Thursday, October 05, 2006

Internet Baseball Awards: Rookie of the Year

Last year was a bad year in terms of big-impact rookies. Ryan Howard was my choice (and the BBWAA) for the NL, despite having just 345 plate appearances. What else was one to do when the other choices were Jeff Francouer, Willy Taveras, Garrett Atkins, and Gary Majewski?

In the American League, Huston Street was a solid choice, but the crop was not spectacular. That is most decidedly not the case this year. There is a bumper crop, particular among AL pitchers.

I will start my 2006 analysis as always with the superior league that uses modern rules. The top rookie position players are Kenji Johjima (296/323/459, 72 RC, +26 RAR, +10 RAA), Ian Kinsler (278/338/441, 62, +21, +6), and Mike Napoli (231/356/461, 46, +20, +10). Two catchers and a second baseman, with Johjima being the top choice I think. But none of the position players will crack the five-man ballot that can be submitted for the IBAs.

That is because of some remarkable pitchers, two relievers and three starters. Joel Zumaya worked 62 games and 83 innings for the Tigers, with a 2.38 RRA, +35 v. a replacement level pitcher, ranking fifth in the league. But Jonathon Papelbon worked 59 times, 68 IP, with a microscopic RRA of .52, +43 v. replacement. Not only that, but Papelbon pitched in higher leverage situations then Zumaya, making him a clear choice as top rookie reliever.

Then there are the three starters. I expect Justin Verlander to come out as the top choice of the writers, thanks to his 17 wins. And Verlander was good, +48 RAR in 186 IP with a 3.89 RA. But his eRA was significantly higher (4.63), and he got 6.77 runs of support per start. I estimate that his 17-9 record bettered that of a replacement-level pitcher with 6.77 RS by 2.5 games.

Jered Weaver came out with an identical +48 RAR, but in only 123 innings. That’s because he had a 2.72 RA. Weaver’s 3.36 eRA was more in line with his RA, but on the other hand, his %H was just .245, almost certainly an unsustainable performance. His 11-2 with 5.49 runs was 5.1 games better then replacement.

Francisco Liriano pitched even less innings then the other two, just 121. But he bettered them both in RAR at +53, with a 2.31 RA (best among any AL pitcher with 15 or more starts). His 2.57 eRA was also the best in the league, as was his 3.02 GRA. Liriano went 12-3 on 5.36 RS, the lowest of any of the three, good for +5.6 against replacement.

Five runs against replacement is certainly not an insurmountable margin; there might be considerations in somebody’s mind that would tip the scale to Verlander. But I see no reason to rank Verlander against two pitchers who were far more dominant and had they been given an opportunity to be in the rotation on opening day as Verlander was, would have surely bettered him by even more.

The real question is where does Papelbon fit in. WPA advocates will point to his +5.24 WPA and LI of approximately 2, while Liriano was at +3.02. But as I have expressed on this blog before, I believe that WPA is just one way of conceptualizing value, namely in real time. But I do not see its usage, even for value applications, as a given. Furthermore, Rookie of the Year is not a purely value question. I am not sure exactly what the language for the award is, but it seems to me as if it the most outstanding rookie, not the most valuable rookie. So I don’t see any reason to overturn the RAR difference, and I have little doubt that if both stay reasonably healthy, Francisco Liriano will have a more outstanding career then Jonathon Papelbon.

However, since the other two starters have flaws (Verlander’s relatively poor component stats, Weaver’s low hit rate), I will slip Papelbon in front of them. So here’s how I see it:

1) SP Francisco Liriano, MIN
2) RP Jonathon Papelbon, BOS
3) SP Jered Weaver, LAA
4) SP Justin Verlander, DET
5) RP Joel Zumaya, DET

Now the Neanderthal League, where pitchers still carry around clubs and flail them at the birds flying past them. There are three interesting relief pitchers, two of them Dodgers. One is Takashi Saito, with 78 IP, +31 RAR, a 2.39 RRA, a 2.02 eRA, a 2.22 GRA--brilliant all around, and now the LA closer. Jonathon Broxton sets up for him and in 76 IP is +25 RA with a 3.02 RRA and 3.88 eRA. Adam Wainwright, now the Cardinals’ closer, pitched 75 innings, +24 RAR, 3.09 RRA, 3.44 eRA.

There is also quite a bumper crop of NL starters, with guys like Chad Billingsley, Paul Maholm, John Maine, Cole Hamels, and Scott Olsen not getting past the first cut despite solid debut seasons. The four I considered are Florida’s Josh Johnson (157 IP, +38 RAR, 3.76 RA, 4.16 eRA) and Anibal Sanchez (114, +35, 3.20, 3.55, and of course a no-hitter), San Diego’s Clay Hensley (187, +36, 4.20, 4.43) and San Fran’s Matt Cain (190, +32, 4.45, 4.14).

There are a number of position players that deserve a look, but I’ll cut it to three, leaving out notables like Russel Martin, Josh Barfield, Prince Fielder, Chris Duncan, and Josh Willingham. Those three are Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and the Marlins double play combo, Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez.

Zimmerman hit 290/356/477 in 675 PA, for 102 RC, +40 RAR. Uggla hit 287/340/488 in 659, 98 RC, +42 RAR. Ramirez hit 298/356/489 in 689 PA for 114 RC, +59 RAR.

And that pretty much closes the case. Zimmerman is reputed to have great defense, which is enough for him to jump Uggla, but not make up the twenty run gap to Ramirez. Saito gets a few bonus points for high-leverage, and while Johnson and Sanchez are really too close to call, I’ll go with Johnson, as Sanchez allowed just a .245 %H (Johnson at a more normal .283):

1) SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA
2) 3B Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
3) 2B Dan Uggla, FLA
4) RP Takashi Saito, LA
5) SP Josh Johnson, FLA


  1. If the ROY was based on "value", you'd still have to give a huge bonus to the starter, since the replacement level for a starter is much lower than for a reliever, typically a 2-win gap. So, as WPA sees it, Liriano and Papelbon were probably neck-and-neck. Then, you have the issue of chaining, of which you first brought to the masses, and that puts Liriano ahead, probably.

  2. Tango of course is right about the fact that the replacement level for relievers should be higher. I lazily use the same replacement level for all pitchers.

    Of course, I also don't give any leverage credit, so one benefits the starters, the other relievers, and serves to somewhat cancel each other out. I don't particularly like using the "2 wrongs make a right" approach to justify a practice of mine, and it is a very weak position to take, admittedly so.


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