Monday, November 24, 2014

Leadoff Hitters, 2014

This post kicks off a series of posts that I write every year, and therefore struggle to infuse with any sort of new perspective. However, they're a tradition on this blog and hold some general interest, so away we go.

First, the offensive performance of teams' leadoff batters. I will try to make this as clear as possible: the statistics are based on the players that hit in the #1 slot in the batting order, whether they were actually leading off an inning or not. It includes the performance of all players who batted in that spot, including substitutes like pinch-hitters.

Listed in parentheses after a team are all players that started in twenty or more games in the leadoff slot--while you may see a listing like "OAK (Crisp)” this does not mean that the statistic is only based solely on Crisp's performance; it is the total of all Oakland batters in the #1 spot, of which Crisp was the only one to start in that spot in twenty or more games. I will list the top and bottom three teams in each category (plus the top/bottom team from each league if they don't make the ML top/bottom three); complete data is available in a spreadsheet linked at the end of the article. There are also no park factors applied anywhere in this article.

That's as clear as I can make it, and I hope it will suffice. I always feel obligated to point out that as a sabermetrician, I think that the importance of the batting order is often overstated, and that the best leadoff hitters would generally be the best cleanup hitters, the best #9 hitters, etc. However, since the leadoff spot gets a lot of attention, and teams pay particular attention to the spot, it is instructive to look at how each team fared there.

The conventional wisdom is that the primary job of the leadoff hitter is to get on base, and most simply, score runs. It should go without saying on this blog that runs scored are heavily dependent on the performance of one’s teammates, but when writing on the internet it’s usually best to assume nothing. So let's start by looking at runs scored per 25.5 outs (AB - H + CS):

1. MIL (Gomez/Gennett), 5.9
2. MIN (Santana/Dozier), 5.8
3. STL (Carpenter), 5.6
Leadoff average, 4.8
28. CHN (Bonifacio/Coghlan), 4.1
ML average, 4.0
29. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), 3.5
30. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), 3.5

The Twins leading the AL in run scoring rate for leadoff hitters is a surprise--usually leading teams in this category are good offenses or high OBA guys, neither category describes Minnesota. They combined for a .324 OBA,
just a tick above the major league average in the other obvious measure to look at. The figures here exclude HB and SF to be directly comparable to earlier versions of this article, but those categories are available in the spreadsheet if you'd like to include them:

1. STL (Carpenter), .366
2. HOU (Altuve/Grossman/Fowler), .352
3. WAS (Span), .346
Leadoff average, .322
ML average, .310
28. CIN (Hamilton), .295
29. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), .293
30. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), .287

The next statistic is what I call Runners On Base Average. The genesis for ROBA is the A factor of Base Runs. It measures the number of times a batter reaches base per PA--excluding homers, since a batter that hits a home run never actually runs the bases. It also subtracts caught stealing here because the BsR version I often use does as well, but BsR versions based on initial baserunners rather than final baserunners do not.

My 2009 leadoff post was linked to a Cardinals message board, and this metric was the cause of a lot of confusion (this was mostly because the poster in question was thick-headed as could be, but it's still worth addressing). ROBA, like several other methods that follow, is not really a quality metric, it is a descriptive metric. A high ROBA is a good thing, but it's not necessarily better than a slightly lower ROBA plus a higher home run rate (which would produce a higher OBA and more runs). Listing ROBA is not in any way, shape or form a statement that hitting home runs is bad for a leadoff hitter. It is simply a recognition of the fact that a batter that hits a home run is not a baserunner. Base Runs is an excellent model of offense and ROBA is one of its components, and thus it holds some interest in describing how a team scored its runs, rather than how many it scored:

1. STL (Carpenter), .349
2. HOU (Altuve/Grossman/Fowler), .326
3. WAS (Span), .325
Leadoff average, .294
ML average, .281
27. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), .272
28. MIL (Gomez/Gennett), .270
29. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), .266
30. CIN (Hamilton), .253

Milwaukee’s leadoff hitters are a good example of why ROBA is not a quality metric. Their .325 OBA was slightly above average, but they also led leadoff hitters with 26 home runs. They also were caught stealing 13 times, which tied for the fourth-most among leadoff hitters, which brought it down some more. It’s CS that really brings down the Reds, as the Hamilton-led leadoff hitters led all teams by getting caught 20 times.

