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AL Rookie of the Year 2010: Where Neftali Feliz Would Rank Among Last 10 Winners

Dmitriy Ioselevich

Neftali Feliz was recently named the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year, beating out Baltimore Orioles starter Brian Matusz and Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson.

The Texas Rangers' electric closer set a rookie record by saving 40 games, and helped lead his team to their first ever World Series appearance. That's quite a debut.

But where do his achievements rank among other past Rookies of the Year? Here's a look back at the AL's last 10 ROY award winners and their accomplishments in their rookie seasons.

10. Bobby Crosby (2004)

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Crosby arrived in Oakland as a highly touted 23-year-old shortstop and was essentially told to replace 2002 MVP Miguel Tejada, who had signed with the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason.

Crosby didn't quite match Tejada's offensive prowess, but he actually came pretty close.

In 151 games Crosby smacked 22 home runs and drove in 64 runs. He led all AL rookies in hits (130), doubles (34) and walks (58). Despite only hitting .239, Crosby was a surprisingly effective force at the top of the Athletics lineup. He was a major reason why they finished second in the AL West with a 91-71 record, only one game behind division leading Anaheim.

Crosby was a near unanimous winner for the ROY award and the next season Oakland awarded him with a five-year, $12.75 million contract. Whoops.

He hasn't done very much since, failing to reach double digits in home runs and battling several injuries despite having Mark McGwire as his hitting coach. He's appeared in at least 100 games only once since his rookie season (2008). He's now 30 years old and a free agent utility man hoping for another chance.

He leads off our list because he owns the lowest batting average ever for a ROY and he peaked as a rookie. 

9. Angel Berroa (2003)

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Remember him?

Berroa made his way to Kansas City as part of the Johnny Damon trade in 2001 and debuted as a Royal later that season. Like Crosby, Berroa was expected to replace longtime Royal Neifi Perez at shortstop in 2004.

He struggled defensively, committing 19 errors in his first 63 games. But offensively he was fantastic and eventually found his way to the top of the Royals lineup.

In 158 games Berroa hit .287 with 17 home runs and 73 RBI. He also stole 21 bases and settled down at short, committing only five errors the rest of the season.

Berroa receives special consideration on this list because he helped bring the Royals their first winning season since 1994, and their only one in the past decade. In fact, the Royals spent most of the season atop the AL Central and looked like a legitimate playoff team before falling off late in the season and finishing third with an 83-79 record.

Berroa narrowly beat out Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli and Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui for the award in one of the closest votes over. But anybody who can make the Royals look good definitely deserves the Rookie of the Year.

8. Erik Hinske (2002)

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Hinske made his Major League debut on April 1, 2002 as the Blue Jays' starting third baseman. He would make 140 more starts at third that season as he emerged as one of the best young hitters in baseball.

The 24 year old batted .279 while launching 24 home runs and 38 doubles. The 235-pound behemoth even managed to steal 13 bases (which not surprisingly is still a career high). His .845 OPS placed him among the upper tier of hitters and gave Toronto some serious pop alongside Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells.

Hinske's defense left something to be desired (his 22 errors led all third basemen), but his bat had Blue Jays fans drooling. He easily beat out Rodrigo Lopez and Jorge Julio for the award, but even Hinske couldn't get Toronto past third place in the AL East.

He signed a five-year, $14.75 contract following his 2002 season and has been a capable Major Leaguer for nine seasons now. However, he's yet to match the success of his rookie campaign.

7. Huston Street (2005)

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Street was one of the best closers in the history of college baseball, earning All-American honors every season that he spent at the University of Texas. So it's really no surprise that he would also succeed at the Major League level.

After incumbent A's closer Octavio Dotel went down with an injury early in the 2005 season, the 21-year-old Street stepped in to take over.

Before long it was obvious that Street was not just one of the top rookies, he was one of the best closers in the game. In 67 games Street had a 5-1 record with a 1.72 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He struck out 72 batters in only 78.1 IP with an effective array of pitches. He also saved 23 games in 27 chances.

