Asher's 2004 National League Rookie of the Year: Jason Bay
Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
When the Pirates dealt Brian Giles to the Padres for prospects last season, it appeared that the Pirates had either made up their mind to give up on signing anyone who wanted more than a couple of million dollars, or the Pirates had legitimately just blown the deal.
Here Giles stood as perhaps the most underrated player in the league, constantly hailed by sports announcers for playing hard and putting up big numbers despite never getting his due. (Which begs the question, of course, how many times can someone be called overrated before it just is not true anymore?) Weren't these the same Pirates that only a couple of years ago had swindled the Indians by getting Giles for Ricardo Rincon straight up?
But the joke was on the Padres. Through nagging injuries and advancing age, Giles has endured a slight decline. No longer a 1.000 OPS guy, Giles hit under 25 home runs for the second straight year after hit 35 or more for four years in a row. The Pirates, meanwhile swindled once again, nabbing an incredibly exciting 22 year old pitcher by the name of Oliver Perez, and this year's prohibitive favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year, Jason Bay.
Bay's status as the NL ROY is solidified by two things: one, his importance to his team, and two, a relatively thin National League rookie pool. Despite playing in only 120 games after his call up in the late spring, Bay hit .282 with 26 home runs and tied for the team lead with 82 RBI. Further, his .550 slugging and .908 OPS were both team highs, and his .358 on-base percentage was second on the team only to Jason Kendall.
Bay was a NL ROY candidate from the outset, and his competition was simply not that tough. Matt Holliday, Colorado's surprising young left fielder, got off to a hot start and actually finished with a higher average than Bay in almost the exact same number of games (121-120), but his overall production was not as good as Bay's, even with the Coors advantage. San Diego's exciting young shortstop Khalil Greene wowed many with his glove work, showed promise at the plate and actually played in about 20 more games than Bay, but Bay's stroke is so much more developed than Greene's at the early stage of his career, and his production numbers outweighed Greene's by plenty.
With an eye toward the future, Bay's 129 strikeouts in 120 games come as a bit of a concern for a young player hoping to stick around for awhile. However, if his minor league numbers are any indication, Jason has at least the ability to be patient at the plate, and as he gets more comfortable at the Major League level he should regain the patience that made him a .300 hitter and kept his on-base percentage well above .400 during his minor league career. The Pirates should be able to count on Bay for years to come, right up until its time to swindle once again.
Asher's NL ROY Ballot:
1. Jason Bay
2. Khalil Greene
3. Matt Holliday