I will also include what I've called Literal OBA here--this is just ROBA with HR subtracted from the denominator so that a homer does not lower LOBA, it simply has no effect. You don't really need ROBA and LOBA (or either, for that matter), but this might save some poor message board out there twenty posts, by not implying that I think home runs are bad, so here goes. LOBA = (H + W - HR - CS)/(AB + W - HR):

1. STL (Carpenter), .353
2. HOU (Altuve/Grossman/Fowler), .331
3. WAS (Span), .328
Leadoff average, .298
ML average, .287
28. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), .274
29. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), .269
30. CIN (Hamilton), .257

There is a high degree of repetition for the various OBA lists, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they are just minor variations on each other.

The next two categories are most definitely categories of shape, not value. The first is the ratio of runs scored to RBI. Leadoff hitters as a group score many more runs than they drive in, partly due to their skills and partly due to lineup dynamics. Those with low ratios don’t fit the traditional leadoff profile as closely as those with high ratios (at least in the way their seasons played out):

1. LA (Gordon), 2.5
2. PHI (Revere), 2.4
3. BOS (Holt/Pedroia/Betts), 2.3
Leadoff average, 1.7
28. NYA (Gardner/Ellsbury), 1.3
29. DET (Kinsler/Davis/Jackson), 1.3
30. COL (Blackmon), 1.3
ML average, 1.1

A similar gauge, but one that doesn't rely on the teammate-dependent R and RBI totals, is Bill James' Run Element Ratio. RER was described by James as the ratio between those things that were especially helpful at the beginning of an inning (walks and stolen bases) to those that were especially helpful at the end of an inning (extra bases). It is a ratio of "setup" events to "cleanup" events. Singles aren't included because they often function in both roles.

Of course, there are RBI walks and doubles are a great way to start an inning, but RER classifies events based on when they have the highest relative value, at least from a simple analysis:

1. STL (Carpenter), 1.6
2. LA (Gordon), 1.5
3. PHI (Revere), 1.5
4. KC (Aoki/Cain), 1.5
Leadoff average, 1.0
ML average, .7
28. PIT (Harrison/Polanco/Marte), .6
29. LAA (Calhoun/Cowgill), .5
30. DET (Kinsler/Davis/Jackson), .5

Since stealing bases is part of the traditional skill set for a leadoff hitter, I've included the ranking for what some analysts call net steals, SB - 2*CS. I'm not going to worry about the precise breakeven rate, which is probably closer to 75% than 67%, but is also variable based on situation. The ML and leadoff averages in this case are per team lineup slot:

1. PHI (Revere), 34
2. TOR (Reyes), 29
3. LA (Gordon), 23
Leadoff average, 8
ML average, 3
28. LAA (Calhoun/Cowgill), -3
29. CHA (Eaton), -4
30. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), -7

Last year I noted that since 2007, the percentage of major league stolen base attempts from leadoff hitters has declined. It was up to 28.8% in 2014, so the 2007-14 figures are (2007 is an arbitrary endpoint due to it being the first year I have the data at my finger tips):

30.2%, 29.6%, 27.8%, 25.9%, 27.9%, 25.1%, 25.9%, 28.8%

Shifting back to quality measures, beginning with one that David Smyth proposed when I first wrote this annual leadoff review. Since the optimal weight for OBA in a x*OBA + SLG metric is generally something like 1.7, David suggested figuring 2*OBA + SLG for leadoff hitters, as a way to give a little extra boost to OBA while not distorting things too much, or even suffering an accuracy decline from standard OPS. Since this is a unitless measure anyway, I multiply it by .7 to approximate the standard OPS scale and call it 2OPS:

1. HOU (Altuve/Grossman/Fowler), 789
2. MIL (Gomez/Gennett), 781
3. WAS (Span), 776
Leadoff average, 724
ML average, 704
28. NYN (Young/Granderson/Lagares), 654
29. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), 637
30. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), 625

Along the same lines, one can also evaluate leadoff hitters in the same way I'd go about evaluating any hitter, and just use Runs Created per Game with standard weights (this will include SB and CS, which are ignored by 2OPS):

1. HOU (Altuve/Grossman/Fowler), 5.4
2. MIL (Gomez/Gennett), 5.2
3. NYA (Gardner/Ellsbury), 5.2
Leadoff average, 4.4
ML average, 4.1
28. NYN (Young/Granderson/Lagares), 3.6
29. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), 3.1
30. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), 3.1

You may note that the spread in RG between team leadoff spots is not that great, ranging from just 3.1 to 5.4. This seemed very unusual to me, so I checked the last five years and it was in fact an unusual year (chart shows standard deviation and coefficient of variation of leadoff RG by team):

Originally I just included the most recent five seasons, but I’m glad I dug up the 2009 data, because the COV was similar to that in 2014. However, the history does indicate that this is an unusually small spread in production from the leadoff spot. It seems far more likely to a blip than anything of note, though.

Allow me to close with a crude theoretical measure of linear weights supposing that the player always led off an inning (that is, batted in the bases empty, no outs state). There are weights out there (see The Book) for
the leadoff slot in its average situation, but this variation is much easier to calculate (although also based on a silly and impossible premise).

The weights I used were based on the 2010 run expectancy table from Baseball Prospectus. Ideally I would have used multiple seasons but this is a seat-of-the-pants metric. The 2010 post goes into the detail of how this measure is figured; this year, I’ll just tell you that the out coefficient was -.215, the CS coefficient was -.582, and for other details refer you to that post. I then restate it per the number of PA for an average leadoff spot (736 in 2014):

1. HOU (Altuve/Grossman/Fowler), 16
2. STL (Carpenter), 12
3. NYA (Gardner/Ellsbury), 12
Leadoff average, 0
ML average, -5
28. CHN (Bonifacio/Coghlan), -12
29. SEA (Jackson/Chavez/Jones/Almonte), -21
30. SD (Cabrera/Solarte/Venable/Denorfia), -23

I doubt I would have guessed Houston in ten guesses at the most productive leadoff spot in MLB, but Altuve and Fowler both were very productive when leading off (Robbie Grossman started 43 games as a leadoff hitter but hit .262/.340/.337, and thus was not a major contributor to the Astros’ #1 rank). Seattle managed to contend for a playoff spot despite woeful leadoff production, and attempted to address the issue (and the related center field woes) at the trade deadline by acquiring Austin Jackson. But Jackson hit just .229/.267/.260 in 236 PA in those roles after the trade. A center fielder led off for Seattle in 117 of 162 games, an outfielder in 148 of 162 games.

For the full lists and data, see the spreadsheet here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hypothetical Ballot: MVP

Last year, I thought that Clayton Kershaw was the most valuable player in the National League. The BBWAA voters did not concur, placing Kershaw seventh in the voting; the IBA voters were more generous at third. This season, though, it appears Kershaw is going to win the MVP award.

When you compare Kershaw 2013 to Kershaw 2014, it’s difficult to find good reasons for this (one obvious reason which I’ll discuss in a minute is anything but good). Granted, MVP voting does not occur in a vacuum--the 2013 field had much more to offer from a position player perspective, with Yadier Molina have an outstanding full season, his teammate Matt Carpenter, a pair of big-mashing first basemen in Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt, and the one holdover, Andrew McCutchen. Thus it makes sense that more voters would turn to Kershaw in a season in which there are fewer alternatives. Still, Kershaw pitched 38 fewer innings over six fewer starts in 2014. His ERA dropped slightly (1.83 to 1.77), but that hardly makes up for 38 innings. A big factor for the BBWAA will be his win-loss record, 21-3 in 2014 rather than a more pedestrian 16-9 in 2013, but it goes without saying on this blog that W-L is a silly basis to vote for MVP.

