Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Power of Hype

Apologies for the long wait in between posts, I’ve been moving house.

Returning to the same bugbear I had come the announcements of the 2009 Gold Glove winners I thought I’d take the time to rant about the impact of hype and expectation on another, dare I say, more prestigious award bestowed by Major League Baseball; namely the Rookie of the Year awards.

Although there are still some 30 or so games remaining in the season the National League in particular seems to have pretty much decided its winners in this category. In doing so more deserving candidates are likely to be left out in the cold come November.

In terms of the Rookie of the Year award it should be pretty clear that Jason Heyward is going to win this award. In truth Heyward probably won the award by the end of the very first game of the season. Heyward’s fantastic spring training, his hometown hero status as an athlete who inspired African-Americans in Georgia to pursue baseball and simple being just 20 years old already had him marked for big league awards. Hitting that colossal home run in his first major league at bat was just the icing on the cake. After the ‘Chris Who?’ reactions to last years winner Chris Coghlan baseball finally had a rookie with brand recognition. Really with this years rookie crop the MLB publicity and marketing machine couldn’t lose. If Heyward failed to live up to the hype (he has, just) then there was always Stephen Strasburg, the ‘greatest pitching prospect there ever was’ or maybe Mike Leake who missed the minors entirely. Given the buzz surrounding him in Spring Training there was always a chance that Aroldis Chapman, he of the 100mph fastball and the romantic story of defection from Cuba, would take home the trophy.

The only trouble is none of these great young hopes for baseball have panned out quite as planned. Yes, Heyward is having a very good year, at the time of writing he is on a tear and has a .275 BA and 70 RBIs and looks to be the centre piece of the Braves’ offence (along with Brian McCann) for the considerable future but he is not the clear cut best hitter in the 2010 rookie class. Strasburg was incredible but now the issue facing Strasburg is not whether or not he should win Heyward’s Rookie of the Year award given his June call-up but more an issue of whether is will be able to come back from injury and have a major league future at all. The same could be said about Leake. Chapman is definitely the biggest let-down of the four having yet to appear in a big league game.

Heyward however has a lot of less heralded competition, many of whom compare favourably with him as a player thus far this season. Tyler Colvin leads all Major League rookies with 19 HRs, Mike Stanton is proving to be everything they said he was down in Florida and Starlin Castro is having success in Chicago at the same tender age as Heyward. Not to mention Ike Davis in New York. None of these men however are having quite as good a year as Gaby Sanchez, the true NL rookie of the year.

At the time of writing Sanchez was besting Heyward in all of the triple crown statistics (* Heyward has now caught him in RBIs) and is hitting .282/.350.

I know there is of course an argument to be made that Heyward deserves the award because of the intense pressure he has been under in Atlanta to live up to all of the praise and expectation placed on him. Also he is playing a more demanding position than Sanchez. These are valid arguments and I do not for one second believe that, should Heyward win the award it will be a gross miscarriage of justice, however Sanchez deserves more credit than he is currently getting.

Heyward, because of the expectations heaped upon him and because of his value to the Braves as a marketing tool has been given all the opportunities possible in order to help him succeed, in short, he has developed into a star player partly because the Braves (particularly after Chipper’s injury) have placed him centre stage, have placed him in the RBI situations, have made him a star player. Sanchez has had none of that in Florida, he has succeeded despite the organisation’s pushing of the likes of Stanton and Coghlan ahead of him. Plus, Heyward has had the benefit of being coached by the likes of Bobby Cox, Terry Pendleton and (presumably) Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Brian McCann in order to develop his game. Who does Sanchez have to provide the same expertise? Hanley Ramirez dispensing advise? I very much doubt it.

All in all it seems pretty much a foregone conclusion that Heyward will win the Rookie of the Year and that’s fine, he deserves it. Let’s just not forget that there are a player equally as good and equally as deserving that got left in the shadow of Heyward-mania this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment