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Another look at the AL Rookie of the Year race

Aug 30, 2011, 2:55 PM EDT

Michael Pineda Getty Images

Yesterday, I posted an entry dismissing Jordan Walden as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate without really looking at the race as a whole.  So, let’s do that this time around.

Here are how the candidates rank according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR:

1. Jeremy Hellickson: 2.7
2. Michael Pineda: 2.6
3. Desmond Jennings: 2.5
4. Dustin Ackley: 2.3
4. Aaron Crow: 2.3
6. Mark Trumbo: 2.1
7. Ivan Nova: 1.9
7. Greg Holland: 1.9
7. Chris Sale: 1.9
10. Jordan Walden: 1.8
11. Vinnie Pestano: 1.7
12. Casper Wells: 1.6
13. Josh Reddick: 1.5
14. Mike Carp: 1.2
14. Al Alburquerque: 1.2
16. Zach Britton: 1.0
17. J.P. Arencibia: 0.9
17. Jemile Weeks: 0.9

And according to Fangraphs’ WAR:

1. Michael Pineda: 2.9
2. Dustin Ackley: 2.5
3. Desmond Jennings: 2.3
4. Mark Trumbo: 2.2
5. Zach Britton: 2.1
6. Ivan Nova: 1.9
7. Josh Reddick: 1.8
7. Jordan Walden: 1.8
9. Jeremy Hellickson: 1.6
9. Ben Revere: 1.6
11. Casper Wells: 1.5
11. Greg Holland: 1.5
13. J.P. Arencibia: 1.3
13. Jemile Weeks: 1.3
13. Vinnie Pestano: 1.3

There are some big disparities there, particularly in how Fangraphs views Hellickson vs. Pineda.  Hellickson has a 3.01 ERA in 149 1/3 innings, while Pineda has a 3.71 ERA in 153 innings, but Pineda has the much stronger peripherals.  Since Fangraphs goes off FIP, instead of ERA, it rates Pineda as the far superior pitcher.

Fangraphs also says Walden has been the most valuable reliever because his innings have come in higher leverage.  B-Ref’s WAR doesn’t really care that Walden is pitching the ninth, while guys like Crow, Pestano and Sale have mostly been tasked with the seventh and eighth innings.

Personally, I’m more on B-Ref’s side of the argument in both of these cases.  Yes, Pineda has better peripherals than Hellickson.  However, I don’t think the Rays’ defense is much better than Seattle’s.  Plus, Hellickson has faced the tougher schedule.  Hellickson has been lucky to strand 81 percent of the runners to reach against him, but that luck has translated into real results for the Rays.  I think he’s the class of the pitching rookies, at least to date.

Things are also complicated with the hitters.  Trumbo has been a bit above average all year, Ackley has been more than a bit above average since his callup June 16 and Jennings has been nothing short of fabulous since his callup July 27.

Ackley and Jennings have already overtaken Trumbo in value according to both versions of WAR, and I’m not going to argue against it.  Still, I think there’s a lot to be said for the Rookie of the Year actually having contributed for the entire year.

Regardless, Ackley doesn’t have a shot at the real award.  While his .831 OPS is excellent for a second baseman playing in Safeco, his triple crown line is .291-5-30 and that’s simply not going to get it done.  Jennings is likely a big long shot, too.  He’ll have played in a maximum of 64 games this year.

Trumbo, meanwhile, is poised to finish with 27-30 homers and around 90 RBI.  His .296 OBP is unacceptable, and I’m not optimistic about him for the long haul.  However, he’s been an asset for the Angels from day one this year.

So, my (non-existent) Rookie of the Year ballot would have to go Hellickson-Pineda-Trumbo at the moment.  However, I was too quick to dismiss the alternatives Monday and the race is definitely close enough for things to change in September.

  1. trevorb06 - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    I’d put mine Pineda-Hellickson-Jennings
    Pineda IMO is only half a percent above Hellickson. This’ll be too close to call unless one of them implodes here.
    Trumbo I don’t feel is having that stellar of a season. You said it Craig, his OBP is unacceptable. If Jennings keeps up what he’s doing he’ll be in the talks but I don’t think you can give it to somebody not named Hellickson or Pineda this year so far.

  2. madhatternalice - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Hellickson: 10 starts against teams with winning records (23 total), 1.96 K/BB overall
    Pineda: 14 starts against teams with winning records (25 starts), 3.12 K/BB overall

    Come on, Craig. Hellickson hasn’t faced a tougher schedule, he just plays in a tougher division. Gotta be Pineda, right?