It might be useful to take a look at Kershaw’s performance in the categories that I feel are useful, with adjustments for league average since we are comparing across seasons, seasons in which the NL average RA dropped very slightly from 4.04 to 4.01 (the three RA figures have been divided by the league average RA; RAA and RAR have been very simply converted to WAA and WAR by dividing by the league average runs scored per game by both teams):

While Kershaw was slightly better in the pitching metrics that focus on actual results (RRA and eRA) and noticeably better in DIPS (dRA), the 36 inning difference looms large. I would take Kershaw’s 2013 season over his 2014 season. Obviously both were outstanding, but the fact that he will be an MVP afterthought in one and a strong winner in another speaks to the arbitrary and narrative-driven voting that still reigns supreme in the BBWAA even as more sabermetric approaches gain some traction.

For my ballot, last year I chose Kershaw narrowly over McCutchen. This year I’ve done the opposite. McCutchen starts with a 77 to 70 lead over Kershaw in RAR, but he does give some of that back. Per Fangraphs McCutchen was an average baserunner, while Kershaw created three runs at the plate with a .178/.228/.211 line. Since pitchers essentially average zero runs created per out, I credit the three absolute RC with no baseline. McCutchen also doesn’t fare particularly well in defensive metrics, -11 DRS, -11 UZR, -8 FRAA (Baseball Prospectus). Regressing these a little as I am wont to do, it’s very close between Kershaw and McCutchen.

However, Kershaw’s RAR is based on his actual runs allowed; were one to use eRA or dRA as the basis, he’d start from just 63 or 58 RAR respectively, and that would be too large of a gap to McCutchen to close with fielding, even with no regression. I have no issue with the notion of a pitcher being MVP, but I think it’s a pretty high bar, and when the alternate ways of valuing pitchers don’t support placing the pitcher ahead, I can’t do it either.

Giancarlo Stanton would have made things very interesting had he not been injured, although in the end there was very little difference between the amount of time missed by McCutchen and Stanton. McCutchen played 146 games with 632 PA; Stanton played 145 games with 633 PA. Stanton came in at 67 RAR, ten fewer than McCutchen, partially due to the position adjustment difference between right field and center field, but not exclusively. Based on my estimates McCutchen created five more runs (121 to 116) in six fewer outs, making him the superior (albeit well within the margin of error) hitter (62 to 56 runs above average, hitting-only). While Stanton fares better in the fielding metrics, Fangraphs has him as a -2 baserunner, and so the ten run gap holds up for McCutchen. Kershaw/Stanton for second is a tossup, but I went with Stanton on the same reasoning discussed in the prior paragraph.

After them I have the top Cy Young challengers, who each pitched significantly more than Kershaw despite less impressive rates (Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright). The rest of my ballot is pretty self-explanatory from my RAR leaders, except Anthony Rendon is placed ahead of Jonathan Lucroy and Cole Hamels thanks to strong showing in baserunning (+6) and fielding metrics (16 DRS, 7 UZR, -1 FRAA):

1. CF Andrew McCutchen, PIT
2. RF Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
3. SP Clayton Kershaw, LA
4. SP Johnny Cueto, CIN
5. SP Adam Wainwright, STL
6. C Buster Posey, SF
7. 3B Anthony Rendon, WAS
8. C Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
9. SP Cole Hamels, PHI
10. RF Yasiel Puig, LA

