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Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings deserves consideration for American League rookie of the year

Desmond Jennings gets one of his 14 steals entering Tuesday vs. the Mariners this month. His steals are among his strengths in considering his American League rookie of the year bonafides.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Desmond Jennings gets one of his 14 steals entering Tuesday vs. the Mariners this month. His steals are among his strengths in considering his American League rookie of the year bonafides.

Think of him as a third-party candidate. An outsider with little chance of victory, and yet, a point of view compelling enough to be heard.

Consider it as the early ruminations on the campaign for Desmond Jennings as the American League rookie of the year.

Yes, I know he will play in less than half of Tampa Bay's games this season. And yes, with Jeremy Hellickson around, Jennings is not even the best-looking candidate in his own clubhouse.

Still, if his September turns out to be anywhere close to his August, I think Jennings should at least consider a stump speech in Iowa.

"Obviously, the success Desmond has enjoyed right out of the gate has impacted this team on every front," said executive vice president Andrew Friedman. "He's had about as good a six-week debut as you can imagine.

"He's extremely talented and capable of impacting the game in virtually every way possible."

Jennings entered Tuesday night's game in Texas with a .351 batting average. By itself, that should raise eyebrows. Then consider he has shown power (.634 slugging percentage), an ability to draw walks (.439 on-base percentage), speed (14 stolen bases) and defense.

If he had been doing that since May, he would be a lock for the honor. The problem is he has been in the big leagues only since July, and that gives his numbers an artificial flavor.

That's understandable, for a 35-game hot streak is not enough to lay claim to a major award. But what if Jennings keeps rolling until season's end? What if he's still hitting well above .300 after appearing in 64 games, which would be 40 percent of the season?

If he continues playing every day, Jennings should finish with just under 300 plate appearances. Willie McCovey was once named rookie of the year with 219 plate appearances. Rich Gedman finished second with 219, and Kevin Maas was second with an even 300. More recently, Ryan Howard won with 348 plate appearances.

In other words, there are historical precedents for a short-season candidacy. Maybe they are fairly sporadic precedents, and maybe they came in seasons without many candidates, but who said campaigns had to make sense?

If you need more fodder, you might consider the advanced metrics on websites such as baseballreference.com, fangraphs.com and baseballprospectus.com.

Even with Jennings' brief time in the big leagues, those sites have him near or at the top of overall value among rookie hitters in the AL.

So what does Jennings need to be a serious contender?

Well, the 100 plate appearances Justin Ruggiano got earlier this year would have helped.

By now, I think most people would agree that Jennings should have been called up earlier in the season. The question is how much earlier.

There are people in the Rays' clubhouse who say Jennings was not the same hitter in spring training and so it was probably wise that he began the season in Triple A.

And when you consider how well Sam Fuld played early on, it was mid to late May before anyone started thinking of leftfield as a problem in the lineup. Plus, Jennings broke a finger in early July, which delayed his arrival.

That basically leaves June as a potentially lost month.

So would that have made a difference in Tampa Bay's season?

It would have had an impact but probably not enough.

If Jennings had come up in June and played exactly the way he has for the past six weeks, the statistics say it would have meant an extra two or three victories for the Rays.

That obviously would have helped, but it still wouldn't have put Tampa Bay ahead of New York in the standings this morning. And that's supposing Jennings hit .351 with a .634 slugging percentage for nearly three months instead of six weeks.

In retrospect, it's easy to say it was a mistake to wait until July to bring him up, but an argument also can be made that his success is partially attributed to him not being rushed.

As for the rookie of the year award, the late start will almost certainly keep Jennings from being a serious contender. Hellickson is at the top of the list. So are Seattle pitcher Michael Pineda and second baseman Dustin Ackley. New York pitcher Ivan Nova will be considered, as well as Anaheim closer Jordan Walden.

Maybe if the rest of the field wasn't so strong, it would be easier to imagine a groundswell of support for a Jennings campaign.

The larger point is an argument still can be made after just six weeks in the lineup. And that says as much about Jennings' impact in Tampa Bay as anything else.

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Jennings vs. other rookie of the year candidates

Desmond Jennings matches favorably with any rookie hitter in the AL except for plate appearances. Here are 10 leading candidates, position players and pitchers, for rookie of the year (entering Tuesday).

Batting On-base Slugging Plate

avg. pct. pct. HR RBI SB apps

Desmond Jennings (TB).351 .439 .634 8 19 14 158

Dustin Ackley (Seattle).291 .365 .465 5 30 2 260

Mark Trumbo (L.A. Angels).258 .296 .484 24 73 8 476

Eric Hosmer (Kansas City).274 .324 .425 12 57 7 444

J.P. Arencibia (Toronto).218 .280 .449 20 64 1 397

W L S ERA IP K BB WHIP

Jeremy Hellickson (TB)11 9 0 3.01 149.1 102 52 1.15

Michael Pineda (Seattle)9 8 0 3.71 153 156 50 1.09

Ivan Nova (N.Y. Yankees)14 4 0 3.96 131.2 81 45 1.38

Alexi Ogando (Texas)12 6 0 3.57 151.1 112 38 1.14

Jordan Walden (L.A. Angels) 4 3 26 2.70 50 55 21 1.24

Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings deserves consideration for American League rookie of the year 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 9:39pm]

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