    • seattlej - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:45 PM

      Craig didn’t write this.

      • madhatternalice - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:16 PM

        Yeah, I whiffed on the writer. Sorry about that! But I still maintain it’s Pineda.

    • dannyzed - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:48 PM

      Hellickson:
      9 starts against AL East (2 Bos, 2 NYY, 2 Tor, 3 Bal)
      6 starts against AL Central (2 Det, 1 Cle, 2 Min, 1 KC)
      5 starts against AL West (1 LAA, 1 Oak, 3 Sea)
      3 starts against NL (1 Mil, 1 Cin, 1 Stl)

      Pineda:
      9 starts against AL East (1 Bos, 1 NYY, 2 TB, 3 Tor, 2 Bal)
      6 starts against AL Central (2 Det, 2 CHW, 1 Min, 1 KC)
      6 starts against AL West (3 Tex, 1 LAA, 2 Oak)
      4 starts against NL (1 Phi, 1 Atl, 1 Was, 1 SD)

      Yeah, isn’t it obvious that Hellickson has faced a far tougher schedule since he has pitched far more games against the AL East and other division contenders? Oh wait.

      Unbeknownst to many, there are teams west of the Hudson River that are good.

    • paperlions - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:51 PM

      But the point is still valid, saying Hellickson has faced a tougher schedule is simply untrue and obviously was assumed….kind of like it is assumed that TB’s defense is not much better than that of Seattle.

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      Matthew rather than Craig is the stats geek behind this story. As the ROY is essentially useless as a predictor of who has the best career, the argument is essentially useless. A lot of ROY’s have flamed out. Eric Hinske was a ROY for Pete’s sake. The best rookies in any season are usually called up in the summer. In my opinion, Jennings and Lawrie are the best 2 rookies I have seen this year. Lawrie looks better than all the players on Matthew’s list, yet he will not have enough at bats to get a sniff.

  3. cur68 - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Pity Brett Lawrie wound up with a broken hand early in the season. He’d have been called up sooner then the Beaver Boys would have another contender in there for ROY (beside JP Arencebia). As it stands, the kid’s case will be bolstered no end he keeps on the tear he’s been on since joining the Jays recently.

    • Mark - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:25 PM

      Beat me too it. And his 1.6 FG WAR puts him 9th despite not even having 2 months worth of AB’s. Crazy stuff.

      • cur68 - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:44 PM

        Not long ago Craig said he for one welcomed our Brett Lawrie Overlords. I wonder where Matthew is on preparing to accept total Brett Lawrie domination?

  4. crispybasil - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    Just to chime in: Matthew posted this, not Craig. =]

    • crispybasil - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:28 PM

      And it’s too close to call for me…

  5. sportsdrenched.com - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Couple Royals on there, but not the ones I expected. Greg Holland has been nasty, but I didn’t realize how nasty.

    Other than that, I go with Hellickson

  6. dlevalley - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    I think the real take-away from these lists is….

    Wow, the M’s have some rookies putting up some pretty good numbers. Especially considering that most of them (Ackley, Carp, Wells) weren’t around for the first two months of the season.

  7. dohpey28 - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    How am I suppose to take WAR seriously when the number changes depending on what website I go to? I don’t see guys having a different OPS, or K/BB ratio. WAR is the dumbest ‘stat’ anyone has ever come up with.

    • paperlions - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      Each version of WAR is based on something different, you just have to know which site uses which information to calculate value. For VERY good reasons, FanGraphs does not use ERA (which is more of a team stat that measure run prevention than most people realize, in other words, defenders can have a big influence on pitcher ERA) and uses FIP (which more closely measures a pitchers contribution to run prevention).

      It isn’t a question of taking estimates of value seriously or not, but taking the time to understand what each one means (i.e., what it is based on)…and it really doesn’t require much time.

      • ftbramwell - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:16 PM

        No, there is no good reason to favor FIP over ERA. Unless you mean to tell me pitchers do not consider how talented the other eight guys on the field are in deciding how to approach a batter.

        A pitcher has control over whether he gives up a home run (a FIP assumption) but he does not have control over whether he gives up a double in the gap? Give me a break.

      • Alex K - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:32 PM

        But a double in the gap for one team could be a running catch on another team. So yeah, that does depend on his teammates.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:33 PM

        You know who does have control over whether or not a pitcher gives up a hit? The defenders.

        If you are going to talk down to someone, it usually helps to be correct. You are not.

        Pitchers do have the ability to control how many HRs they give up because pitchers can control their FB% and essentially the same % of FB regardless of pitcher become HRs (over large enough sample sizes).