Many words were used to discuss the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP votes; many fewer will be used in 2014, but the basic story is the same for me--Mike Trout was pretty clearly the most valuable player in the AL. This year, the Angels’ record, Trout leading the league in RBI, and the lack of a triple crown stat standout other than Trout have combined to make the mainstream media agree. While comprehensive WAR metrics that include fielding with no regression may suggest this was the least valuable of Trout’s three full seasons, I would point out that offensively, there’s no pattern that could not be due to sheer random fluctuation. Trout’s RG relative to the league average for the past three seasons is 196, 209, 186. Trout is such a towering figure among intelligent followers of the game that he has become subject to intense scrutiny--Trout death watch has become a bizarrely popular topic at sites that should know better. This is not to say that Trout will continue to dominate baseball for the next decade with no risk, or that Trout will ever match his 2012-2014 performances. But if you think you've found a clear decline trend in a 23 year old who was the best player in baseball for a third straight season, you are likely overanalyzing. You may want to take a gander at Alex Rodriguez 1997-1999 as well. It’s more than a little uncouth if you ask me.

Rant aside, the rest of the ballot is not particular interesting, and I’ve mostly stuck with the RAR list. Some exceptions to note:

* Victor Martinez, a distant second among hitters with 64 RAR, just squeaks on to my ballot. Martinez was a -5 baserunner per Fangraphs, his RAR doesn’t penalize him for being a DH at all, and when he did play the field, he was poor in just 280 innings (-4 DRS, -6 UZR, -4 FRAA). It was not an easy choice to keep Martinez on the ballot ahead of Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre, who spotted him around twenty RAR but did everything else better.

* Similarly, Jose Abreu drops off entirely--it's the same story except he starts from 55 RAR.

* Jose Altuve is knocked down a few pegs thanks to fielding metrics; I kept him ahead of Cano among second basemen on the basis of his forty plate appearance edge, but with no strong conviction:

* Corey Kluber beats out Michael Brantley as Most Valuable Indian; the two are tied at 61 RAR prior to considering Brantley’s baserunning (good) and fielding (meh). Kluber would do worse using eRA, better using dRA, and the latter tipped the scales in his favor for me. After watching the Tribe all season, it would feel wrong to decide a tossup in favor of the pitcher rather than a fielder who played behind him. Cleveland’s fielding was dreadful and Brantley, while not a main culprit, did not really help either. I remain unimpressed by Brantley as an outfielder, even in left; his arm is solid, but he’s a left fielder, so...

1. CF Mike Trout, LAA
2. SP Felix Hernandez, SEA
3. SP Corey Kluber, CLE
4. LF Michael Brantley, CLE
5. SP Chris Sale, CHA
6. RF Jose Bautista, TOR
7. SP Jon Lester, BOS/OAK
8. 2B Jose Altuve, HOU
9. 2B Robinson Cano, SEA
10. DH Victor Martinez, DET

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Hypothetical Ballot: Cy Young

The National League Cy Young voting will not entail much intrigue. Clayton Kershaw will win in a romp, and will probably win the MVP as well. And while I agree that Kershaw deserves the Cy Young, I believe that the margin in the voting will greatly overstate the value difference between Kershaw and his closest competitors, Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright.

Kershaw and Cueto each were worth about 70 RAR through their pitching efforts based on actual runs allowed adjusted for bullpen support. Kershaw had a much better RRA at 1.98 while Cueto’s was 2.55, but Cueto pitched an additional 45.1 IP. The difference between the two in runs allowed amounts to 45.1 innings of 5.07 RRA pitching. I estimate that the replacement level for starting pitchers is 128% of the league average runs allowed, which for the 2014 NL works out to 5.13. Thus there is essentially no difference between Cueto and Kershaw from a replacement level perspective. Cueto essentially tacked 45 innings of replacement level performance onto what Kershaw did.

Of course actual runs allowed are just one way to evaluate a pitcher. Cueto actually closes the gap when using eRA, which estimates runs allowed based on inputs, including actual hits allowed. Kershaw’s eRA was 2.30 to Cueto’s 2.73, a more narrow gap than the difference in actual runs allowed. Figuring RAR based on eRA, Cueto edges Kershaw 65 to 63. Kershaw has a significant advantage in DIPS measures, though, 2.47 to Cueto’s 3.60 in dRA, as Cueto’s BABIP allowed was just .246. And even considering just actual runs allowed, I am slightly biased towards the better performer on a rate basis rather than compiler. I concur that Kershaw is more deserving of the Cy than Cueto, but the gap just isn’t that large given Kershaw’s missed starts and 198 innings.