Oakland finished that season second in the AL West with a 88-74 record despite a fantastic pitching staff that included Street, Barry Zito and Dan Haren.

Street was the easy choice for ROY over the Yankees' Robinson Cano and the White Sox' Tadahito Iguchi. He's saved 126 games in the five seasons since but has never dominated quite like he did in 2005.

6. Andrew Bailey (2009)

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Bailey become the third Oakland Athletic to win ROY in the last six years after an impressive debut in 2009.

He took over as the Athletics closer after Huston Street was traded to the Colorado Rockies as part of the Matt Holliday deal after the 2008 season. It wasn't long before Bailey made A's fans forget all about Street.

In 68 games Bailey was 6-3 with a 1.84 ERA and an unreal 0.876 WHIP. He topped Street's strikeout numbers, whiffing 91 in 83.1 IP. He even broke Street's rookie saves record, finishing off 26 games, and was voted to the 2009 All-Star team.

Unfortunately for Bailey, his team was still brutal, finishing dead last in the AL West with a 75-87 record. Can't really fault him there considering Oakland's best hitter after Matt Holliday that season was Jack Cust, the man who batted .240 and struck out 185 times. Yikes.

Bailey earned the ROY over the Rangers' Elvis Andrus and Tigers' Rick Porcello in a relatively close race. Then he came back in 2010 and was an All-Star again, a feat Street has never accomplished.

Oh, and the pitcher statistically most similar to Bailey is Neftali Feliz. Hmm...

5. Justin Verlander (2006)

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The 6'5", 225-pound righty was the second overall selection in the 2004 MLB Draft out of Old Dominion University. Verlander spent a whole season in the minors where he was named the "2005 Starting Pitcher of the Year" by Minor League Baseball. But in 2006 he made his long-awaited debut in the Tigers rotation.

Although he was technically the No. 5 starter, Verlander pitched like an ace all season. He finished 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 186 innings and 30 starts, and even received some Cy Young consideration. 

The Tigers, meanwhile, became one of baseball's strongest teams. In 2005 the Tigers were fourth in their division with a 71-91 record and Jason Johnson as their No. 1 starter. But they finished the 2006 season second in the AL Central with a 95-67 record and happily took a Wild Card berth into the playoffs. 

With Verlander as a prominent member of the staff, the Tigers soared past first the New York Yankees in the ALDS and the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in five in the World Series.

Verlander was a near unanimous ROY winner despite fantastic seasons from Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Liriano. 

4. Neftali Feliz (2010)

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Feliz made his way to the Texas Rangers as part of the Mark Teixeira mega-trade in 2007. Three years later and the Rangers could not be more pleased with their haul (which also included current shortstop Elvis Andrus).

Baseball America named Feliz the Rangers' top prospect and one of the top five pitching prospects in baseball prior to the start of the 2010 season. They were right once again.

After taking over for Frank Francisco as the Texas closer just a few games into the season, Feliz has been nothing short of outstanding. He set the rookie saves record with 40 and finished a league leading 59 games. His 2.73 ERA and 0.88 WHIP placed him among the best closers in the game and earned him an All-Star selection and a ROY award.

But what about his impact on his team?

The Rangers have always been able to hit. They scored 784 runs in 2009 but only managed a 87-75 record and a second place finish in the AL West. But their pitching staff, which gave up 740 runs, cost them too many games.

In 2010 the Texas offense was again outstanding, scoring 787 runs. But the pitching staff surrendered only 687 runs, led by one of the best bullpens in the game. The result was a 90-72 record and a first place in the AL West.

With Feliz as their anchor, the Rangers became a serious playoff threat. They beat Tampa Bay, the team with the best record in the league, in the ALDS. Then they roared past the Yankees as Feliz recorded the final three outs of Game 6 to send Texas to their first World Series in franchise history. If it wasn't for the brilliance of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, then Feliz may very have a World Series ring right now too. 

