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Rookies Of The Year
2005-11-07 06:52
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The Rookie of the Year Awards for both leagues will be announced today, so I thought I'd take a quick look at the candidates. Although there has been a lot of noise in comments about Robinson Cano winning the AL ROY, at best, Cano played well enough to insert himself in the discussion. Ultimately, there's no argument for him to actually take the award home. You don't even have to go beyond the three major rate stats to see why. Here's Cano along with the other top offensive candidates in the American League:

NamePosTeamAVG/OBP/SLG
Robinson Cano2BNY.297/.316/.458
Tadahito Iguchi2BChi.278/.355/.438
Jonny GomesOFTB.282/.371/.534
Nick SwisherRFOak.236/.322/.446
Dan Johnson1BOak.275/.355/.451
Chris Shelton1BDet.299/.360/.510
Joe MauerCMin.294/.372/.411

Gomes is the clear standout here, leading the pack in slugging and trailing Mauer by just one point of OBP. Of course, Gomes also had the fewest plate appearances of the seven players listed above, just 407, trailing the criminally ignored Chris Shelton's 431 and Dan Johnson's 434. But despite his limited opportunity to display it, Gomes' bat was so much more potent than the other players on this list that he finished second to only Mauer (554 plate appearances) in VORP (36.9 to Mauer's 40.9--Cano, for those wondering, finished at 27.5). Mauer also played excellent defense at a more challenging defensive position (Gomes actually spent half of his time at DH and was well below average in the field) and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts against Gomes' 9 of 14. Still, 123 points of slugging are a lot to overcome, and I'm hesitant to penalize Gomes for the Devil Rays' refusal to give him a job until mid-June. Thus, from this list, my vote would go to Jonny.

Of course we haven't taken the pitchers into account yet. Here are the top five rookie hurlers in the AL with their ERAs and Runs Saved Against Average. I've also included Chien-Ming Wang, just for fun:


NameTeamERA RSAA
Huston StreetOak1.7224
Joe BlantonOak3.5322
Gustavo ChacinTor3.7216
Felix HernandezSea2.6715
Scott KazmirTB3.7711
Chien-Ming WangNY4.026

Despite pitching exclusively in relief, the 22-year-old Street is the clear favorite here. Of course VORP favors Blanton, who leads all AL Rookies with 44.3 runs above replacement, but Street is well within striking distance (33.3 runs against replacement despite pitching in less than 40 percent as many innings). Perhaps just as importantly, Street--who was drafted out of the University of Texas last June, worked his way up to triple-A by year's end and started the 2005 season as one of the A's primary set-up men before being promoted to closer following Octavio Dotel's season ending elbow injury--has already had an effect on how teams draft and promote potential closers. Witness what the Red Sox did with Craig Hansen, a college closer who was drafted out of St. Johns in June and made his major league debut in September. The Yankees are expected to place J. Brent Cox, the man who replaced Street as the Longhorns' closer, on a similarly accelerated course to the majors. The combination of his performance and impact on the game makes Hudson Street the hands-down Rookie of the Year in my book, but I wouldn't complain too loudly if the award went to Gomes, Blanton or Mauer (though I should point out that I'm not completely sure that Mauer qualified as a major league rookie this year per the definition at the bottom of this post).

The NL race is much less crowded. Despite all of the hype surrounding Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur, the Phillies' Ryan Howard is clearly the best choice among rookie hitters in the NL:

Howard (1B): .288/.356/.567 (348 PA, 28.7 VORP)
Francoeur (RF): .300/.336/.549 (274 PA, 21.2 VORP)

On the pitching side, it's all about Pittsburgh's Zach Duke and his 1.81 ERA in 14 starts (23 RSAA, 32.7 VORP). Though it's worth noting that Juan Padilla, a pitcher I had argued the Yankees failed to give a sufficient opportunity to break into their bullpen in 2004, finished eighth among NL rookie hurlers in VORP with 15.2 (1.49 ERA, 11 RSAA). Of course, Padilla was 11 runs saved below average for the Reds in the latter half of 2004, which ultimately just goes to show how volatile relief pitching can be. All the more reason for the Yankees to take a flier on rookies making the major league minimum rather than frittering away their budget on a pen full of multi-million dollar veterans.

