UCB Roundtable: Rookie of the Year

Twice a year, the writers of the United Cardinal Bloggers join together and participate in a roundtable discussion.   Each member asks a question and then summarizes the responses for us all to enjoy.

My question, influenced by an earlier one from our friends over at Aaron Miles Fastball, is

In previous seasons, Tony La Russa was reluctant to play younger players, preferring to use proven veterans, such as Felipe Lopez, Pedro Feliz, Randy Winn and Aaron Miles.  This year was different and the kids from Memphis made significant contributions during the regular season as well as the playoffs.

Which one of the youngsters made the biggest impact and earns your Cardinals Rookie of the Year vote ?

Will it be one of these three, or somebody else ?  Let’s see what the writers of the UCB had to say.

Daniel Solzman, Redbirds Fun

The biggest impact by far seems to be the likes of Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez with the role that they played in the bullpen this past season.  If I had to choose one, it’s probably Salas.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball

The question here is answered in my mind by the thought of “who played so well that I forgot he was a rookie?”

Daniel Descalso’s defense at a position that he had barely played professionally, third base, was so good that he became a consistent replacement for David Freese in the seventh inning of most ball games.  I began referring to him as the “relief third baseman” and can honestly say that we are all lucky that TLR did not put him into the game during game six of the World Series the way he had so many nights before.

Double D, Dirty Dan, Dirt Danny D, or whatever you wish to call him put up an impressive enough year at third base to be considered a finalist for a gold glove award. Add in some clutch hits, some (dare I say it) scrappy play, and the sheer ability to be there when the team needed him anywhere on the diamond, and I think Descalso has the stuff to stay around for a long, long time.

(On a side note, Daniel was my first interview when I started working for Baseball Digest three years ago in Springfield, Mo.  Classy dude, patient, always willing to talk. He is one of baseball’s good guys.)

Nick, Pitchers Hit Eighth

Allen Craig in a runaway.

John Powell, STL: Fear the Red

I have to go with Allen Craig.

Without his bat and his glove, the Cardinals may not have won the world series. I think he will be an everyday outfielder in 2013 (assuming Berkman doesn’t get injured or something like that next year) and will see significant at bats in 2012.

Ray DeRousse, STL Cardinals Baseball

I think I would choose Fernando Salas. He came into a deadly bullpen situation in a moment of seasonal desperation and staunched the bleeding. He was poised and commanding during that one critical month. Then TLR started using him wrong (like leaving him in tied games into the tenth inning) and he blew a few games and fell out of favor for a while. Then he was great down the stretch. I’d like to add that Eduardo Sanchez would’ve ended up as my pick had he not gotten hurt. The kid has phenomenal stuff, and really energized the team and the fans in May/June. I hope it’s not chronic, because this guy is the real deal and a difference-maker.

 Tara Wellman, Aaron Miles Fastball

This is, again, a tough call because arguments could be made for every last one of them (well, okay, maybe not Tyler Greene so much…).

Eduardo Sanchez looked like he might run away with this, but the injury cut that short. Lance Lynn did his thing in much needed situations, but again, the injury kept him from being a major player before the postseason. Daniel Descalso was pretty much a stop gap wherever he was needed. He put himself in position to be a trustworthy defensive guy, but also a capable offensive boost. I like him, his understanding of the game, and his attitude about his career very much.

Still, for me it comes down to Allen Craig and Fernando Salas.

Craig was on quite a roll early on when the outfield was riddled with injuries. But that was apparently contagious, and Allen ended up with a broken knee cap of his own. He came back, though, and made key contributions nearly every time he was given the chance. Of course, there’s no greater example than what he did in the postseason as a pinch hitter and replacement for a struggling Matt Holliday.