        BABIP for pitchers is a function of luck (both good and bad) AND of the quality of the defense behind them as better defenses convert a higher percentage of batted balls into outs. Luck is evens out in large enough sample sizes and samples for an entire pitching staff for an entire year likely are large enough to serve this purpose, leaving the difference between teams to be largely an effect on quality of defense.

        TB pitching staff BABIP is the LOWEST in MLB by 11 pts….which is a massive margin. TB’s staff has a BABIP of .268. The Mariners staff has a BABIP of .283 (6th best overall).

        Hellickson has been super lucky this year in terms of BABIP (his .236 is the 3rd lowest of any pitcher with 140+ IP this season) and in terms of LOB% (which is 5th highest in all of MLB for pitchers with 140+ IP). I used 140+ just to get Hellickson (149 IP) in the sample.

        Hellickson’s results are the effect of extraordinary luck and a great team defense. If you want to give pitchers credit for luck and great defenders, then use ERA. If you don’t…then use something else.

      • hittfamily - Aug 30, 2011 at 5:01 PM

        I really don’t understand how you can dismiss ERA so easily. It is not a team stat. It is a pitcher’s stat. Wins/losses is a team stat. Unearned runs is a team stat. The team may influence the ERA slightly, but not to the tune of 7/10 of a run per nine innings, which is how much Hellickson leads Pineda by. With that logic, virtually every stat can be misconstrued as a team stat.

        Batting average: An individual stat. However, runner placement dictates the batters approach. A two out, runner on second approach is far different than a 2 out, no one on base approach. With a runner on second, put it in play, and see what happens. Nobody on, middle of the order guys are thinking multiple bases, not putting the ball in play. Bunts for hits go down as sacrifices if someone is on. The Rays do this a lot. Jennings, Damon, Zobrist, Jaso, Rodriguez, Upton, Brignac, and Fuld have all bunted for a hit, but been credited with a sacrifice based on what previous batters did. Starting pitchers aren’t as good when they have to work from the stretch, and especially when someone speedy is on first and they have to slidestep. Infielders have to play in double play depth when a runner is on, creating larger holes in the infield, increasing the batters average based on what the previous guy did.

        Fielding Percentage: Carlos Pena was a great first baseman. He could pick virtually any ball in the dirt. Dan Johnson wasn’t. 3rd base, SS, and 2nd baseman’s fielding percentage went down because Dan Johnson couldn’t pick the same ball Carlos Pena could.

        I expect I could do this for each individual stat, but it is pointless. The team’s performance alters a players numbers, but not an immense amount. For fangraphs to assume Hellcikson is the 10th best rookie is ignorant. If he is on another team with another defense, his ERA probably isnn’t the same, but I think the differnce is negligible. But maybe it doesn’t. He k’d over 11 per 9 in the minors. With the best defense in baseball, maybe he is pitching to contact, rather than trying to over power everyone. To assume his ERA jumps 1 run per game on the Mariners is flat out stupid in my opinion, and Fangraphs has lost points in my book because of this egregious error.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 30, 2011 at 6:00 PM

        A pitcher has control over whether he gives up a home run (a FIP assumption) but he does not have control over whether he gives up a double in the gap? Give me a break.

        From what analysts have discovered, pitchers can somewhat suppress HR rates, but other than that they don’t have much control over what happens when the ball hits the bat. Take Pedro’s amazing ’99 and ’00 year

        ’99 – 213.1IP – 13.2K/9 – 1.56BB/9 – 2.07 ERA – .236 BABIP
        ’00 – 217.0IP – 11.8K/9 – 1.33BB/9 – 1.74 ERA – .323 BABIP

        Almost the exact same peripherals, and yet he allowed a .100 pt swing in BABIP? Koufax had years that spanned .230 to .280, same with Maddux.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 30, 2011 at 6:17 PM

        I really don’t understand how you can dismiss ERA so easily. It is not a team stat. It is a pitcher’s stat.

        Because the teammates have a direct influence over a pitcher’s ERA. If you take a great defensive team like the Rays a couple years ago or Seattle’s last year, they can greatly reduce a starter’s ERA (or play in a large ball park like Petco). Or the opposite, play in front of some terrible defensive teams, like the early ’00s Yankees, and your ERA can be grossly inflated. Also, the fact that pitchers can cause an error and still be charged with unearned runs thus not changing their ERA is a huge issue at hand.

        Fielding Percentage: Carlos Pena was a great first baseman. He could pick virtually any ball in the dirt. Dan Johnson wasn’t.

