The Two-Horse Race for 2016 AL Rookie of the Year

People saw baseball’s 2015 rookie class as historic, and for good reason. Last year showcased new young stars like Kris Bryant, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor. However, the 2016 rookie crop deserves attention, too. As of this moment, another New York Mets pitcher, Steven Matz, very well might be the frontrunner in the National League. After all, Matz owns a 2.74 ERA and a 1.134 WHIP in 72.1 innings pitched.

A couple of shortstops have burst onto the scene as well. Corey Seager, the top prospect at the start of 2016, has lived up to his billing. In seventy-two games so far, Seager has hit fifteen home runs with thirty-six knocked in, while hitting .283. Aledmys Diaz may be a lesser known name, but he’s done his part for the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .303 with a .354 on-base percentage and eight home runs. Any of those three would be worthy of the honor. The formidable race between them in the senior circuit should continue in the second half of the season.

The Two-Horse Race for 2016 AL Rookie of the Year

However, what about the American League? There’s no doubt the room is crowded in the National League, but the A.L. showcases two sensational rookies as well. They’ve done more than just performed well as rookies or put up some nice numbers in their debut year. These two rookies are a big reason why their respective teams currently find themselves above .500. They are Nomar Mazara of the Texas Rangers and Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers.

Nomar Mazara

The Rangers are completely running away with the American League West. At 46-26, their nearest competitor is the Seattle Mariners, who sit at 36-35 and 9.5 games back of Texas. Mazara took home Rookie of the Month honors in both April and May. The 21-year-old outfielder has hit eleven home runs with thirty runs driven in, and sports a .291 batting average. Perhaps his signature moment so far has come on defense. On June 12, he helped preserve a 6-4 Rangers victory over the Mariners. Robinson Cano hit a line shot to right field, and he tried for extra bases. However, Mazara beat him with a perfect throw to second. Cano was out. The game ended. The strike was perfect.

He’s cooled off in June, therefore it’s possible he might not win the Rookie of the Month a third straight time. Yet, there’s no denying he put himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation in the first two months, and arguably established himself as the frontrunner. In seventeen games in April, he held a .333/.392/.460 slash line. He increased his playing time with twenty-seven games in May, and transitioned from hitting for average to hitting for power. It showed in his .283/.319/.491 slash line. He went deep seven times and drove in seventeen runs, thus becoming a bigger threat at the plate. It remains to be seen if he was the product of a really hot start, or if he simply went cold in the month of June. Either way, if the season ended at this point, Mazara would, at worst, come in second place for the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Michael Fulmer

Fulmer’s path to success differs greatly from Mazara’s. Texas is on its way to a second straight division title. Even though the Tigers are 36-35, they’re in third place in the AL Central, looking up at the division leading Cleveland Indians and the second-place Kansas City Royals. The good news is they’re likely to improve on a 74-87 last place mark from 2015, and Fulmer has been a big reason why.

Acquired from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, the 23-year-old righty got off to a slow start in the bigs. His first four outings were hardly noteworthy, with the low point coming in his second start. He took his first career loss when he allowed five runs, all earned, at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Starting May 21 at Comerica Park, he showed the baseball world exactly what he was capable of. The Tampa Bay Rays had no answer for him, as he fanned eleven in seven innings. The Tigers hung on to a 5-4 win, the first of five straight victories for Fulmer.

The Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees all looked clueless at the plate during Fulmer’s 33.1-inning scoreless streak. After Fulmer beat the Yankees on June 12, he made history in a major way. He became only the second pitcher in big league history since 1893, following Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, to compile four consecutive starts of at least six scoreless innings with no more than three hits allowed. His scoreless streak ended in a 10-3 loss June 17, when he gave up a solo home run to Salvador Perez. However, of the ten runs the Tigers surrendered, the Perez blast was the only one Fulmer let in.  His 33.1 consecutive scoreless innings set a Tigers rookie record.

The Verdict

As for who may ultimately win it, it might go to Mazara for the simple fact that there’s talk of an innings limit surrounding Fulmer. The Tigers just recently recalled Daniel Norris from Triple-A Toledo, and the most innings Fulmer has ever pitched in a single season was 124.2 in Double-A in 2015. He has 59.1 frames of work going into Wednesday’s start against Seattle. There’s no denying that Fulmer’s performance over the last month has been nothing less than historic, but the award very well could be Mazara’s if he keeps up a steady offensive pace as an everyday position player.

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