Fernando Salas, on the other hand, came into perhaps the most volatile situation of the Cardinals’ season — the closer experiment. When Ryan Franklin collapsed, Salas became “the guy.” (Not the closer, mind you. But the guy who came in for the 9th inning in close cames. Not the closer.) He did that well — perhaps better than many expected — for a good while. But inexperience is bound to show up somewhere, and it did. Unfortunately for him, when you’re the guy that blows the save, it looks really bad.

But what he did later in the season was almost as remarkable. After handing off the non-closing duties to Jason Motte, Salas became the guy who pitched everywhere from the third inning to the ninth, for three outs or seven … and none of those outs were against easy targets.

So, I guess my Rookie of the Year votes are split. We needed every last hit/run/out from both of these two!

Mark Tomasik, RetroSimba

Fernando Salas. He filled the closer role when the Cardinals were at their most desperate point in the season. With 24 saves, a 2.28 ERA and 68 appearances in the regular season, he was integral to the Cardinals staying afloat until the amazing stretch drive.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 at the Bat

Until reading this thread, I don’t think I was cognizant that Allen Craig was a rookie.  I was sure that he had gotten enough time in 2010 to not qualify, but sure enough he fell 6 at-bats short.  I’ll need to modify the Cardinal Blogger Award ballot before I finalize it.

That said, and as much as Craig shone in the postseason, the Cardinals don’t get there without Fernando Salas.  If Salas had struggled early, we might have seen much more of Ryan Franklin and Miguel Batista than we did, and as much as I appreciated Christine’s poetry, I’m pretty sure you don’t wish that on anyone.

Like others, if Eduardo Sanchez had been healthy all year long or if Lance Lynn had come up earlier and/or been healthy, it might be a different selection.

Miranda Remaklus, Aaron Miles Fastball

Daniel Descalso. Hands down my Rookie of the Year. He kept the hot corner sizzlin’ when David Freese went down with injury. He plays one hell of a third base, making spectacular plays … and it isn’t even his natural position. Here’s hoping David Freese improves his fielding and stays healthy so the Cardinals can find a consistent spot elsewhere, say maybe second, for Dirty Dan. He also had plenty of great hits! Very clutch! Very scrappy! I am a fan of Dirty Dan!

Honorable mention. Allen Craig. Before the knee cap injury, he was holding his own on the field and contributing great hits. After recovering from the knee cap injury, he took off making a case that he, also, needs a more consistent playing time. And while I think he could play either corner outfield spots, I think they will find a way for Master Allen to make Torty proud and get him in the line up to hit! If you don’t remember, he had a heck of a postseason too!

Dathan Brooks, Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Goodnight

I’ve got to go with Descalso here, though the arguments for others like Craig, Salas, & Sanchez to name a few, are all completely legit.

My reason for picking “Mr. Late & Close” is in large part because he earned that nickname (one of several).  Hitting .356 in L&C situations, Descalso seemed to get clutch 7th inning-or-later hits for about two straight weeks over the summer, helping the Cards score enough to eek out wins, including some come-from-behind victories.

The fun thing about a question like this, in a season like this, is that you can literally go back and choose one particular at-bat, and the way Sanchez, for example, worked to [batter’s name here], and hang the season on it, in a sense.  That one at-bat might have been the difference in the game, and as we know, one game may have turned out to be the difference in getting into the postseason, which would’ve been the difference in the most exciting, incredible, improbably run we’ve seen in baseball in a very long time, if ever.

So, Dirty Disco Danny D gets my nod.  Stellar defense, hot bat at the right time, and one other important thing: He seemed to know & accept his role on this team.  That’s huge.You can make arguments for others, and some of you have done a great job of it.  I can’t disagree with any of you on those choices, but I’ve gotta go with Descalso.

Kevin Reynolds, Cards ‘n Stuff

Regardless of their status according to MLB, I have a hard time considering Craig and Salas rookies. I just feel like I’ve seen them get too much experience at the MLB level to truly count them as rookies. Craig fell 6 ABs short of losing his rookie status in 2010, and Salas appeared in 27 games in 2010 (40% of his total in 2011 – 68). Craig was clearly able to use that experience, reset, and have a more successful 2011. Salas came in as more of a known quantity that rarely if ever rattled on the mound in 2011. To me, that puts them in a different class.

