Tuesday, October 20, 2009

IBA Ballot: Rookie of the Year

Disclaimer: Presented below is my ballot (and some justification) for one of the categories in the Internet Baseball Awards hosted at Baseball Prospectus. I’m just one person, and the whole point of having a vote like the IBA is to get a wide variety of (intelligent) perspectives, and so I will not feel in the list bit slighted if you don’t give a flip about this. You've been warned. Also, the RAA and RAR figures that will be cited are my own estimates, detailed here. Any Leverage Index, WPA, or UZR figures cited are from FanGraphs; any quality of opposition or baserunning figures are from Baseball Prospectus.

In the American League, there aren't many viable position player candidates for the award. The top ranking rookie in RAR is Nolan Reimold, but at +21 he doesn't rank very highly, and his fielding knocks him out of contention. Elvis Andrus moves up to +30 if UZR is taken at face value, which gets him on the ballot but not at the top. Gordon Beckham is second among position players at around +20. Had he played more, he would definitely be a contender.

That leaves the pitchers. Jeff Niemann, Rick Porcello, Ricky Romero, and Brad Bergesen all are at +30 or better. All of them have less impressive peripherals than actual run averages, which leaves me without a lot of justification for changing the RAR ordering listed above (Certainly the differences are small enough that you could justify making changes, so I don't mean to imply that you must rank them in that order. I just don't see anything that makes me want to do so.)

Some people may give Porcello a boost due to his age, but I do not take age into account when looking at Rookie of the Year. If it was an award for best future potential, then I would be looking at a very different set of candidates.

One name missing from my ballot that you'll surely see on many others is Brett Anderson. If you are of the school of thought that pitcher seasonal awards should be determined by DIPS school metrics, then Anderson is the best of the lot. If you don't, you'll note that his RA is nearly half a run higher than that of Romero, who has the highest of the four pitcher cohort defined above.

None of those players are my selection for the top spot, though. It is usually very difficult for a relief pitcher to crack one of my Cy Young ballots, and you can just about forget about MVP support entirely. However, I think that I tend to support more relievers for ROY than the mainstream media does. I believe this is because of my philosophy that the ROY should be for the rookie who provides the most value and that age is not a factor. Often rookie relievers are on the old side (Brad Ziegler last year), and even if they are young it would usually be a stretch to project them as having greater future value than a starter or a position player. Some people also may tend to write off the extra value relievers generate by pitching in high leverage situations in a ROY discussion because htey are looking for the best performance. Since I don't consider age and do consider leverage, I've reserved spots on my ballots for Ziegler (2008), Okajima (2007), Papelbon, Zumaya, and Saito (2006), and Street and Majewski (2005).

In that spirit, my choice this year is Andrew Bailey. Bailey was +31 RAR with strong peripherals (2.09 eRA and 3.09 dRA), and served as Oakland's closer for most of the season, going 26/30 in save opportunities and recording a 1.4 LI. While his LI was lower than that of many bullpen aces, it's still enough for me to edge him ahead of Niemann and into the top spot on the ballot. This is how I see it:

1) RP Andrew Bailey, OAK
2) SP Jeff Niemann, TB
3) SP Rick Porcello, DET
4) SS Elvis Andrus, TEX
5) SP Brad Bergesen, BAL

Moving on to the Neanderthal League (I promise I won't use that again when I discuss the Cy Young and MVP), I reluctantly have to support JA Happ for the award. Happ, at +49 RAR, has a ten run lead over any other NL rookie. So why am I reluctant about my choice? Simply, Happ's eRA is a full run higher than his RA and his dRA is another .7 runs higher still. I suspect that many sabermetriclly-inclined folks will dock him significantly for this, but I am always very cautious of doing so. Differences between RA and DIPS can be either due to "luck" (I'm using that word as a catch-all, not literally) or superior fielding support. If it's the latter, then I'm all for adjusting it away. If it's the former, then I'm not--and it is often a little of both.

Had Tommy Hanson been in the majors longer, he may have made it all a moot point, as he was outstanding over 128 innings of work, good enough to edge Randy Wells as the second most impressive rookie starter.

Among position players, Chris Coghlan seems to be getting some mainstream support, but he doesn't crack my ballot. Yes, he was +37 RAR, tying him with Andrew McCutchen, but his -10 UZR puts a big dent in that. Comparing Coghlan to McCutchen offensively, Coghlan hit .323 to McCutchen's .288, but McCutchen's edge in secondary average was .311 to .246. Put it all together, and they each created 6.3 runs per game. Coghlan played more, but he was a bad left fielder and McCutchen was an average center fielder according to UZR. It's not a particularly tough call for me.

Comparing McCutchen to his out of nowhere teammate Garrett Jones, Jones was certainly a better hitter on a rate basis, but he played in 26 less games, came to the plate 130 less times, and had a -6 UZR in right.

So I have it:

1) SP JA Happ, PHI
2) CF Andrew McCutchen, PIT
3) SP Tommy Hanson, ATL
4) SP Randy Wells, CHN
5) RF Garrett Jones, PIT

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