at bats.

  2011 NL Willie Mays Award
1st Freddie Freeman
2nd Craig Kimbrel
3rd Vance Worley

Ultimately only one can win the Willie Mays Award. That honor will go to Freeman. He had the best overall season, offensively, from a statistical standpoint and plays a premium defensive position. Kimbrel’s season was impressive, and worthy of consideration for this award, but a standout performance by a first baseman is of more value to a team than a standout performance by a relief pitcher.

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