AL Rookie of the Year: Why Carlos Santana Should Have Won

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AL Rookie of the Year: Why Carlos Santana Should Have Won
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The Baseball Writers Association of America have announced its choice for AL Rookie of the Year for 2010, and Texas Rangers RP Neftali Feliz took home the honor while capturing 20 of the possible 28 first-place votes.

It was always almost assuredly going to be either Austin Jackson or Neftali Feliz—both of whom had fine seasons, but neither of whom was truly the best rookie in the American League.

The best newbie in the Junior Circuit was a 24-year-old catcher named Carlos Santana.

Before the 2010 season, Santana was widely considered among the best of an immensely talented pool of promising catching prospects. With respect to Mr. Posey, in his short time in the majors, Santana emerged as arguably the best young backstop in baseball.

For the purposes of the Rookie of the Year award, the operative words are “short time in the majors.” Santana appeared in just 46 MLB games this year between his call-up on June 11 and his season-ending knee injury on August 2.

There’s a difference between the most valuable rookie and the best. Yet the lack of playing time is the only rationale voters can possibly have for not naming Santana the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year.

Forget his promising power (.207 ISO, six homers). Forget his decent speed (three steals). Forget the fact that he shored up the middle of Cleveland’s lineup as a catcher. The most fantastic aspect of Santana’s game was his unbelievable plate discipline.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Carlos Santana’s 19.3-percent walk rate was the best in baseball this season among players with at least 100 plate appearances. Keep in mind that he did that as a rookie. To have that kind of plate discipline at age 24—that’s ridiculous. Did I mention he’s a catcher?

All told, Santana was worth 2.0 Wins Above Replacement in just 46 games. Even assuming he doesn’t improve any further (and since he’s not even 25, it’s a safe bet that he will), that makes him a six-win player over a full season. Compare that to the 5.1 WAR Joe Mauer posted this season, and it’s clear the Indians have a tremendous asset on their hands.

Santana’s power and plate discipline mean his success is sustainable (assuming he recovers from his knee problems). That’s more than we can say for Austin Jackson.

Jackson put up nice numbers this year, hitting .293/.345/.400 while scoring 103 runs and swiping 27 bases. But his plate discipline was lacking, as evidenced by his unimpressive 7.0-percent walk rate and scary 27.5-percent strikeout rate. The latter figure is worse than David Wright’s, but without the power. So how did Jackson do so well for himself?

The answer lies in his batting average on balls in play. Jackson’s .396 BABIP was the best in baseball, and while there’s reason to believe it can remain relatively high, it’s absurd to think that it won’t come down next season.

Using The Hardball Times’ xBABIP calculator, we find that a smaller proportion of balls he hits inside the park—.355, still much higher than the average—could be expected to fall for hits.

Substitute his xBABIP for his BABIP and even with the generous assumption that all the lost hits would be singles, his slashline falls to just .263/.311/.370—plus, as the number of times he gets on base decreases, so will his runs and steals. Would you want that kind of player on your team? Would you ever consider casting your vote for that guy for Rookie of the Year?

Interestingly, Santana got shafted in terms of BABIP, meaning his numbers should be even better. Using his .305 xBABIP in place of his .277 BABIP, his slashline jumps to .286/.417/.493. That’s a .910 OPS—probably more, since I assumed all the gained hits would be singles—from a catcher. That’s the kind of production that gets your name in the MVP discussions.

Of course, none of this matters, because (through no fault of his own) Santana played less than a third of a season, and therefore has no chance of being named Rookie of Year. But just because he won’t be doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be.

For more Indians coverage, visit WahooBlues.com.

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