Friday, September 24, 2010

NL Rookie of the Year: What It Should Be, What It Will Be

The NL ROY is going to be as close as any we’ve seen in a while. The way I see it, there are at least 5, and probably more, good candidates all around the league. First of all, a few honorable mentions. Mike Leake, the early leader for the award after a 7-1 start, is now 8-4 with a 4.23 ERA and a FIP of 4.69. Though his June, July, and August have been quite mediocre, he put up a 2.89 through the end of May. Expect him to be a fixture in the Cincy rotation for quite some time. 

Jonny Venters has flown somewhat under the radar, but he’s been fantastic in the Braves’ bullpen. Without picking up wins or saves in bunches, it’s nearly impossible to figure in an award race, but Venters has certainly given it his best shot, putting up a (luck-aided) 1.83 ERA. Though his 2.74 FIP presents a more reasonable expectation for his future performance, Venters has been an unheralded but very important part of the Braves’ pen.

Logan Morrison, a favorite of myself and other sabermetrically inclined fans for his high OBP (his .420 leads all rookies), won’t get a shot at the ROY, but he’s been fantastic and should be mentioned. Morrison has contributed 1.7 WAR in only 52 games, but with only 2 HR and 16 RBI, his counting stats simply aren’t good enough to stack up with the other fantastic rookies in the NL. When you take into account the fact that he’s played all of his games in leftfield (he’s a natural first baseman), his numbers become even more impressive. 

Morrison has been displaced from first base by Gaby Sanchez, who may have a shot at being a fringe contender for the award. Sanchez has put up 2.8 WAR in 141 games, so while his pace might not stack up with some of the midseason callups, the fact that he’s played essentially an entire season could help him with voters.

Another Marlin is a fringe contender, as well. Mike Stanton is tied with Chicago’s Tyler Colvin for the HR lead among all rookies, at 20. That’s not where the similarities end, either. The outfielders have put up essentially the same triple-slash, with Stanton compiling a .244/.319/.500 for the Fish and Colvin putting up a .254/.316/.500 for the North Siders. Their low OBPs and averages will likely keep them out of the discussion. Stanton’s numbers are more impressive, as he’s put up his stats in 90 games while Colvin has played in 135, but expect both to develop into prolific power hitters. Stanton, only 20, still has a lot of polishing to go, and could develop into one of the best home run hitters in the league. Don’t be surprised if Stanton is near the top of the league in bombs in the very near future.

Starlin Castro is the last fringe contender for the award. He might have been the frontrunner for the award a month or so back, but his .240 average in September has really killed the biggest thing he had going for him. Castro was at or near the top of the leaderboard for average in the NL for much of the season, and it’d be pretty hard to keep the ROY away from any rookie who takes down the batting title. However, he’s now at a fairly empty .306, as he doesn’t walk or hit for much power. He does play short, so his hitting is helped by the fact that he mans a premium position, but he does so somewhat poorly, as UZR has him at –1.5 runs so far this season.

The way I see it, there are three true contenders for the award. Jason Heyward has spent pretty much the entire season in the bigs, with 133 games under his belt. He leads all rookies in WAR, at 4.6. He’s played only slightly above average defense in right, so he doesn’t provide a ton of value in the field, but his .285/.400/.472 is certainly impressive.

Though pitchers rarely factor into the ROY conversation (the last ROY hurler was Dontrelle Willis in 2003), Jaime Garcia is making one hell of an effort to change that. In 28 starts, Garcia has put up a record of 13-8 and 3.2 WAR. Though his ERA of 2.70 is helped by a little bit of luck in the HR/FB% and strand rate departments, his 3.42 is still very impressive. Garcia doesn’t exactly pile up the strikeouts, but his groundball rate is third in the NL, a huge reason for his success. If Garcia can continue to burn worms at a 55.9% rate and pick up his strikeouts, he could end up challenging Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter for supremacy in a world-class St. Louis rotation.

Last but certainly not least, it should be no surprise to regular readers that my pick for the deserving winner of the NL Rookie of the Year is none other than my hometown hero, Gerald Demp Posey III. Posey’s triple-slash currently sits at .323/.370/.524. Posey leads all NL rookies in average and slugging percentage, and is fourth in OBP. His 4.0 WAR puts him right behind Heyward, but he’s put that up in only 99 games. Throw in the fact that he’s a fantastic defensive catcher (Yadier Molina, often cited as one of the best wielders of the tools of ignorance in baseball, has prevented only one more run with his arm than has Posey, despite catching nearly twice as many innings), and this decision is a lot easier than I thought. I think the voters will get this one right and Posey will take home the hardware, adding an NL ROY to his 2008 Golden Spikes Award. Don’t expect that to be his last trophy, either. He’s got a long career ahead of him, and I look forward to watching Posey as a centerpiece in the Giants’ lineup for years to come.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll take a look at a slightly less crowded AL ROY picture.


  1. No mention of Neil Walker at all? Obviously he is on a losing team, but he has put up some really good numbers this season. Also, what do you think of his prospects past this season?

    Thanks and great post!

  2. I would say that Garcia is hugely lucky in the HR department, something in the 7% range when most pitchers are at 10%, is pretty lucky to me. Plus, he's been shut down.

    Heyward, I would note that while he started the season, he also missed about 3 weeks on the DL. He's going to end up around 140 games played, which is good, but not a full season.

    Posey, I would note, to amplify on your point about his defense, his WAR shows almost nothing above average in terms of defense. If you add 0.5 to 1.0 WAR for his defense, he would be above Heyward in WAR despite playing many less games.

    Nice article, I obviously agree with you, and don't think that being a Giants fan has to do with it, it's just the numbers right now. That plus Posey is doing it as the clean-up hitter for the Giants while Heyward is the 2nd place hitter for the Braves. And if Heyward don't watch out, Posey will pass him in HR soon.

  3. Walker's been fantastic... I honestly think he would be in the AL ROY conversation if he was on an AL team. However, with all the great candidates in the NL this year, I don't think he's been good enough to stand out. That said, there's certainly an argument to be made for him to at least get some votes, and he's got a chance to go on to a hugely productive career, as do several of the Pirates' young core.

    Heyward has certainly missed some time, but he'll end up with more games in the bigs than pretty much anybody on this list. Playing a full season certainly would've helped him, but I don't know that his trip to the DL will hurt his chances all that much.

    You're absolutely right about Posey, as well. Fangraphs WAR doesn't include catcher defense outside of how they do against the running game, so while it's not factored in, Posey passes the eye test with flying colors when it comes to his receiving and game-calling skills.

    Garcia has gotten somewhat lucky with HR/FB (league average is usually around 11 or 12 percent), but you also have to consider the fact that St. Louis' park factor for home runs in 2010 is .784. Doesn't explain everything, and he's certainly gotten some lucky breaks, but it's at a somewhat reasonable level. Getting shut down will hurt him in the award race, but it's more because they're not playing for anything... sounds like they may have considered giving him one more start.