        Carlos Pena – .994 fielding percent
        Dan Johnson – .995 fielding percent

        Fielding % is a terribly misleading statistic. It doesn’t doc players with terrible range who can reach balls that an average fielder could get, and docs players who make great stops but terrible throws when most wouldn’t come close to a ball.

        He k’d over 11 per 9 in the minors. With the best defense in baseball, maybe he is pitching to contact, rather than trying to over power everyone. To assume his ERA jumps 1 run per game on the Mariners is flat out stupid in my opinion, and Fangraphs has lost points in my book because of this egregious error.

        None of this is stated by fangraphs, so why you are docking them points I have no idea. I assume you are talking about the difference between FIP and ERA. The other stuff about pitching to contact rather than overpowering people makes zero sense.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 30, 2011 at 8:18 PM

        For an even better example of what Church is saying, check out these two players:

        Player A – 33 GS, 227.1 IP, 7.76 K/9, 21.4% K%, 2.10 BB/9, 5.8% BB%, 1.11 HR/9, 11.2% HR/FB, 21.8% LD%, 39.5% GB%, 38.7% FB%, 10.8% IFFB%, 90.4 MPH FB, 75.6 MPH CB, 79.9 MPH CH, .259 BABIP, 3.09 ERA, 3.72 FIP

        Player B – 32 GS, 193.2 IP, 7.81 K/9, 20.6% K%, 2.00 BB/9, 5.3% BB%, 1.12 HR/9, 10.7% HR/FB, 20.8% LD%, 40.4% GB%, 38.7% FB%, 12.9% IFFB%, 90.2 MPH FB, 75.6 MPH CB, 80.3 MPH CH, .317 BABIP, 4.32 ERA, 3.72 FIP

        Can anybody tell me why Player B had an ERA 1.23 worse than Player A?

    • seattlej - Aug 30, 2011 at 3:51 PM

      The concept is actually fantastic. You should go to the two sites, take a look at why they differ, find which one you believe to be more accurate, and use that one. Just out of curiosity, how do you personally go about evaluating defensive value if you think the defensive stats that contribute to WAR are bull? After all, for hitters, it’s really only the defensive metrics that account for the difference. Fielding percentage?

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:25 PM

      There are lies, damn lies and statistics. Statistics are subject to human error. The umps goof. The official scorers goof and the statisticians goof. Statistics are also based on assumptions made by the individuals who are creating the statistics.. Many of those assumptions are questionable.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:34 PM

        ….and the better alternative is? What? Statistics are a record of what happened, and though there is error in the measurement, they are far less biased than any alternative.

      • proudlycanadian - Aug 30, 2011 at 6:33 PM

        Use your eyes.

      • paperlions - Aug 30, 2011 at 7:50 PM

        Thank you for making the worst possible suggestion. People see what they want to see, re-shape memories to be more like they wish they had been, and interpret everything they experience based on pre-disposition. That suggestion has more fail than most things hittfamily and Bicepts type.

  8. ftbramwell - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Can we please stop using WAR as a measure of performance? A so-called statistic that changes based on who’s doing the math is of almost zero use in measuring a player’s value.

    Further, I question the methods of calculating WAS. For example, I haven’t seen a WAR calculation that accounts for the effect a superstar player has on the rest of the lineup. For example, does WAR account for wins that a Barry Bonds or Mark McGuire generated because his teammates saw more fastballs (and got more hits), because pitchers didn’t want to walk guys in front of them? Does WAR account for the fact that a catcher who the pitching staff trusts and calls a great game may create more wins than a catcher who hits a few more home runs but whom the pitcher doesn’t trust to block a ball in the dirt with a man on third base?

    Please give me OPS, ERA, UZR (or plain fielding percentage if you have to), and then list intangibles. I’d even rather have batting average and home runs (if those are the only offensive stats you can give) and wins, losses, saves, and blown saves (if those are your only pitching stats). Just don’t give me WAR — it’s next to meaningless as a measure of value.

    • Alex K - Aug 30, 2011 at 4:30 PM

      It’s actually the opposite of meaningless as a measure of value. The reason it changes are what is used in the calculation. The only differences are how B-R and Fangraphs account for defense.

      WAR would account for those extra hits — on the person who hit the balls WAR total. Why would someone who isn’t swinging the bat get credit for what his teammate did? No one can say “Bob Ballplayer only played so well because Barry Bonds was on his team”. Who knows how Mr. Ballplayer would have done with a lesser player on his team.

      The catcher example you gave is lame. Defense counts in WAR. So a guy can not hit as well as another, but if he is a much better defensive player his WAR will reflect that.