I’ve focused on Cueto v. Kershaw, but Wainwright is right on Cueto’s heels with 67 RAR. Wainwright also has an edge on Cueto in dRA (3.38 to 3.60), and could easily place ahead if one values the DIPS metrics.

For the rest of the ballot, Cole Hamels is a comfortable pick for fourth, and I have fifth as a close battle between Washington teammates, Tanner Roark and Jordan Zimmermann. Roark ranks ahead in RAR 50 to 46, but Zimmermann’s .78 dRA edge and superior peripherals are enough to slip ahead in my book:

1. Clayton Kershaw, LA
2. Johnny Cueto, CIN
3. Adam Wainwright, STL
4. Cole Hamels, PHI
5. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS

There will be more controversy associated with the AL award as Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber jockey for the top spot. Kluber has become something of a darling among the DIPS-first portion of the sabermetric crowd, as his dRA is better than Hernandez’ (2.88 to 3.07) and he had around 38 additional opponent plate appearances. Cleveland’s fielders, in general, were bad--they ranked second-to-last in the AL in DER while Seattle led the AL.

However, I don’t believe in throwing out all elements of pitching results outside of the three true outcomes, nor do I believe that it’s a trivial matter to parcel out adjustments for fielding support amongst pitchers. For me, Hernandez’ large edge in runs-based metrics (Hernandez has a 12 RAR lead; the two differed in innings pitched by a single out, but Hernandez’ RRA of 2.54 was better than Kluber’s 2.98; using eRA, Hernandez has an even larger advantage of 20 RAR) is too large to ignore.

One point to note when using runs allowed metrics--Hernandez got less help from his bullpen then did Kluber. Hernandez bequeathed 13 runners, and 7 of them came around to score. Kluber bequeathed 20 runners and only 2 were allowed to score. That’s a seven run swing in the King’s favor that is not apparent from the traditional stat line.

Using RRA (which considers bequeathed runners), Hernandez’ advantage is 12 runs. Using eRA, which is just a component estimate, Hernandez leads by 20 runs. Using dRA, Kluber leads by 8. Quality of opposing hitters doesn’t change the picture much; according to Baseball Prospectus, Hernandez’ opponents combined for a .264 True Average, Kluber’s for .263. To vault Kluber ahead, one must put a lot more stock in DIPS or in the quality of adjustments for fielding support than I am willing to grant. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do so, but if you read any columns ripping the choice of Hernandez (and I don’t know there will be any), it’s likely you are dealing with a zealot.

And while I did not consciously consider it in my choice, another plus of choosing Hernandez is that I can dodge charges of pro-Indians bias.

For the rest of the ballot, I have stuck with the RAR order, as I see no particular reason to make any changes. Chris Sale is held back by just 174 innings, but he led the AL in RRA and dRA and was second in eRA to Garret Richards, who pitched five fewer innings:

1. Felix Hernandez, SEA
2. Corey Kluber, CLE
3. Chris Sale, CHA
4. Jon Lester, BOS/OAK
5. Max Scherzer, DET

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Hypothetical Ballot: Rookie of the Year

Just off the top of my head, the National League rookie class is one of the least inspiring that I can remember. Not only were there no real standout performances, there’s not a lot of competition for the top of the ballot, and there aren’t a lot of big-time prospects who simply didn’t produce in their first major league season (tragically, the closest to meeting this description is the late Oscar Taveras).

