Here’s an easy question: Who’s the Braves’ rookie of the year?
Said Frank Wren, the general manager: “Right! Like I’m going to answer that.”
Said Brandon Beachy, a starting pitcher: “That’s the impossible question … They’re the two best rookies in baseball.”
Said Fredi Gonzalez, the manager: “This is going to sound politically correct, but I’ve got to give it to both.”
Said Jonny Venters, the set-up man: “If I made the rules, you’d have co-winners.”
Said Tim Hudson, also a starting pitcher: “It’s hard to say. They’ve blown away any other players on other teams.”
The rookies in question are Freddie Freeman, who’s hitting .295 with 16 homers (third-most among Braves) and 60 RBIs (second-most) and who leads National League rookies in every significant hitting category, and Craig Kimbrel, who leads the major leagues in saves. What renders this question — I was kidding about it being easy — so thorny is the difference in job descriptions. Freeman works every day, playing first base and hitting in the middle of the order; Kimbrel works when the Braves have a lead in the ninth inning.
Venters: “They’re both doing unbelievable things. One’s probably going to set the rookie record for saves. The other has a chance to hit .300 with 25 home runs.”
Hudson: “You could argue that Freddie has been our best player all year. But it’s not easy to get those last three outs, either.”
Asked to name the Braves’ best rookie, Freeman said: “Craig Kimbrel. It’s obvious. He’s got 36 saves, and he leads the world in strikeouts [by a reliever]. He’s not just the best rookie reliever; he’s one of the best relievers in baseball.”
Asked to name the Braves’ best rookie, Kimbrel said: “Freddie.” Why? “He’s an everyday player hitting .300 [or thereabouts]. He’s been carrying our team. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the [save] chances I’ve had.”
Let the record reflect that the Braves whose opinions were solicited and who deigned to choose were unanimous in their sentiment. (Not that an electorate of three represents a quorum.) Martin Prado, the man of many positions, was walking down the hall when the question was broached, and he tapped a name on the nightly lineup board and spoke two words.
Said Prado: “First baseman.”
Said Chipper Jones, the face of the franchise: “Freddie Freeman. But it’s very close. I’m a little biased because I’m an everyday player. But I think he has helped us win more games than Craig Kimbrel has. But he’s a close second.”
Said David Ross, the backup catcher: “For me, Freddie Freeman. He plays every day. He gets big hits and he plays every day.”
The manager, it should be noted, voiced a concern. Said Gonzalez: “Is it possible they could split the votes and [the award] go to someone else?”
No. Freeman and Kimbrel figure to 1-2 or 2-1 on every ballot. And, since you asked, writers vote for the official NL rookie of the year award, although not writers from this newspaper. (The AJC doesn’t allow us to participate in balloting for yearly awards, believing its reporters shouldn’t make the news.)
That said, it’d be a wimp-out of the first degree if I didn’t offer an opinion. I’ll be in the minority, but I’d go with Kimbrel. Not many rookies are entrusted with closing games, and Kimbrel has already tied Todd Worrell, who had 36 for St. Louis in 1986, for most saves by a National League rookie. (The major-league rookie record was set by Neftali Feliz, who had 40 for Texas last season. And yes, Feliz once worked in this organization.)
Said Beachy: “It’s not easy to close games.” And that would seem an endorsement of Kimbrel. Then Beachy nodded toward Freeman and said: “It wasn’t easy for Brian Wilson the other night.”
On Monday night Freeman beat the bearded Giant with a single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch with two out in the ninth. As we’ve seen from the sentiments expressed above, it’s the toughest of calls. I keep coming back to this, though: Freeman is having an outstanding season; Kimbrel is having a record-setting season. It’s a slight difference, but it is a difference.
And with that, Game 3 of the gigantic Giants series is about to commence. Join me to chat about rookies, veterans and Fredi Gonzalez’s bunt tactics. Please?
By Mark Bradley