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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 3, 2011 at 7:33 AM

Can Dustin Ackley win Rookie of the Year?

ackleyswing.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

Dustin Ackley continues to grow in stature by the day, exceeding so far even the most optimistic assessment of his initital impact.

Projected over 162 games, he’s on pace for 81 runs, 183 hits, 42 doubles, 21 triples, 21 homers and 98 RBIs — on top of a .312 average, .377 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage (making for a .942 OPS).

Those numbers in a full year would make him a virtual certainty to be the American League Rookie of the Year, and put him in the MVP conversation. The only players with a higher OPS than .942 in the AL are the elite of the elite: Jose Bautista (1.121), Adrian Gonzalez (.986) and Miguel Cabrera (.979).

There are two obvious caveats to this statistical projection. One, it’s still a very small sample size, The league is learning about Ackley and will make adjustments. We’ll see how he adjusts to those adjustments. My snap judgment is that Ackley is one of those rare hitting prodigies who will figure it out very quickly.

The other caveat is that Ackley doesn’t have 162 games to build his case. Even if he played in every Mariner game the rest of the way, the most Ackley could play this season is 91 games. He will be competing against rookies who have been here all year — including his teammate, Michael Pineda, as well as Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson, and the Angels’ Mark Trumbo and Jordan Walden. There are also other mid-season callups making an impact, like Eric Hosmer of Kansas City, who came up much earlier than Ackley (he’s played 76 games, exactly twice as many as Ackley), and Boston’s Josh Reddick, who has similar stats to Ackley in 41 games (.331/.374/.548).

The question I had is if there was any history of a position player winning Rookie of the Year with around 90 games played. In the old days, that would have been a major research project. Thanks to the wonders of Baseball Reference.com, you can do the research in about two minutes.

Turns out that no American League position player with under 100 games has ever been Rookie of the Year, an award that dates back to 1947. The last callup to win was Evan Longoria in 2008, but that’s a little deceptive. Longoria came up on April 12, just 11 games into the Rays’ season, and wound up playing 122 games. Ackley came up June 17, 70 games into Seattle’s season.

The AL ROY with the fewest games (throwing out 1994, the strike-shortened season, when Bob Hamelin of KC won with 101 games) is Baltimore’s Al Bumbry, who played 110 games when he won in 1973 (with a .337/.398/.500 line). Second fewest is Ackley’s hitting coach, Chris Chambliss, with 111 games in 1971 (.275/.341/.407).

So that doesn’t offer much hope for Ackley, who would have an unprecedented paucity of games if he were to win ROY. Ah, but the National League offers some more helpful precedent. Three NLers have won Rookie of the Year with not only fewer than 100 games, but fewer than 90. In 2005, Ryan Howard of the Phillies was ROY with 88 games (.288/.356/.567). In 1978, Bob Horner of the Braves won with 89 games under his belt (.266/.313/.539); and in 1959 Willie McCovey, the future Hall of Famer, played in just 52 games but made enough of an instant impact (.354/.429/.656) to win Rookie of the Year.

Ackley has a shot if he keeps up his current pace for 53 more games. But if he wins Rookie of the Year, he’ll be an American League trend-setter.

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