Monday, June 10, 2013

Rookie of the Year Front-Runners

60+ games into the baseball season, it's not too early to begin handicapping the Rookie of the Year candidates. As a brief refresher, a player is considered a rookie if:
1. For hitters, 130 or fewer at-bats in the majors, meaning that players that had September 2012 call-ups aren't automatically disqualified. However, in the case of Manny Machado, he had 191 at-bats last year, which is why he's not eligible this year.
2. For pitchers, less than 50 innings pitched.
3. For both position players and pitchers, less that 45 days on the Major League roster.

Using Baseball-Reference WAR values, here are both the position players and pitchers, both ranked by WAR:
A couple of thoughts on the WAR statistic--do not forget that WAR calculations give credit to shortstops, catchers and center fielders just for playing the position--if they field it well, they receive an additional bump. This makes inter-position comparisons somewhat unfair--where a catcher receives 10 points in the number that makes up the calculation, a first baseman will receive a -10, and an DH a -15. It's not enough for me to discard WAR as a very useful stat, just keep in mind part of the love WAR shows Didi Gregorius is based on him playing shortstop. 

Evan Gattis has been getting fairly steady playing time and generally worth it, although he's tailing off a bit--he was batting .281 as recently as May 31st. It could be a simple matter of pitchers figuring him out as they see him a second time or just a minor slump. He's still going to give Fredi Gonzalez fits in finding playing time for him, because the outfield of Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward doesn't provide an obvious opening--the easy (and expensive) notion of sitting B.J. Upton won't work since he plays center field. He's been splitting time at left and catcher, and perhaps another trade is in the Braves future to clear a defined spot for him.

Gregorius and A.J. Pollock have been key in Arizona's excellent start to the year, but Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin have been the mainstays, along with an excellent year from Gerardo Parra. Sticking out like a sore thumb is Yasiel Puig, doing things that are simply historic--here's how he ranks in baseball history after his first seven games:


In order to make for an easier search, I limited this to players with at least 2 plate appearances in each of his first seven games. The table is ranked by OPS and some of the flash-in-the-pans that had appeared in previous charts have been replaced with very solid major league players. The part I find simply amazing is that he's ninth in rookie WAR after only seven games. Then again, take a closer look at Jose Iglesias for the Red Sox--he's in the process of making last year's third baseman of the future Will Middlebrooks expendable.

For the pitchers it's Shelby Miller and no one else. Included in that 7-3 record is a one-hit shutout of the Rockies on May 10th. I'm intrigued by Jim Henderson of the Brewers for no other reason than I'm not sure how the Brewers have had ANY save situations this year.

Why not go out on a limb? I suspect that Gattis will have a solid rookie season and end up around the 20 HR-75 RBI mark if he can keep getting playing time, but I think Miller will be the choice for the National League--he'll be on a team that (barring unforeseen changes) will be among the best in baseball and there's nothing to suggest that hitters have figured him out yet. None of this matters if Puig is able to maintain the torrid pace he's started with--he'll cool off at some point, but if he keeps making history on a nightly basis and continues to field the way he has, it will soon become a race for second for every other NL rookie. The Dodgers are going nowhere this year and can move Andre Ethier for whatever they can get and re-tool for next year.

It's much more unsettled in the American League--I have no idea what the future holds for Jose Iglesias, but batting .446 after 22 games means finding out. He's already played at short, third and second--second is clearly out, Stephen Drew isn't exactly setting the world on fire at short (but is making $9.5 million, a little pricey for a utility player) and Will Middlebrooks is in a clear sophomore slump. Brandon Barnes--well, it would be SOME consolation to a Houston team going nowhere, and anyone else (Aaron Hicks, David Lough, Nick Franklin, Conor Gillaspie) is someone that will have to catch fire in the second half of the season, since they've been no more than serviceable to date. The Red Sox are on top of the AL East as I write this and I can't think of any reason why they would sit Iglesias down. 

My choices:
NL--1. Puig               2. Miller              3. Gattis
AL--1. Iglesias          2. Barnes            3. Some guy

Chances are I'll be dead wrong--there's still players in the minors who could be called up and have impact, but as of today, Monday, June 10th, that's what I'm going with--we'll see how it shakes out. Then again, I was convinced Adrian Gonzalez was going to win the AL MVP in 2011, but that was before Boston decided to take the month of September off and let Tampa Bay slip into the playoffs. That's why predictions like this are fool's gold--but fun to make nonetheless.

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