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Rookies Of The Year

The Rookie of the Year Awards for both leagues will be announced today, so I thought I’d take a quick look at the candidates. Although there has been a lot of noise in comments about Robinson Cano winning the AL ROY, at best, Cano played well enough to insert himself in the discussion. Ultimately, there’s no argument for him to actually take the award home. You don’t even have to go beyond the three major rate stats to see why. Here’s Cano along with the other top offensive candidates in the American League:

Name Pos Team AVG/OBP/SLG
Robinson Cano 2B NY .297/.316/.458
Tadahito Iguchi 2B Chi .278/.355/.438
Jonny Gomes OF TB .282/.371/.534
Nick Swisher RF Oak .236/.322/.446
Dan Johnson 1B Oak .275/.355/.451
Chris Shelton 1B Det .299/.360/.510
Joe Mauer C Min .294/.372/.411

Gomes is the clear standout here, leading the pack in slugging and trailing Mauer by just one point of OBP. Of course, Gomes also had the fewest plate appearances of the seven players listed above, just 407, trailing the criminally ignored Chris Shelton’s 431 and Dan Johnson’s 434. But despite his limited opportunity to display it, Gomes’ bat was so much more potent than the other players on this list that he finished second to only Mauer (554 plate appearances) in VORP (36.9 to Mauer’s 40.9–Cano, for those wondering, finished at 27.5). Mauer also played excellent defense at a more challenging defensive position (Gomes actually spent half of his time at DH and was well below average in the field) and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts against Gomes’ 9 of 14. Still, 123 points of slugging are a lot to overcome, and I’m hesitant to penalize Gomes for the Devil Rays’ refusal to give him a job until mid-June. Thus, from this list, my vote would go to Jonny.

Of course we haven’t taken the pitchers into account yet. Here are the top five rookie hurlers in the AL with their ERAs and Runs Saved Against Average. I’ve also included Chien-Ming Wang, just for fun:

Name Team ERA RSAA
Huston Street Oak 1.72 24
Joe Blanton Oak 3.53 22
Gustavo Chacin Tor 3.72 16
Felix Hernandez Sea 2.67 15
Scott Kazmir TB 3.77 11
Chien-Ming Wang NY 4.02 6

Despite pitching exclusively in relief, the 22-year-old Street is the clear favorite here. Of course VORP favors Blanton, who leads all AL Rookies with 44.3 runs above replacement, but Street is well within striking distance (33.3 runs against replacement despite pitching in less than 40 percent as many innings). Perhaps just as importantly, Street–who was drafted out of the University of Texas last June, worked his way up to triple-A by year’s end and started the 2005 season as one of the A’s primary set-up men before being promoted to closer following Octavio Dotel’s season ending elbow injury–has already had an effect on how teams draft and promote potential closers. Witness what the Red Sox did with Craig Hansen, a college closer who was drafted out of St. Johns in June and made his major league debut in September. The Yankees are expected to place J. Brent Cox, the man who replaced Street as the Longhorns’ closer, on a similarly accelerated course to the majors. The combination of his performance and impact on the game makes Hudson Street the hands-down Rookie of the Year in my book, but I wouldn’t complain too loudly if the award went to Gomes, Blanton or Mauer (though I should point out that I’m not completely sure that Mauer qualified as a major league rookie this year per the definition at the bottom of this post).

The NL race is much less crowded. Despite all of the hype surrounding Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur, the Phillies’ Ryan Howard is clearly the best choice among rookie hitters in the NL:

Howard (1B): .288/.356/.567 (348 PA, 28.7 VORP)
Francoeur (RF): .300/.336/.549 (274 PA, 21.2 VORP)

On the pitching side, it’s all about Pittsburgh’s Zach Duke and his 1.81 ERA in 14 starts (23 RSAA, 32.7 VORP). Though it’s worth noting that Juan Padilla, a pitcher I had argued the Yankees failed to give a sufficient opportunity to break into their bullpen in 2004, finished eighth among NL rookie hurlers in VORP with 15.2 (1.49 ERA, 11 RSAA). Of course, Padilla was 11 runs saved below average for the Reds in the latter half of 2004, which ultimately just goes to show how volatile relief pitching can be. All the more reason for the Yankees to take a flier on rookies making the major league minimum rather than frittering away their budget on a pen full of multi-million dollar veterans.

At any rate, we’re down to Howard vs. Duke. Here’s how I solve this. Duke leads in VORP by four runs. Howard created 14 runs more than the average player, while Duke saved 23 more than the average player. Howard played a hitters position in a hitters park and hit hit hit. Duke pitched for the 67-95 (.414) Pirates and went 8-2 (.800). Both only played about half a season (14 starts for Duke to 88 games for Howard), so playing time is not an issue. I think you have to give the NL Award to Duke. Of course, I wouldn’t complain if Howard won it, just as long as it doesn’t slip down to the exciting, but clearly inferior Francoeur.

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Update: Street and Howard have won the awards. Kudos to the voters for that.

The second place finishers were Cano and Willy Taveras (.291/.325/.341). Shame on the voters for that.

The other top vote getters were, in order, Gomes, Iguchi (second most first-place votes) and Chacin in the AL; Francoeur, Duke and Garrett Atkins (.287/.347/.426) in the NL.

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MLB’s Rookie Definition: A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).

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