The AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year Award:
Yesterday, I named the rookie pitcher of the year award for the NL, today I'll do the AL, and also showcase who would've won since 2000.
If you haven't already, check out yesterday's post about Walker Buehler's idea for a pitcher-only rookie of the year award, my thoughts on his name, and my pick for who it should be named after.
You can find that post, here.
The Best American League Rookie Pitching Season Ever:
When you think about the best rookie season that an American League pitcher ever had, the list doesn't bring forward many great names. Yesterday, the National League was able to boast legendary players like Christy Mathewson and Pete Alexander. The American League has some of their contemporaries (though in my research I found that most great pitchers seemed to start their careers in the NL), they weren't immediate superstars.
Walter Johnson's rookie season happened as a 19-year-old in 1907 and he pitched just 110.1 innings. In an era where pitchers threw over 300 innings in a season consistently, I can't accept this for an award. Other Hall of Fame pitchers who didn't throw enough innings in their rookie seasons include:
Bob Feller (1936): 62.0 innings
Early Wynn (1941): 41.0 Innings
Mike Mussina (1991): 87.2 Innings
Jim Bunning (1955): 51.0 Innings
Lefty Grove had a losing record, the MLB lead in walks, and a 4.75 ERA in his rookie year in 1925. He was statistically below average with a 98 ERA+. Other great American League pitcher who also had a below-average ERA+ in their rookie seasons include:
Roger Clemens (1984): 97 ERA+
Jim Palmer (1965): 93 ERA+
Ed Walsh (1904): 94 ERA+
Randy Johnson (1989): 92 ERA+*
(*After being traded to the Seattle Mariners)
As you can see, the cream of the crop of legendary and all-time great pitchers thins quickly when talking about the American League. But, I still have some names to consider.
Russ Ford had his rookie year in 1910 with the New York Yankees. Though he didn't lead in any statistics, his 26-6 record (.813 WP%) over 36 games, 33 starts (3 games finished), 29 complete games, and 8 shutouts was strong. He also had a 1.65 ERA, 160 ERA+, and a 0.881 WHIP over 299.2 innings with 209 strikeouts.
Another man who shares Russ's surname is Whitey Ford, whose rookie season in 1950 came with a 9-1 record (.900 WP%) over 20 games, 12 starts, 7 complete games, 2 shutouts, and 5 games finished. He gave the Yankees 112.0 innings with a 2.81 ERA, 153 ERA+, and 1.241 WHIP with 59 strikeouts. Like his fellow Ford, he also didn't lead the AL or MLB in any statistics, and was largely held back as he didn't made his first appearance until July 1st.
Eddie Plank is a good pick with his 1901 rookie season: 17-13 record (.567 WP%), 3.31 ERA, 115 ERA+, 33 Games, 32 Starts, 28 Complete Games, 1 Shutout, 1 Game Finished, 260.2 Innings, 90 Strikeouts, ad a 1.235 WHIP. However, he also didn't lead in any statistics.
Addie Joss's 1902 rookie season was also great. Joss had a 17-13 record (.567) over 32 games, 29 starts, and 28 complete games with 2 games finished and 5 shutouts (an AL-lead). He also pitched 269.1 innings with a 2.77 ERA, 124 ERA+, 106 strikeouts, and a 1.114 WHIP.
Unfortunately, none of these guys shine the way I'd want them to. Though they are legendary players, their rookie season were good to great. I want someone who was phenomenal. When we look at every AL pitcher who won the Rookie of the Year award, one player does stand out (who I'm leaving off this list):
Harry Byrd (1952) - 15-15 Record, 3.31 ERA, 228.1 Innings, 116 Strikeouts
Bob Grim (1954) - 20-6 Record, 3.26 ERA, 199.0 Innings, 108 Strikeouts
Herb Score (1955) - 16-10 Record, 2.85 ERA, 227.1 Innings, 245 Strikeouts
Don Schwall (1961) - 15-7 Record, 3.22 ERA, 178.2 Innings, 91 Strikeouts
Gary Peters (1963) - 19-8 Record, 2.33 ERA, 243.0 Innings, 189 Strikeouts
Stan Bahnsen (1968) - 17-12 Record, 2.05 ERA, 267.1 Innings, 162 Strikeouts
Dave Righetti (1981) - 8-4 Record, 2.05 ERA, 105.1 Innings, 89 Strikeouts
Gregg Olson (1989) - 64 Games, 27 Saves, 1.69 ERA, 85.0 Innings, 90 Strikeouts
Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) - 63 Games, 37 Saves, 3.16 ERA, 62.2 Innings, 78 Strikeouts
Huston Street (2005) - 67 Games, 23 Saves, 1.72 ERA, 78.1 Innings, 72 Strikeouts
Justin Verlander (2006) - 17-9 Record, 3.63 ERA, 186.0 Innings, 124 Strikeouts
Andrew Bailey (2009) - 68 Games, 26 Saves, 1.84 ERA, 83.1 Innings, 91 Strikeouts
Neftali Feliz (2010) - 70 Games, 40 Saves, 2.73 ERA, 69.1 Innings, 71 Strikeouts
Jeremy Hellickson (2011) - 13-10 Record, 2.95 ERA, 189.0 Innings, 117 Strikeouts
Michael Fulmer (2016) - 11-7 Record, 3.06 ERA, 159 Innings, 132 Strikeouts
Shohei Ohtani (2018) - 4-2 Record, 3.31 ERA, 51.2 Innings, 63 Strikeouts
The player I left out is who I'd name the American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year Award after.
