The Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) announced Kirk Gibson as the 2011 winner of the NL Connie Mack Award. In the BBA’s next round of voting, we shall determine the winner of the Willie Mays Award, which is awarded to the top rookie. Below are my votes for the 2011 NL Willie Mays Award.
First place: Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
I believe no rookie in the NL had a bigger impact on his team’s success than Freeman this season. Freeman hit .282 with 21 home runs and finished second on the Braves with 76 RBIs (Dan Uggla had 82). Freeman’s 161 hits led the team and he was second on the Braves with a .351 OBP.
Freeman’s steady hitting proved to be valuable to the Braves, especially with Dan Uggla hitting only .185 at the All-Star break and Jason Heyward hitting .226 at the break (Heyward finished the season with a paltry .227 AVG). Martin Prado also had an off year, hitting only .260 on the season. Freeman hit .274 before the All-Star break and hit .292 after the break.
Freeman’s success was vital to the Braves, as he hit .316 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs in 86 wins and only .240 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in 71 losses.
Freeman’s strong hitting kept the Braves in NL East contention with the Philadelphia Phillies for much of the season. His .362 AVG and .433 OBP earned him NL Player of the Month honors in the month of July.
Second place: Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves)
Voting for the 2011 NL Willie Mays Award was a proverbial coin toss for me; however, I gave my first place vote to Freeman because I felt his impact on the Braves was greater than Kimbrel’s. Kimbrel had an amazing season with a 4-3 record, 46 saves and 127 strikeouts in 77 innings (14.84 strikeouts per nine innings).
Despite Kimbrel’s superb numbers, he does not receive my first place vote because the Braves had a strong bullpen with and without Kimbrel. Although the spotlight did not shine on them, Johnny Venters (1.84 ERA in 88 innings) and Eric O’Flaherty (0.98 ERA in 73.2 innings) pitched brilliantly alongside Kimbrel. It is conceivable that if Kimbrel had not been available to serve as the closer, Venters or O’Flaherty could have closed with success.
There is no denying how great Kimbrel’s numbers are; however, I believe Kimbrel’s success was not more valuable to the Braves than Freeman’s success was.
Third place: Vance Worley (Philadelphia Phillies)
The NL East sweeps the board for my top three votes in the Willie Mays Award ballot. Prior to the 2011 season’s start, Worley was not even a blip on the Phillies’ radar for the starting rotation. The projected rotation for the season was Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. Lingering injuries to Blanton and Oswalt paved the way for Worley’s trip to the MLB roster.
Worley pitched impressively with an 11-3 record in 21 starts; Worley also had a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings. Oswalt – 10 years Worley’s senior – went 9-10 in 23 starts with a 3.69 ERA in 139 innings. Blanton pitched in 11 games (eight starts) and had a 5.01 ERA on the season.
Halladay, Lee and Hamels received much of the credit – and rightly so – for the Phillies’ 2011 success; however, Worley’s success brought stability to the back end of the rotation and enabled the Phillies to pull away from the Braves to win their fifth consecutive NL East title. Without Worley’s strong pitching in the back end of the rotation, it is unlikely that the Phillies and their streaky/inconsistent offense would have finished an MLB-best 102-60.
In his 11 wins, Worley had a 1.82 ERA and 0.97 WHIP; in his 11 no-decisions, Worley had a respectable 3.67 ERA and a 6.89 ERA in his three losses.
These three rookies played a large role in the success of their respective teams and are expected to do so in the future. Freeman and Worley especially had to carry more of the load than was initially expected of them, and they delivered with great success.