So…for me, I think of this in two parts (whats new 🙂 …First, the “Young Guys” group that includes Craig, Salas, Lynn, and Descalso. For me…the leader of that pack is Salas. When you look at what we needed at the time he stepped in…after no one else seemed capable of holding down the spot…and then consider we won the Wild Card by 1 game…that was huge. Salas assumed control of the closer role and only relinquished it when he tired. Let’s stop there for a minute…

I don’t believe Salas was misused. I recall a conversation on the UCB Radio Hour with Daniel and another participant about who should be the closer. Two of us chose Boggs (after he had been deposed) and Daniel brought up the possibility of Salas as a guy who hadn’t gotten a shot yet. I was reluctant to choose Salas simply because I believe he suffers from the same affliction Franklin suffered from in the closer role…Success. Salas is not a closer. He’s a helluva relief pitcher…but he’s not a closer. Just like Franklin. However, Salas’ success in the role for a period of time coupled with our desperate need meant he got the call. The down side for Salas is that when he gets tired, his stuff is up and entirely hittable.

The kid was used a LOT during that timeframe…he appeared night after night in a high pressure situation after logging only 27 games at the MLB level the season before…and not even making the 2011 Opening Day roster!!! The reality is that all that debris caught up with him and wore him down for a time…but his continued success in the role kept Tony running him out there. He just didn’t have another option.

But I give the “Young Guys” award to Salas. Dude saved our season. Craig was a stud…but missed quite a bit of time due to that knee injury…arguably, right when we needed him most. He came up big many times, but in the end, he’s 1 of 9 in the lineup. Salas saved our butts.

Now, on the “who I consider a rookie” group…? Gotta’ be Daniel Descalso. Kid came up, held down the 3B position for a significant portion of the season (remember Freese’s 2+ month long hand injury?) despite not being an actual third baseman…and when Freese came back, he earned himself a regular, almost nightly role in 7th inning or later as a defensive replacement…for the eventual NLCS and WS MVP!!! Of course, his numbers in close-and-late situations are well-known…and that counts for something as a rookie (especially when a manager like TLR begins pinch-hitting you in those situations because of your reputation), but let’s not forget that in the epic Game 6 of the World Series, Descalso led off the inning down two runs in the 10th…right after Hamilton’s heartbreaking homer…against a lefty…with a line drive hit. Without that hit, we don’t tie, survive, win game 6 or the WS.

And that brings us to yet another amazing fact about Descalso…How many people do you think will remember that we finished/won Game 6 of the World Series with Daniel Descalso…a AAA rookie 2B turned third baseman…at SS?!?! The kid learned short on the fly at the MLB level…and played it admirably (all things considered). That’s impressive. Nod goes to Salas from “Young Guys” and Descalso from “Rookies” groups.

Oh…honorable mention…at the risk of stretching it a bit…Adron Chambers. I know, I know…but that kid brought energy to a tired team attempting to surge and survive. His energy, poise, and versatility actually earned him a spot on the postseason roster after just 8 total MLB regular season at-bats! That’s…something. I don’t know if it’s impressive, shocking, or what…but it’s something. Oh…and let’s not forget his triple in the bottom of the seventh against the Mets for 3 RBIs on the 20th. Yeah, Theriot gave us the lead a batter before…but Chambers put it away. And…if you believe in such things…may have provided energy and momentum for the remainder of the run.

Tom Knuppel, Cardinals GM

I am voting for Fernado Salas. He came on the scene at a time when the bullpen had failed us night after night. He stabilized that area until more help could be sought. He was a shot in the arm for the team.