At any rate, we're down to Howard vs. Duke. Here's how I solve this. Duke leads in VORP by four runs. Howard created 14 runs more than the average player, while Duke saved 23 more than the average player. Howard played a hitters position in a hitters park and hit hit hit. Duke pitched for the 67-95 (.414) Pirates and went 8-2 (.800). Both only played about half a season (14 starts for Duke to 88 games for Howard), so playing time is not an issue. I think you have to give the NL Award to Duke. Of course, I wouldn't complain if Howard won it, just as long as it doesn't slip down to the exciting, but clearly inferior Francoeur.

* * *

Update: Street and Howard have won the awards. Kudos to the voters for that.

The second place finishers were Cano and Willy Taveras (.291/.325/.341). Shame on the voters for that.

The other top vote getters were, in order, Gomes, Iguchi (second most first-place votes) and Chacin in the AL; Francoeur, Duke and Garrett Atkins (.287/.347/.426) in the NL.

* * *

MLB's Rookie Definition: A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).

Comments
2005-11-07 09:42:58
1.   rbj
Cool.
Good to know that the Yankees are looking at the day when things go to hell and Mo retires.
2005-11-07 09:59:36
2.   Derek J
Cliff:

Great calls and analysis of both races. One nitpick: IIRC, Mauer and Shelton are ineligible, by dint of having spent too much time on the ML roster last year.

2005-11-07 10:09:03
3.   Cliff Corcoran
Derek, if they are ineligible that would be why, as both are under the limit for at-bats, and neither appeared in 45 games, so it's not immediately clear that they had spent 45 or more days on the 25-man roster prior to Sept 1 of 2004. I had this problem with Justin Morneau last year.

At any rate, it's easy enough to cover up the last two lines of that first chart, in which case the Gomes' hold on the title of best AL Rookie hitter becomes even stronger.

2005-11-07 10:09:44
4.   Cliff Corcoran
That first paragraph should have made clear that I was talking about at-bats and games in 2004.
2005-11-07 10:38:18
5.   YankeeInMichigan
I believe that Shelton was a Rule 5 player in 2004, so by definition he was on the 25-main roster all year.

Speaking of "critical omission" from the ROY discussion, what about Garret Atkins? True, he falls behind Howard and Fancoeur, but he is light years ahead of oft-mentioned Willy Traveras.

The "consider only contenders" argument has been debated over the years concerning the MVP. I am not sure why rookies on contenders get extra consideration for ROY. Guys like Gomes and Atkins are certainly being shafted.

2005-11-07 10:50:15
6.   Cliff Corcoran
You're right, YankeeInMI, Shelton was a Rule 5 pick (from the Pirates). Credit the Tigers with both picking him and using the roster spot all of last year to keep him. It certainly paid of this year.

And you are also right about Atkins. After Barmes went down, everyone turned away from Colorado, ignoring Atkins completely.

And I agree that the success of a rookie's team should not come into play for the ROY. The argument for considering team performance in the MVP race (and I'm not saying I agree with this) is often summed up by those who say it's called "most valuable player" not "player of the year." Well, this is called Rookie of the Year. What's more, Rookie of the Year is an award that's almost designed for bad teams, as what could be a better reward for a team and a fanbase struggling through a rebuilding period than to have one of their youngsters win Rookie of the Year, giving the fans and the franchise hope for the future?

2005-11-07 11:16:21
7.   thurm12
Francouer may appear to be light years behind Howard, but consider this: Francoeur was second in OF assists (with 11) while I remember hearing how Howard is often a liability in the field. On BA's chat one day I was writing with Josh Schwarz, and I said that I believe the defense Andruw Jones (and Alex Rodriguez for that matter)provides goes too often unnoticed and that we need to use a stat for analyzing runs saved (I remember in Moneyball, Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta trying to come up with a formula). Just my thoughts that Francouer isn't as far behind as some might say.
2005-11-07 11:25:38
8.   Cliff Corcoran
Using Baseball Prospectus's Fielding Runs Against Average, Francoeur was three runs above average (RAA) in right field. Howard was two runs below average at first.

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