BBA Ballot: National League Rookie of the Year

As part of the always amazing Baseball Bloggers Alliance, part of our job was to get a yearly ballot in for all the major awards and stack them up against the BBWAA to see how well we do. We already got through the Managers of the Year for both the NL and AL, and congratulations go to Colorado Rockies skipper Jim Tracy and Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) manager Mike Scioscia for taking home the inaugural BBA Managers of the Year crown for their respective leagues.

I didn’t have too much fun doing that one, but I’m going to love this one. The NL rookie race is as tight as it can possibly be. There are a lot of candidates and only three spots to fill, so it’s going to be tough to figure it out. To be able to tell how much each player contributed, I’m going to use a homebrewed version of WAR for each of these rookies.

For position players, it will be the typical WAR equation, except that I’ll be rebuilding the event weights for each player as per the directions shown here by Tom Tango. I removed pitcher hitting from the equation and took all major league numbers as a whole rather splitting the leagues. My weights did not come out exact (my league average wOBA as calculated by the weights was 0.003 points short of the league average OBP), but I’m OK with this, as the run difference between measuring from a .334 wOBA and a .337 wOBA average is 1.5 runs over 600 PA; if the distances are that close, I’ll think consider additional concerns. In addition, the individual weights pass the eyeball test for the In any case, to be safe, I’ll be comparing to the average wOBA that I got from using the component league stats rather than using the average OBP. Park adjustments will be done using terpsfans’ regressed park factors from 2008.

For baserunning, as always, I’ll use Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR), meaning I did not take into account any baserunning outs in the wOBA weights. For defense, I’ll unfortunately have to use only UZR, which restricts my defensive scope a good deal; in the past I’ve used UZR, TotalZone, and Fans Scouting Report data. I don’t know if I can convert this, but I doubt it would make a whole lot of difference, as I’d still be weighting UZR 75%. If TotalZone numbers come out or if someone can make me privy to plus/minus numbers for the year, this may change. Position and defensive adjustment values are ripped directly from FanGraphs.

For pitching, it will be a bit easier. I took the average of StatCorner’s and FanGraphs’ tRA, then took that value and averaged it with FanGraphs’ FIP/0.92 (to put FIP on the runs allowed scale) and used that for runs. I used Pythagenpat for wins, replacement level pitcher at 38% win percentage.

As for the results, Marlins fans, you aren’t going to like it.

3. Tommy Hanson, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Hanson came out third in WAR with 2.9 WAR despite pitching only 127 innings. It was an impressive feat to pick up as many wins and be in the discussion as he was. Hanson had a 3.50 FIP and an average tRA of 3.78, mainly on the back of an excellent 22% strikeout rate. As far as pitch values are concerned, it’s amazing that a rookie, especially one of Hanson’s age, owns two plus breaking pitches; his slider this year was worth 1.79 runs per 100 pitches and his curveball worth 2.36 runs in the same number of pitches. He’s been hyped like crazy before his arrival and has definitely lived up to the name, so it’s no surprise that he got on here. Had he pitched 167 innings like Randy Wells or J.A. Happ did, he would likely have a sizable lead in this race and would probably be my winner.

2. Randy Wells, RHP, Chicago Cubs

Wells has been a revelation for Chicago, even though most of Chicago’s season was lost in the spree of injuries and underachievement. Wells’ 12-10 record and 3.02 ERA are decently impressive, though I suppose they fall short of Hanson’s respective numbers (11-4, 2.89). While Wells wasn’t the lights out pitcher that Hanson looked like he was, he was still more than efficient, striking out 15% of his batters faced while only walking 6.6% and allowing just 14 home runs. These numbers combined to give him a solid 3.88 FIP. His 47% ground ball rate also helped in the tRA department, though slight difference in the classification of line drives and fly balls (one of the primary problems with using tRA raw instead of regressed tRA*) led to drastically different tRA totals. It actually made me consider using the average tRA over the tRA from one source.

In any case, despite Wells’ age (he’s 26), he definitely deserves credit for his excellent season. It doesn’t shine like some of the other rookie years, but 3.2 WAR is 3.2 WAR, and Wells has done with longevity, being among the rookie leaders in innings pitched and pitching at the decently high level he has.

1. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates

I’ll admit that I had McCutchen in mind when I started this analysis. McCutchen posted a 3.3 WAR season which admittedly isn’t light-years ahead of Wells’ 3.2 WAR. If I could, I’d give both players first place votes, but since I cannot, I’ll go with the player with the highest total in my system and the one I would prefer to see win Rookie of the Year. McCutchen has been everything the Pirates wanted him to be: fast, patient, decent pop with the bat, good in the field. Well, he hasn’t been exactly everything, as he posted -0.8 runs in UZR, which is about average. But you can’t doubt the offensive production McCutchen brought: a .286/.365/.471 slash line, good for a .366 wOBA in my book, plus 22/27 steals (though he only put up 1.4 additional runs in baserunning), done at a premium position.

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I know Rum Bunter's going to love this; Cutch is looking for his approval!

Andrew McCutchen, congratulations, you’re the Marlin Maniac’s NL Rookie of the Year!

Honorable Mentions: Chris Coghlan (LF, Florida Marlins), Garrett Jones (RF/1B, Pittsburgh Pirates), J.A. Happ (LHP, Philadelphia Phillies)

And now comes the part where I explain why I of all people would leave Chris Coghlan off my ballot. It isn’t because I don’t want to be seen as a homer (even though I can be at times). For what it’s worth, Coghlan was fourth on my ballot, but the cutoff is three. In my mind, Coghlan was second behind McCutchen, but a distant second, and this is as a result of one thing: defense.

Let’s face it, Coghlan wasn’t pretty in the outfield. This was his first time out there, and the Marlins were foolish really to throw a player out to a position to which he was unaccustomed and expect good results. Coghlan tallied -9.8 runs at the position by the end of the year. My eyes generally agreed, though I passed on evaluating Coghlan because I needed to see more. In short, he hurt the team with his play out there and he hurt his value by playing poorly in a replaceable position.

This doesn’t mean I am discounting his offense, but it does mean that his value was diminished. To those who say UZR is unreliable in such a small sample, I say that this is the best we’ve got and that, even considering UZR’s measurement error of +/- 5 runs for a given season, we’d still be talking about an even race between McCutchen and Coghlan on defense before adjusting for position. Of the five position players I measured, he was the worst by far defensively, which evened out a lot of his 20 runs above average offensively, tops among players those same players.

(P.S. Those who claim the amazing finish to Coghlan’s season gave him Rookie of the Year seem to forget that he also started the year like Jeremy Hermida. You just can’t start counting only the good times.)

Once again, we come to the adage that “defense counts.” I was prepared to consider different approaches if the gap was within something like 0.3-0.5 WAR, but Coghlan was only 0.5 WAR away from the third place Hanson, and I figured it would not be worth the effort. Coghlan will get a lot of votes regardless, and I’m sure he’ll finish in the running, though ultimately Hanson and Happ may overtake him, but if you buy into defensive analysis at all, you have to figure Coghlan hurt the team with his fielding.

This does not take away from his season and his future with the team. He solidified himself as a good player and someone we’ll be counting on next year. Here’s hoping wherever he plays, he shows improvement.

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