Jacob deGrom is the relatively clear choice with 33 RAR over just 22 starts. Over those 140 frames, though, he was excellent by any measure--his eRA and dRA were commensurate with his RRA, and it’s hard to argue with 9.5/2.8 strikeout/walks per game. Another pitcher is a name that I don’t recall seeing in much chatter about the award, Colorado lefty Tyler Matzek. Matzek pitched just 117 innings, which may help explain why he didn’t draw much attention, and of course his statistics don’t look very good without a park adjustment. After park adjustment, a 3.35 RRA was good for 23 RAR.

The other ballot spots go to batters; Ken Giles has drawn some attention, and he had an excellent season, ranking eighth among NL relievers with 17 RAR in just 45.2 innings thanks to sub-2 figures in all of the run average categories. Giles’ strikeout rate of 14.1 trailed only the usual suspects among NL relievers (Chapman, Kimbrel, Jansen). However, 45.2 innings is the rub--it's hard for a reliever facing less than 200 batters to stand up against even average everyday rookies.

The NL had three such players worthy of recognition. Travis d’Arnaud led NL rookies with 22 RAR and also led with 4.5 RG. While his defensive reputation is not great, it would take a fair amount of credit for fielding and baserunning to move Kolten Wong (15 RAR) or Billy Hamilton (11 RAR) ahead. Both appear to be good fielders and baserunners, Hamilton’s puzzling 23 caught stealings notwithstanding. Hamilton had 160 more PA thanks to leading off and not being subject to odd management by Michigan Mike, and he rates very highly in the various fielding metrics. After deGrom, it’s splitting hairs to fill out the rest of the ballot:

1. SP Jacob deGrom, NYN
2. C Travis d’Arnaud, NYN
3. SP Tyler Matzek, COL
4. CF Billy Hamilton, CIN
5. 2B Kolten Wong, STL

Were they in the AL, only deGrom would crack the ballot, as the AL crop put the NL’s to shame. Part of that is due to experienced international players, who are subject to bizarre treatment by the BBWAA. The BBWAA has rarely voted for Japanese rookies in recent years, but Jose Abreu will win the award despite having high-level experience in Cuba. Personally, I draw no distinction between international free agents and minor league graduates for award purposes.

Abreu is an easy choice for the top of the ballot, as his 55 RAR ranked sixth among all AL hitters and led first basemen, and his 7.2 RG ranked fourth in the league. The rest of the ballot spots go to pitchers, although Minnesota’s Danny Santana could certainly be considered with 30 RAR, and George Springer might have been a contender even with his late recall had he not been injured.

The three starters who made my ballot were Collin McHugh, Masahiro Tanaka, and Yordano Ventura. Tanaka looked like a Cy Young contender until his injury, but McHugh ended up edging him in RRA (3.01 to 3.05) in addition to pitching eighteen more innings. And while I wouldn’t have guessed it (largely due to McHugh toiling in obscurity with Houston), McHugh’s peripherals were every bit a match for Tanaka’s. It is worth noting that Tanaka, despite his experience pitching in NPB, is a year younger than McHugh.

Ventura pitched many more innings than either (183), but wasn’t as good on a rate basis and despite his ridiculous velocity struck out two batters fewer per game than either. In the end, 40 RAR for McHugh, 35 for Ventura, and 34 for Tanaka make it easy to justify any order depending on what factors one values. I’ve slid Tanaka ahead of Ventura thanks to better peripherals.
Apologies to Matt Shoemaker and Marcus Stroman, but the last spot on my ballot goes to Dellin Betances. Betances, unlike Giles in the NL, was a workhorse out of the pen, throwing 90 innings which helped him lead all AL relievers with 33 RAR. Only Andrew Miller and Brad Boxberger topped his 15.0 strikeout rate, and Betances was outstanding in the peripheral run averages as well. Were there an award for best reliever, Betances would get my vote, but on the rookie ballot he’s just fifth in a strong season for the AL:

1. 1B Jose Abreu, CHA
2. SP Collin McHugh, HOU
3. SP Masahiro Tanaka, NYA
4. SP Yordano Ventura, KC
5. RP Dellin Betances, NYA