Mary Clausen, MLB Voice

It was great to see Tony to do something different and play those youngsters.  They added to the excitement.  Daniel Descalso, or Danny D, D Money – they all made the press.  He was good in the field at many infield positions and he proved to us that he could get the key hit in the latter innings.  He got good hits in the game, but the latter innings was where he shined. He was exciting to watch.

Erika Lynn, Cardinals Diamond Diaries

Allen Craig wins Rookie of the Postseason, but Daniel Descalso earns Rookie of the Year for playing anywhere and everywhere we needed him. Fernando Salas snags Rookie Hurler of the Year, but Lance Lynn and fond memories of Eduardo Sanchez round out the rest of the rookie 2011 bullpen love. …and one last note: Adron Chambers deserves Most Enthusiastic Rookie of the Rally nod for his endearing displays of extreme joy at being there for the ride. Contagious energy, right there.

Aaron Hooks, Cards Diaspora

I was really going to blow your collective minds with a David Freese vote, but when I checked, looks like he’s got 184 games played and not a ‘rookie’.


Next in line? Fernando Salas. Dude melted down at the end of the season, but for a long stretch of 2011 he was holding up the back end of a pretty piss poor bullpen. It’s not a sexy pick. It’s not an easy pick. But it’s the right pick…

Many other guys could have came in and gave comparable off-the-bench work for the Cardinals if given a shot. But a closer? You’ve got to have the special stones. It’s a huge position mentally for a team. And Salas came through.

Well, came through enough.

Christine Coleman, Aaron Miles Fastball

What was wrong with Aaron Miles???

Tough to narrow down my Rookie of the Year vote to just one, but my pick is Allen Craig over Fernando Salas in a very close race.

Chris Mallonee, Birds on the Bat 82

This is tough because so many made incredible contributions this season. Salas provided much needed stability to the closer position at a critical juncture of the season. Sanchez came in with nasty stuff and showed tons of potential. Descalso provided tremendous value defensively and got a ton of key hits. But for me, the two biggest contributors in the stretch run and playoffs were Lance Lynn and Allen Craig.

As much as I want to give it to Lynn for the key spots he came in and bailed out the team in HUGE situations, I have to go with Craig. His key hits in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series put the Cardinals in key position to win both games. Batting him in front of Pujols made a deep lineup that much deeper. He filled in nicely for Holliday and even made a home-run saving catch. Having Craig, Pujols, Berkman, Freese in 2-5 spots made the Cardinals lineup even more formidable than the mighty Rangers.

Aaron Hornsby, El Maquino

Disco played 148 games this year.  I choose him.

Angela Weinhold, Cardinals Diamond Diaries

Echoing many others, Dirty Danny D is my choice. When the Cardinals were faced with the instability of having Freese’s glass ankles, seeing their planned super-sub Punto go down repeatedly with injury, and having other inconsistent middle infielders all over the place this year, Descalso was in there more than anyone it seemed (even as the relief third basemen, which I always thought was amusing). I enjoyed seeing him around, and even though he isn’t a “LOOK AT ME” guy, you took notice of him. The fact that he was in the top three for Gold Gloves this year without actually being the ‘official’ third baseman for the Cardinals has to show he was doing something right!

Dustin McClure, Welcome to Baseball Heaven

The names that come to mind immediately are Descalso, Salas, Lynn, Craig and Sanchez. I’m narrowing it down to Descalso and Salas due to the injuries suffered to the other three, but obviously that doesn’t take away what they brought to the team this regular and post season.

It’s so hard for me to come to a conclusion on a winner between Double D and Mr. Salas. In my eyes Fernando gave the bullpen the stability it needed during some of the roughest stretches early this season. When Franky lost his way and left the team searching for consistency out of the pen Salas helped lead the way. I believe Salas performing well as closer allowed the coaching staff to put Motte in the crucial spot of stopper in the 7th and 8th and helped him develop the tools needed to eventually become the closer.

