Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hypothetical Ballot: Rookie of the Year

I would expect to see some fairly wide variations in Rookie of the Year rankings even among sabermetric-minded people this season, especially in the American League where nuances in player value methodology can result in significant differences in how ones ranks the candidates.

I think that Shohei Ohtani was the most valuable AL rookie, by a decent margin. Offensively, I have him at 28 RAR; you may want to cut a few runs off of that if you think there should be a more punitive DH penalty. That ranks behind Miguel Andujar (36) and Joey Wendle (31), and even with Gleybar Torres (27). However, Andujar’s fielding marks are truly dreadful (-11 BP FRAA is the most generous evaluation; UZR at -16 and DRS at -25 are even more down on his performance). Wendle consistently gets around 5 RAA, and evaluations of Torres are varied (7, -8, -1).

Ohtani also contributed as a pitcher. While he only pitched 52 innings, his 3.41 park-adjusted RA over that work is good for 14 RAR. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be viewed separately against replacement level for his offensive and pitching work; this isn’t the same situation as evaluating a batter against separate replacement levels for offense and fielding. Ohtani’s role can be bifurcated by his manager; if he was not contributing value offensively, he would lose his opportunities in that space while still being permitted to take the mound. A player’s performance as a batter and a fielder cannot be similarly divided, except if the DH role is available. If anything, Ohtani should get a bonus for only taking up one roster spot (can we use that to offset any docking for the DH positional adjustment and call it even?)

Ohtani at 42 RAR outshines Wendle, even with full credit for fielding, as well as the top pitching candidate, Brad Keller (36 RAR with a good eRA but only 28 RAR if evaluated on a DIPS basis). The other top pitching candidate by standard RAR, Jamie Barria (33), had worse peripherals and a very poor dRA (5.24). Regressing the fielding stats a little, I give Andujar the nod over Torres with offense as tiebreaker, but they should be the bottom of the ballot, not the top:

1. DH/SP Shohei Ohtani, LAA
2. 3B Joey Wendle, TB
3. SP Brad Keller, KC
4. 3B Miguel Andujar, NYA
5. 2B Gleyber Torres, NYA

In the NL, the old pull to bestow RoY upon the transcendent prospect rather than the most valuable rookie comes into play a little bit. With two young hitters the caliber of Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto to choose from, it is very tempting to put them on top. I think Walker Buehler deserves better. At 43 RAR, Buehler is ahead of Acuna and Soto (38) before taking fielding into account, and neither Acuna (-2 to -9) or Soto (3 to -5) shine in those metrics.

I think the three can be placed in any ballot order quite reasonably; while most people (including me) would take Acuna’s future, Soto and Acuna were nearly even this season, with essentially the same park-adjusted batting averages supplemented by Soto’s amazing walk rate and Acuna’s superior power. Give Soto some credit as a fielder and Acuna some as a baserunner and it’s still very close. Buehler was not as strong in RAR if using a DIPS approach (30), which drops him back to their level. Acuna may be the better prospect, but Soto’s younger, and while I don’t like to give extra credit for performance by time in the season, Buehler came up huge in a regular season game that would conclusively decide a division title. Somewhat arbitrarily, I have it:

1. LF Juan Soto, WAS
2. SP Walker Buehler, LA
3. LF Ronald Acuna, ATL
4. SP Jack Flaherty, STL
5. RF Brian Anderson, MIA

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