My ballot: National League Rookie of the Year

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Later today the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce their choice for NL Rookie of the Year, but first here’s how my ballot would look:
1. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
2. J.A. Happ, Philadelphia
3. Chris Coghlan, Florida
4. Tommy Hanson, Atlanta
5. Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh
Honorable mention: Randy Wells, Casey McGehee, Kenshin Kawakami, Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, Clay Zavada’s mustache
Called up in early June, Andrew McCutchen started 108 of the final 109 games for the Pirates and batted .286/.365/.471 with 47 extra-base hits and 22 steals while playing solid defense in center field.
Chris Coghlan was slightly better than McCutchen at the plate, hitting .321/.390/.460 in 128 games, but did so while playing left field and playing it badly. McCutchen’s bat was actually 11 percent better than the average center fielder, whereas Coghlan’s bat was just 10 percent better than the average left fielder. Toss in McCutchen’s massive edge defensively plus his extra value on the bases and he clearly had more overall value.
Of course, on a per-plate appearance basis Garrett Jones was the best rookie hitter in the league, batting .293/.372/.567 with 21 homers and 21 doubles in 358 trips to the plate. Had he played enough to qualify for the NL leaderboards Jones would’ve ranked sixth in slugging percentage, eighth in at-bats per homer, and ninth in OPS. He was amazing, but playing just 82 of 162 games keeps him from ranking higher on my ballot.
J.A. Happ began this season in the Phillies’ bullpen, where he had a 2.49 ERA and .184 opponents’ batting average in 22 innings. He shifted to the rotation in mid-May and stayed there for the remainder of the year, going 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 144 innings spread over 23 starts. Happ excelled in multiple roles, led the league with two shutouts, led all rookies with 166 innings, and went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA.
Tommy Hanson is sort of the Jones of rookie pitchers, because he was fantastic while going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA, but logged only 128 innings. In addition to Happ posting a nearly identical ERA in 30 percent more innings, Randy Wells of the Cubs had a 3.05 ERA in 165 innings. In terms of most impressive rookies Hanson has an argument for the top spot, but in terms of most valuable rookies it’s tough to make that case.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.