They don’t hand out Rookie of the Year awards in September.

If they did, the safe money would be on Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds taking home the honors in the American League and National League, respectively.

Those two players have one thing in common, though, besides being unarguably good: They both play for teams that’ll almost certainly be sitting home come October.

Other awards, most notably the MVP, frequently consider whether a player led his club to the postseason. 

Rookie of the Year winners, on the other hand, aren’t always held to that standard. In fact, of the last 10 winners in each league dating back to 2009, half have been from non-playoff teams. 

That’s not to take anything away from Abreu, Hamilton or anyone else. It is worth asking, though: Who’s the best rookie on a contending club, one with a realistic shot at the World Series? 

Paging Matt Shoemaker.

Shoemaker made the Los Angeles Angels‘ 25-man roster out of spring training as a bullpen arm, a fringe contributor. Less than six months later, he’s helping baseball’s top squad shore up a shaky rotation.

Entering play Tuesday, the Angels sport an MLB-best 88-55 record and an eight-game lead over the Oakland A’s in the American League West.

Their rotation, meanwhile, is in shambles.  

Injuries to Tyler Skaggs and ace Garrett Richards have critically thinned the Halos’ starting five, casting a serious pall over an otherwise stellar season.

Shoemaker has stepped up in a big way, lesseningif not eliminatingthe doubts.

“Once you get that opportunity you want to run with it and do as best as you can,” Shoemaker told the Los Angeles Times‘ Helene Elliott. “It’s one of those things where every time I get the ball I try and be as aggressive as I can and just keep going out there and try and get outs, put up zeroes for the team, and at the end of the day the team getting the win.”

“You’d like to do that your whole career,” Shoemaker continued. “I just want to keep it going.”

So far, so good. Shoemaker went 6-1 in August with a 1.31 ERA and 0.77 WHIP, earning Player of the Month honors in the process. 

More importantly, the Angels went 19-10 and extended their advantage in the hyper-competitive AL West, which features the A’s and Seattle Mariners, two potential playoff teams.

Overall, Shoemaker is 14-4 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. That might not be enough to overtake Abreu (.317 BA, 33 HR, 99 RBI entering play Tuesday). But it’s more than enough to impress his manager.

“Shoe is just getting an opportunity and he’s making the most of it,” Los Angeles skipper Mike Scioscia said, per Elliott.

A hirsute, under-the-radar 28-year-old who entered the season with a grand total of five big league innings on his resume, Shoemaker was no one’s idea of a sure bet.

As Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram noted recently:

Shoemaker…pitched parts of seven years in the minor leagues, where he compiled a record of 50-40 with an ERA of 4.52. He was not even drafted out of Eastern Michigan University, the Angels signing him in August 2008 as an amateur free agent. But here in 2014, he has had such a solid season he has pitched himself into the conversation for Rookie of the Year. That doesn’t mean he’ll rest on his laurels. That is not in Shoemaker’s make-up.

The Angles certainly hope not. They need Shoemaker to keep flashing his surprising skills well into October. 

Ultimately, the Halos’ hurler may not win Rookie of the Year honors regardless of what he does the rest of the way.

If he helps Los Angeles hoist the second Commissioner’s Trophy in franchise history, though, it won’t matter.


All statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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