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Rookie of the Year: the First Quarter

This was inspired by a link posted in yesterday's comments by VIII, listing rookie-qualified hitters in the National League. I thought I'd check into who's looking most impressive, one-quarter of the way through the season?

Note that I aim to do this objectively, discounting the apparent leanings of the voters. When giving it to hitters, they usually hand it to whoever has most homers; for pitchers, it's whoever gets most wins. Only three times in the sixteen awards since 1990 has it been otherwise, most recently in 2003, when Dontrelle's' leg-kick helped dazzle voters, even though Houston's Jeriome Robertson had one more win. [And, of course, we all know who the winner that year should have been...]

Though as far as an early leader goes, all roads seem to point in the same direction: Prince Fielder. He is currently second in average (.310), 3rd equal in RBIs (24), and leading in HR (8), and OPS (.902). He may have Arizona to thank for his position: in the opening series before we arrived, he went 1-for-12 with seven K's. Then the D'backs rolled in, he got his first homer in a three-hit game against us, and hasn't looked back.

In second is Josh Willingham, who is only one homerun behind Fielder, but has the same OBP and five more RBIs. While initially touted as a catcher - and that's the position in which I drafted him in my Fantasy League - he is spending more time in left field for the Marlins. Thanks to their, er, "youth-oriented policy" (or "fire sale"), Florida have five of the eleven qualifying position players with 75+ plate appearances.

In third place, we find another such young Marlin, Hanley Ramirez, batting a cool .331, and his 11 stolen bases are good for fifth in the National League. He boasts a good .394 on-base percentage, but has only two homers, and 16 RBIs. Particularly in the last category, batting leadoff for a weak team like Florida, could work against him.

Fourth to date is Conor Jackson, who has taken over the mantle at first base with remarkable ease, and made us all but forget about Tony Clark [though, admittedly, Clark hitting .164 has kinda helped!] Jackson has really found his stride this month, batting .333 with an OPS of .877 and a 13-game hitting streak. If he continues this progress, then he'll certainly get votes, though personally, I doubt he'll post enough of those gaudy round-trippers to win.

Finally, in the hitters, we find a surprising name - that of former Diamondback, 3B Dan Uggla. Snatched away by Florida in the Rule V draft, Uggla has adapted to life in the big leagues well so far, especially given he skipped Triple-A entirely. He's batting .308 with 6 homers and 21 RBIs so far, and has more plate appearances than any other rookie in the National League.

There are only two rookies who've pitched enough innings to qualify: Paul Maholm of the Pirates, and Sean Marshall of the Cubs. You may recall Maholm, as we faced him in Pittburgh: he allowed ten hits and four walks in 5.2 innings, but only three earned runs. Marshall has the better stats overall, a decent 4.26 ERA and 34 K's in his 44.1 innings. He pitched six innings of one-hit ball, albeit with four walks, last time out.

There are several other contenders, however, who have not pitched quite enough yet. Clay Hensley (Padres) is just a couple of outs short, and has an ERA of 3.70. Brian Bannister (Mets) and Mike O'Connor (Nats) have identical ERA's of 2.89 in 28 innings, though the former is on the DL with a sore hamstring. And a dark horse might be Kenny Ray in Atlanta, whose 1.35 ERA in twenty innings has him being suggested as a replacement for struggling closer Chris Reitsma. On the whole though, so far, it seems to be the hitters who are catching the eye.

Early Rookie of the Year Candidates