Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Hypothetical Ballot: Rookie of the Year

It was a bad year for rookies in the AL, made more interesting by the very late arrival of Gary Sanchez. Most of the discussion about the award seems to center around whether it is appropriate to give it to Sanchez based on his brilliant 227 PA, and whether ROY should be a value award, a future prospect award, or some kind of ungodly hybrid of the two. My own approach is that it should be a value award--anyone who is a rookie should be eligible and my primary criteria is how productive they were in 2016, not how old they are, their prospect pedigree, how their team held down their service time, or the like. Only in a very close decision would I factor in those criteria. I understand why others might consider those factors, and why it makes a lot more sense to deviate from a value approach for ROY than for Cy Young or MVP.

As such, I don’t consider Sanchez’s case to be particularly compelling. Yes, Sanchez was more productive on a rate basis than any AL hitter other than Mike Trout. Yes, the lack of a standout candidate in the rest of the league makes Sanchez all the more appealing. But Sanchez’s performance far outpaced both his prospect status and his minor league numbers (807 OPS in 313 PA at AAA this year, 815 across AA and AAA last year). If I was going to consider a shooting star exception, it would be for someone who checked all the boxes. I would much rather have Sanchez’s future than any of the other four players on my ballot, but in 2016 he fell in the middle in terms of value.

With Sanchez out, the top of the ballot comes down to Michael Fulmer, who is the top non-Sanchez candidate in the popular discussion, and Chris Devenski. I watched a game in which Devenski pitched this year and was vaguely aware of his existence in subsequent box scores, but how effectively he was pitching completely escaped my attention until I put together my annual stat reports. Devenski pitched extremely well for Houston, mostly in relief (48 games, 5 starts) with a 1.80 RRA over 108 innings. His peripherals were strong as well (2.39 eRA and 2.79 dRA).

Fulmer pitched 159 innings with a 3.41 RRA for 42 RAR versus Devenski’s 39. Fulmer’s peripherals were also reasonably strong (3.46 eRA, 4.02 dRA), and since this was a curious case I also checked Baseball Prospectus’ DRA, which attempts to normalize for any number of relevant variables (park, umpires, defensive support, framing, quality of opposition, etc.). Using DRA, Fulmer has a clear edge considering his quantity advantage (3.49 to 3.72).

One thing my RAR figures oversimplify is pitcher’s roles--it is a binary reliever (with replacement level at 111% of league average) or start (replacement level 128% of league average). If I figured RAR using Devenski’s inning split to set his replacement level (83 innings in relief to 24 starting works out to 115% of league as the replacement level), his RAR would edge up to 41. It should be noted too that Devenski pitched decently in his five starts, averaging just under 5 innings with a 4.01 RA.

I think the two are very close; this is a case where Fulmer’s status as a starter and a younger, better regarded prospect leave him just ahead for me. Even so, I assume Devenski will rank higher on my ballot than almost any submitted even for the IBAs.

Filling out the bottom of the ballot, the only other legitimate hitting candidate, Tyler Naquin and his 26 RAR, was heavily platooned and fares poorly in defensive metrics. That leaves two A’s pitchers, one a starter and one a reliever. If I strictly followed RAR, I would actually have the latter (Ryan Dull) ahead of the former (Sean Manaea), and the peripherals don’t really help either’s case, but since they were so close I will vote here for prospect status.

1. SP Michael Fulmer, DET
2. RP Chris Devenski, HOU
3. C Gary Sanchez, NYA
4. SP Sean Manaea, OAK
5. RP Ryan Dull, OAK

The top of the NL ballot is easy, as Corey Seager is a legitimate MVP candidate and far outshines the rest of the rookies. There is a cluster of qualified candidates in the 30-40 RAR range who make up the rest of my ballot. Kenta Maeda gets the nod over Junior Guerra as top pitcher based on stronger peripherals, with apologies to Zach Davies, Tyler Anderson, and Steven Matz. Among hitters, Aledmys Diaz led in RAR with 37 to Trea Turner’s 34, but Diaz’s fielding metrics are bad (-9 FRAA, -3 DRS, -8 UZR) while Turner’s are…not as bad (-3, -2, -5). Both are credited with baserunning value beyond their steals by BP (2 runs for Diaz, 4 for Turner); when you add it up it’s very close, but I consider Turner’s age and the fact that he did it in 130 PA to put him ahead:

1. SS Corey Seager, LA
2. SP Kenta Maeda, LA
3. SP Junior Guerra, MIL
4. CF Trea Turner, WAS
5. SS Aledmys Diaz, STL


  1. Thanks, that's embarrassing. Both Seagers appear in the forthcoming MVP post and were correctly named.


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