Every time I turned around it seemed like Daniel Descalso was getting a big 2 out RBI or making an outstanding play at whatever position he was asked to play. His story this season has a similar tone to it as Jon Jay’s last season. Any time he was put into the lineup or as a defensive sub he was asked to earn his place on the roster and he answered the bell time and time again. When Freese and Punto went down with injuries Descalso filled in and didn’t allow the team to miss a beat.

So I guess my final answer is a tie between Salas and Descalso.

Malcolm Pierce, The Redbird Menace

Even if they meet the technical definitions for rookies, I’m with the others reluctant to call either Craig or Salas rookies.  Both of them saw a fair amount of playing time in 2010.  And, in my opinion, they both stretch the definition of “youngster” as well.  Craig is less than a year younger than Edwin Jackson.

With all that in mind, I’ll give the nod to Daniel Descalso.  The Cardinals middle infield was godawful this season.  It was a tragedy that Descalso had to get so much playing time at 3b when he’s a good 2b and showed surprising potential at shortstop.  Descalso couldn’t hit any better than Skip or Theriot, but at least he could handle himself on the field.  He probably should have supplanted Skip as the LH side of a platoon with Theriot at 2b.  But that’s a drum I’ve been beating since April, so I should probably give it a rest.

Special shout out to Tony Cruz, who hopefully gets some consideration for backup catcher next season.  He got a few key hits and put up with Tony’s bizarre plans for him astonishingly well.  And there’s no reason to pay for a backup C when there’s a guy who’s shown any competency with the bat at the ML level in AAA.

Jay Tierney, Inside Pulse

I’m pretty much a stat nerd, so I instantly looked at the WARs for the 5 guys continually mentioned: Craig, Descalso, Lynn, Salas, and Sanchez.

Craig: 2.9 WAR
Salas: 2.3 WAR
Descalso: 1.2 WAR
Sanchez: 1.2 WAR
Lynn: 0.7 WAR

Looking at that, I’m thinking Craig and Salas.  Craig has the 5th highest WAR for hitters on the team, and that was with missing 2 months of the season with his knee injury.  The names above him were Pujols, Berkman, Holliday, and Molina; not bad company.  He was tied for fifth in homers, tied for seventh in RBIs, and tied for fourth in steals (yes, it was only 5 and the leader was at 11, but that is the LaRussa system for you).

Salas took over the closer roles after many of the default choices faltered.  He led the team in Saves, second in WHIP, second in ERA, third in ERA+, the second lowest H/9, and 4th in K/BB ratio.  Down the stretch, he joined the collection of misfit closers.Both had their flaws (injury and a last season slump respectively).  I would lean towards Craig as my Cardinal ROY; his numbers were pretty good for missing 2 months and he was key to the World Series win, with 4 go ahead RBIs.  Now the team just needs to find a way to play him every day.

(Many mentioned Descalso, because he was the defensive specialist.  But he was a -0.5 WAR defensively.  He played mainly third and his range factor was below the average for the league for the position).

The Winner is ….

I thank all of the roundtable contributors for sharing their answers, great responses all around.  The winner is …… the Cardinals farm system.   It was a very close tally, with Daniel Descalso edging out Allen Craig and Fernando Salas in a razor thin margin.

One of the great stories of the 2011 season were all of the contributions from not one or two young players, but each that was called up.   Lance Lynn was a shot in the arm not once, but twice (and received my vote since a tie-breaker was not needed).   Adron Chambers was like a thermos full of espresso when the team most needed it.   Don’t forget Brandon Dickson, who made the September 1 start in Milwaukee instead of Chris Carpenter.   That was all part of a rotation resquencing that put Carpenter on the mound in Houston for the final game of the season.

It was an amazing summer and it was fun watching all of these kids make an impression and share in the ultimate prize, a World Series title.

What are your thoughts ?  Do you agree, disagree or something else ?  Please let me know in the comments.

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One Response to UCB Roundtable: Rookie of the Year

  1. Pingback: October Project: UCB Postseason Roundtable — United Cardinal Bloggers

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