With the Marlins finishing up the season and having nothing else to do or for which to play, the Marlins have decided that they would begin promoting Gaby Sanchez for the National League Rookie of the Year. And I have no problem with this. Sanchez has had a solid season and deserves some recognition, as do the other two Marlins rookies this season, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison. There is nothing wrong with trying to give a player some recognition, especially given the fact that the Marlins may, at some point, have to deal Sanchez in order to make room for Morrison.
The whole idea of promoting Sanchez did bring up the opportunity to check out the race as a whole. I will tell you right off the bat: Sanchez should not be the rookie of the year. I’ve had a contentious past with Marlins and the Rookie of the Year voting, so it may sound like I’m stirring up more by saying that Sanchez should not be. This is not the case. Like I said, I enjoyed Gaby’s rookie year and look forward to having him be a solid contributor in 2010. I was quite surprised and pleased at how well he played. But there are other rookies who are more deserving, and the best example of this case is Atlanta Braves phenom Jason Heyward.
Here was the argument stated by Joe Frisaro in the article:
Sanchez has been a standout at first base all year. He leads all NL rookies in RBIs (83), hits (153) and doubles (36). He is third in homers with 19.
Those are all excellent numbers. Combine that with the amount of playing time Sanchez has put up (631 PA), and you can see why he is definitely a candidate. One of the few other rookie candidates who has put up similar playing time is Heyward, who has 609 PA. A commenter on the linked MLB.com article mentioned this:
How could they say that Heyward has had a superior season, they only stat where he is somewhat ahead is OBP; however, Gaby has 20 more total bases and 25 fewer SO. Otherwise, Gaby’s stats are better or equal.
Keep that in mind as we lay out the stats. Note that I am not laying out any sabermetric stats yet, just looking at what is generally considered “official” stats.
I found these numbers amazingly similar to each other. Both players are within similar ranges in terms of playing time and have produced similar runs in terms of runs scored and RBI. Heyward’s advantage in runs scored is mitigated by Sanchez’ bonus RBI and extra home run. The two players have extremely similar AVG and ISO as well, with both having an AVG in the mid .270’s with ISO around .180.
So both players have similar power and similar extra base rates on a per-AB level. As the commenter at MLB.com noted, the primary difference is in OBP, where Heyward’s OBP is “somewhat ahead.” Of course, a .050+ advantage in OBP is not “somewhat ahead” at all. Consider how many times both players have been on base (measured by hits + walks + HBP + reached on error):
Sanchez: 218 times on base, 631 opportunities, 34.5% TOB%
Heyward: 253 times on base, 609 opportunities, 41.5% TOB%
That isn’t merely a small advantage, but rather an enormous one. With 22 fewer attempts at the plate, Heyward has been on base 35 more times. This means that, in Heyward’s number of PA, he would have made almost 43 fewer outs than Sanchez. That kind of number of outs is nothing to scoff at, as it is typically worth almost 12 runs more for Heyward, a little more than a full win. This difference is reflected in wOBA as well. Despite the very similar average and power numbers, Sanchez has just a .348 wOBA compared to Heyward’s .376 mark. For a comparison, this is the same difference between Sanchez’ season in 2010 and Hanley Ramirez’ 2010 season.
This does not even consider the difference in positions. Heyward plays a more difficult position as a right fielder, while Sanchez plays first base, which is the bottom of the NL positional spectrum. Most systems have the full-season difference between the two positions as around three to five runs, meaning that 10 run difference on offense would add on to a three to five run position difference, putting Sanchez a good win or so behind without considering their relative defensive play at their positions. The FanGraphs and Rally’ WAR numbers reflect this; Sanchez is behind by almost two wins in fWAR and three wins in rWAR.
Consider the competition in addition to Heyward. Sanchez also has to face down his own teammates in Stanton and Morrison along with Buster Posey and Ike Davis. With all these excellent names competing for that RoY award, it is hard to put an argument up for Sanchez. He has had an excellent season, but he is not the best rookie in this star-studded rookie class.