Not bad for a rookie. Not bad at all.

3. Dustin Pedroia (2007)

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The Laser Show became Boston's everyday second basemen in 2007 after Mark Loretta departed as a free agent.

Pedroia struggled early in the season, hitting as low as .172 and drawing calls for his removal from the starting lineup. But he recovered and became a key cog in the Red Sox offense.

In 137 games Pedroia batted .317 with an incredible (for a 2B) OPS of .823. He hit 39 doubles and launched an additional eight home runs. He also played solid defense with a .990 fielding percentage and emerged as one of the leaders in the clubhouse. 

The numbers may seem overwhelming, but the Red Sox certainly wouldn't be World Series champions that season if it wasn't for Pedroia. In 2006 Boston fell to third in the AL East with an 86-76 record. In 2007 they were back in first with a 96-66 record.

Pedroia was the beneficiary of a relatively weak rookie class that included, among others, Delmon Young and Brian Bannister. But he's the only player on this list to actually win a World Series in his rookie year. So for that he gets the third sport.

2. Evan Longoria (2008)

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When Longoria was drafted out of Long Beach State with the third overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2006 MLB Draft, Baseball America called him "the best pure hitter" in the draft. Turns out they have some pretty good scouts over there.

Longoria didn't make his Major League debut until April 12, but in less than a week he became the Rays franchise player. After hitting his first career grand slam four days earlier, the Rays on April 18 signed Longoria to a six-year, $17.5 million contract that could be worth up to $44 million.

Longoria more than justified the contract that season, emerging as one of baseball's premier hitters. He batted .272 with a .531 slugging percentage. He hit 27 home runs and 31 doubles. He was even an All-Star despite not starting the season on a major league roster.

If there's any doubt about the impact Longoria had, then consider this. In 2007 the Rays were 66-96 and dead last in the AL East once again. In 2008, the Rays won the division with a 97-65 record and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Longoria homered in his first two postseason at-bats and broke Miguel Cabrera's rookie record by going yard four times in a postseason series against the Chicago White Sox. The Rays would go on to lose the World Series in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies.

How's that for a turnaround? Cellar dwellers into championship contenders in one season. Longoria can't take all the credit for the transformation (Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, James Shields, etc. all helped too), but he definitely deserves a large share of the credit. It's no wonder he was the unanimous ROY winner, and thus No. 2 on our list.

1. Ichiro Suzuki (2001)

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How do you top leading a historically losing franchise to the World Series in your first season? By winning an MVP, of course!

Ichiro came over from Japan in 2001 at the age of 27 after the Seattle Mariners won the rights to negotiate with him with a bid of about $13 million. While in Japan he was one of the country's most celebrated players, winning seven Gold Gloves and three MVP's to go along with seven All-Star selections. But Japanese position players rarely had success in the States. Was Ichiro good enough?

As it turned out, the answer was a resounding yes. Ichiro became Seattle's everyday right fielder and within a single season proved that he was one of the best hitters in the world. 

The numbers are nauseating. Ichiro shattered the rookie hit record with 242 hits, the most hits by any player since 1930 (rookie or non-rookie). He became the first player since Jackie Robinson to lead the league in both batting average (.350) and stolen bases (56). He scored 127 runs and had 316 total bases.

Ichiro was an All-Star (leading all players in voting), a Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger.

And as for the Mariners?

They won a franchise record 116 games (tying the MLB record set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs) and made it as far as the ALCS before losing the to the New York Yankees for the second season in a row. The 2001 Seattle Mariners were one of the best teams in baseball history (with names like Bret Boone, John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron, Freddy Garcia and 38-year-old Jamie Moyer), and Ichiro was undoubtedly their best player. Sounds like an MVP to me.

A big lefty named C.C. Sabathia also debuted that season and stole one first place vote away from Ichiro. But Ichiro was still the runaway winner. He became the first player since Fred Lynn to win both the ROY and the MVP. He's not only the best rookie of the past decade, but he may be the best rookie ever.


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