Yesterday, Miami Marlins starter Jose Fernandez received a high accolade, as he was voted by his fellow players as the Sporting News National League Rookie of the Year. That is quite an honor to be bestowed, as it means that you have earned the respect of your fellow players and have been recognized as such.
But while this award is certainly an honor, it is not the so-called "official" honor of the Rookie of the Year award. That belongs to the Baseball Writers Association of America, or the BBWAA, which is a group of baseball writers who have ballots and vote in such things as official end-of-season awards and Hall of Fame inductions. The BBWAA has been seen as a plodding, ancient organization that has not caught up to the times. It has felt in the past like a clan of old-school writers who still vote behind closed doors in smoke-filled lounges and arbitrate who is recognized and who is not based on the tools of a simpler time. Even with the inclusion of new members every year, including members of the Internet intelligentsia / blogger world, the BBWAA still carries their reputation.
In 2013, however, that reputation may actually help our favorite Marlins candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Fernandez won the players' vote, but he did not simply win in a squeaker of a vote. Fernandez earned 64 total votes, with the next competitor, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, picking up just four votes. It was a landslide victory for Fernandez, one that very few people could have expected in a season filled with spectacular rookies. Yes, Fernandez's year was a cut above the rest, but given his lack of playing time and Puig's spectacular play, there is at least an argument that the race was close.
But the players found it obvious that Fernandez had won. Of the two voting groups, you would have expected the players to have put up more of an effort towards Puig if the popular overall opinion was as split as most people initially believed. After all, most players are not as concerned about Puig's supposedly brash and showboating attitude (unless those players are on the Atlanta Braves). As the old saying goes, "game recognizes game." The players got game, and they see a lot more of it in Fernandez than they did in Puig, it seems.
The BBWAA voters are far more likely to be curmudgeons about Puig's negative reputation. More than Atlanta Braves players, the writers want a respectful award winner just as much as they likely want a talented winner. When faced with an equal case for both players, it is much more likely that the writers will side with the player with fewer personality problems. Yes, Fernandez was involved with that home run incident versus the Braves, but Puig got into minor altercations and public relations problems all year long. The comparison is no contest.
How have Sporting News awards winners done in predicting the BBWAA winner? Since Sporting News began handing out one award per league per year in 2004, five of the award winners have matched with the BBWAA official winner (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2011), while four of them have not matched. The matching award winners were typically clear-cut cases, while the mismatches involved years split between two or
more typically weaker candidates (see 2009 and Chris Coghlan versus Andrew McCutchen versus J.A. Happ).There is still a chance the two-horse race remains that way for the BBWAA award, but the attitude concerns on Puig should push his case further down than Fernandez's. The question going into the award season was whether Fernandez's spectacular year could dent the narrative behind Puig and the Dodgers' resurgence. The players' vote seems to have proven that in a big way, and it bodes well for Fernandez's future in the main award.