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

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