      • hittfamily - Aug 30, 2011 at 5:29 PM

        I’m more in line with Framwell. WAR has created too many experts. Someone does a calculation, and suddenly everyone is an expert. They can tell you who the better player is in seconds, but WAR doesn’t account for everything. I thought his catcher reference was perfectly acceptable. James Shields is far less likely to throw a curve in the dirt with John Jaso behind the plate rather than Kelly Shoppach. With a runner on third with 2 strikes and one out, Shields would love to bounce that curve and get a K, rather than leave it a few inches higher and allow a run producing groundout.

        Derek Jeters numbers are inflated because of who is behind him. No one has ever pitched around Jeter to get to Arod, no will they ever. But they have pitched around Arod. With Jeter up, runners on 2nd and 3rd, and 2 outs, there is NO way Jeter doesn’t see a few hittable pitches. With Arod in the same position, he gets 2 balls off the plate hoping to induce a swing at a bad pitch, then he gets walked. Yet WAR will tell you Jeter is an incredible hitter, but much of it has to do with who hits behind him.

  9. natstowngreg - Aug 30, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    I’ll stick with my pick of Hellickson in yesterdauy’s thread. The purpose of a starting pitcher is to prevent runs, and Hellickson has been excellent in that area. Peripherals are interesting, and can help where things are close. Wins are too dependent on a team’s offense.

    More interesting is the case for Ackley or Jennings because in today’s financial system, guys like them don’t come up until June 1, at the earliest. But looking at their records, I’ll stick with Hellickson.

    Any way you look at it, a pretty good crop of rookies in the AL this season.

  10. paperlions - Aug 30, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    If you think a pitcher is fully responsible for his ERA, then you must think that defense is irrelevant; because that is exactly what you are saying when you say that ERA measures pitcher performance.

    The pitcher and defense combine to prevent runs, and no ERA does not account for bad defense because most bad defense does not result in errors, it simply fails to turn batted balls into outs, which is not the same thing.

  11. ftbramwell - Aug 30, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    I’m saying that a pitcher will control for bad defense by trying for more strikes outs, or by playing to better parts of his defense (i.e., throwing more sinkers if he has better infielders than outfielders). But FIP doesn’t account for things like ball park size. And a screaming line drive that is a gapper in one ball park and a homer in another ball park doesn’t really measure what a pitcher gave up, did it? (And how do you account for unbalanced schedules?) Yes, I understand that they have ball park adjusted FIP, but how do you really measure that? Scorer’s judgment? Why not just go back to E.R.A.?

    • ftbramwell - Aug 30, 2011 at 9:57 PM

      One other problem with FIP — it doesn’t account for what the catcher does. Look at the 1995 Yankees (Jim Leyritz/Mike Stanley) with the 1996 Yankees (Joe Girardi). Or the 2003 Marlins — an experienced catcher shows up and all of that young pitching blossomed.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 31, 2011 at 12:28 AM

      Why not just go back to E.R.A.?

      Because of everything that we quoted above.

      I’m saying that a pitcher will control for bad defense by trying for more strikes outs, or by playing to better parts of his defense

      Because there’s zero evidence, other than anecdotal (and anecdote isn’t the plural of data) that says a pitcher can do this. The best possible outcome for a pitcher is a strike out. Second best is a ground ball because they can’t go for HRs.

      Yes ballparks make a huge difference, and what may be a HR in Yankee stadium is a flyout in Petco/Safeco/A’s Coliseum. However, using a comparison of a LD to a HR doesn’t help your case. LD’s go for hits 70% of the time. xFIP normalizes HR/Fly Ball rate around 10%.

      As for the comments about the catcher, what are you trying to say? Are you saying some pitchers pitch better with specific catchers? If so prove it. For years they talked about how Beckett pitched better with Varitek behind the plate than others. Then for about two years he got shelled with Varitek behind the plate. What happened? Was it a small sample size situation in the former? Did they just get terrible together?

      Those of us in the stat-backed community have no problem ditching certain statistics and using other ones if they are better. They’ve already shown why the new ones are better than traditional ones. If you want to bring even newer ones into the picture, show us why they are better.

  12. brianc6234 - Aug 31, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    This is an easy decision if you ignore all of this stathead crap and look at the truth. Mark Trumbo is the reason the Angels are so close to the Rangers. He’s already had two walkoff home runs even. He leads his team in home runs and RBI as a rookie. I don’t see any other AL rookie doing as much for their team. Mark Trumbo should get AL ROY.

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