The player I left out had easily the best rookie season for a pitcher in the American League ever in 1976.
That player was Mark Fidrych.
Fidrych had a 19-9 Record (.679 WP%), an MLB-leading 2.34 ERA and 159 ERA+, pitched 31 games with 29 starts (2 finishes) alongside an AL-leading 24 complete games. Over his 250.1 innings of talking to the baseball and manicuring the mound, he only had 97 strikeouts but had an amazing 1.079 WHIP. He won the Rookie of the Year award and finished 2nd for the Cy Young. He was also the sensation of baseball in the summer of 1976 and though his career was short, his one great rookie season alone keeps his legacy known.
I named the NL Award for a player whose rookie season was great and lead to a fruitful career, while also commenting about how his (mostly forgotten) legacy and character helped to turn baseballs early image around to becoming the national pastime. Christy Mathewson's legacy should be remembered better.
I'd name the AL Award for a player who transcended the sport and popular culture with just one great year in short career. (Fidrych pitched more innings in 1976 than the rest of his four years combined!) I'd name this award in honor of a player whose legacy should be lauded for not changing his personality even amidst becoming an overnight sensation, for sacrificing his body for one otherworldly year, and to remind people that even just one player having one special year will always be remembered.
Because isn't that what this award should be about? Celebrating a player who was the best rookie pitcher in the AL each year, and giving them the prestige and acclaim to be remembered forever, even if they don't go on to further greatness, because we'll always have their great rookie season. And that alone is something to be proud of.
A List of "Past Winners" (From 2013-2022):
Just for fun and to add a bit more to today's piece, let's also look and see who would've won the Christy Mathewson (NL) and Mark Fidrych (AL) awards going back for the last 10 years.
I'm basing this entirely on rookie of the year voting, so whichever pitcher had the highest vote total per year and per league will make the list. (I understand that if this was a strict pitcher-only vote things may have changed, but this is just for interest to see which pitchers could have won.) Players who won the normal Rookie of the Year award will be bolded.
American League: Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays)
National League: Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins)
American League: Matt Shoemaker (Los Angeles Angels)
National League: Jacob DeGrom (New York Mets)
American League: Roberto Osuna (Toronto Blue Jays)
National League: Noah Sydergaard (New York Mets)
American League: Michael Fulmer (Detroit Tigers)
National League: Kenda Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers)
American League: Jordan Montgomery (New York Yankees)
National League: German Marquez (Colorado Rockies)
American League: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels)
National League: Walker Buehler (Los Angeles Dodgers)
American League: John Means (Baltimore Orioles)
National League: Michael Soroka (Atlanta Braves)
American League: Cristian Javier (Houston Astros)
National League: Devin Williams (Milwaukee Brewers)
American League: Luis Garcia (Houston Astros)
National League: Trevor Rogers (Miami Marlins)
American League: George Kirby (Seattle Mariners)
National League: Spencer Strider (Atlanta Braves)
It's interesting looking at this list. How much more differently would we have looked at Jordan Montgomery if he had had a "Mark Fidrych Award" in his background? Would the Yankees have been as willing to trade him away during the 2022 trade deadline?
How about for guys like Matt Shoemaker? Wouldn't it be nice to give him a spot to really be remembered. He finished 2nd in the AL ROY in 2014 and after his 9 year career ended in 2021, I think he's been largely forgotten.
Maybe I'll put together a full list going back to the early days of the Rookie of the Year someday. But for now, I'll leave it be.
Check back tomorrow at 10:00 AM for a discussion about how these new awards would- and should- change the structure of MLB award voting.