Anyone who is anyone knows that right now you're visiting the absolute best site for Orioles talk and analysis in the 'verse. That's obvious. But of course there are many, many great national writers and independent team bloggers (Orioles or otherwise) that I respect greatly and make a point to read daily. But bar none, if I were stranded on a desert island with a most peculiar internet connection I would make sure that I could read Keith Law's writing. He pushes some people's buttons the wrong way, but he is always insightful and usually hysterical while he does it (and his none-baseball interests align closely with mine as well).
In a couple recent chats at the four-letter, KLaw has been asked his thoughts on the rookie of the year awards (even though he is actually only voting for the NL Manager of the Year), and his answer has been pretty steadfast: in the AL he would take Brian Matusz.
Now, for anybody who doesn't know me, I'm a stats guy. I love that there has been a serious and enlightening and ongoing conversation over the AL Cy Young race which is entirely the work of the general public becoming comfortable with slightly more advanced statistical concepts than ever before. But what I want to know is why there is little-to-no conversation about Brian Matusz, who really deserves to still be in the Rookie of the Year race.
Right now, there are basically two contestants in the spotlight: the Tigers' centerfielder Austin Jackson and the Rangers' closer Neftali Feliz, who have both had fantastic seasons and certainly deserve the recognition. That Brian Matusz is as good or better choice than both of them rests on two key points that might not be particularly obvious at first glance.
The first point showcases that Matusz is the best rookie pitcher in the league, better than Feliz, better than Wade Davis, better than everyone else. Feliz is a closer who is about to set the new rookie record for saves (previously held by the immortal...uh...somebody or other). He has thrown 63 innings, striking out over a batter an inning, holding opponents to a .255 on-base percentage. Yup, every batter who faces Neftali Feliz turns into a slightly better version of Josh Bell. He is dominant, a terrifying force at the end of the game.
But he's only thrown 63 innings. Brian Matusz has thrown nearly 160 innings. It's not a stretch that Matusz could end up with nearly three times as many innings as Feliz. This is because Feliz is a closer and closers like any reliever are either not important enough and/or not good enough to throw more than 80ish innings in any given year. The closer role is important, don't get me wrong, and Feliz is an awesome closer...but it's not nearly as important as a starter. Not even close. And Matusz as been a pretty good starter.
In fact, if WAR is your thing, Matusz leads all rookie hurlers in all the different kinds of WAR. If WAR isn't your thing, consider that he also leads the pack in innings pitched and leads all rookie starters in FIP (a closer approximation of his pitching ability than ERA which nullifies defensive contributions).
The second point: Austin Jackson has been pretty demonstratively the best rookie everyday position player in the American League. He's batting .300, he's playing an exciting center field, and I definitely appreciate the Yankee schadenfreude since he's outperformed the guy the Yankees traded him for. And he's definitely had a better season than Matusz (or any other pitcher) playing everyday and playing well. I can't and won't argue that.
Here's the rub. I look down the list of past rookies of the year, and I see a lot of gunk: Angel Berroa, Bobby Crosby, Marty Cordova, Scott Williamson. They all had deceivingly good rookie campaigns and then fell off and kind of stunk. And Austin Jackson, too, is having a deceivingly good rookie campaign with a ridiculous .413 batting average on balls he puts in play which are not home runs, which leads the majors. He's 13th in strikeouts. He's towards the bottom of the pack in walks. He is the stuff that "sophmore slumps" are made of, which is why he hasn't simply been anointed the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, but is instead in a race with Neftali Feliz (or in my book Brian Matusz).
Brian Matusz has one of the most promising futures of any rookie in this year's class. He is a left-hander with a terrific array of pitches who has held his own pitching against the best of the best hitters in the world. He probably will not win the Rookie of the Year award, and he might not even deserve to. But there's no doubt that he's the best young pitcher going right now, the one hurler I'd take to build my rotation around out of this rookie class, and he absolutely ought to be in the debate spotlight.