2008 American and National League Rookie of the Year

Brandon HeikoopSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2008

For some strange reason, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) decided that the Rookie of the Year awards are the least important of all the postseason awards, given that the awards are presented together on the first day of the awards season, rather than on their own day, as is the case with other player awards.

In any event, the American and National League Rookie of the Year awards will be presented tomorrow. As the first post-season awards post, I will explain how things will play out here.

First, I will again provide my top three candidates for each award (five for MVP). Referring back to my 2007 awards:

When selecting who will win the awards, I take into account several factors. The first is how a player performs in respect to their position. For the record, I am not going to pick a player who performed at a high-level at a brutal position, but wasn't even in the top five or ten in 'win' stats.
The second criteria is 'win' stats. The Hardball Times owns a stat for this, as does Baseball Prospectus called win shares above bench(WSAB) and value over replacement player(VORP) respectively. I will reference these stats throughout my writing, for the most part utilizing both.
Next I will look at the exceptional play of a player. A streak, a record, or something they did on an individual level to lift the team to a higher level. That is not to say a player from a losing team cannot win an award, although admittedly, those players are at a slight disadvantage.

In addition to the above criteria, I will also include fielding, which WSAB touches on. While the Minnesota Twins' Adam Everett is not going to get the nod over the Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz, it is something to be considered.

Another factor to consider, one I pointed out at the end of the regular season, is a player's value relative to his team. To the BBWAA, a player on a playoff caliber team is rewarded because he helped his team get over the hump.

But, how often is it the play of a single player that pushed a team into the playoffs? How few players are not interchangeable with another at the same position?

I'm thinking specifically of second baseman Dustin Pedroia here. Would the Red Sox be that much worse off had Ian Kinsler been their everyday second basemen?

In addition, we've all heard the theory that a player's play is affected based on the players around him, or what about adding him to a winning clubhouse? Or, playing in games that matter? The fact is that it's easy to argue that a player on a playoff caliber team was positively influenced by his surrounding cast, as it is to argue that the specific player is the reason the team is as good as it is.

The second aspect of these posts will be to predict who the BBWAA will pick as their award winner. I will provide some evidence, however that the majority of the reflection will occur once the awards are provided.

A couple weeks ago, I posted my AL and NL rookie picks as part of a poll held at Baseball Digest Daily. Here is further analysis of those picks:


American League

At first look, Evan Longoria appears to be the clear cut favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. He hit in the heart of the order for the American League champions. However, upon further inspection, things begin to tighten in the race between him and Mike Aviles.

The major argument supporting Aviles is his production relative to position. That is, Aviles' .833 OPS was more than 140 points higher then the average production from AL shortstops. What makes this 140 point difference that much more valuable is the fact that Aviles is arguably the best fielding shortstop in the AL.

By comparison, third base is a substantially more productive position, where the AL average OPS is nearly 80 points higher than the league's average for shortstop.

Longoria, while not as superior relative to league average, still posted an OPS nearly 120 points higher than the AL average. Thus, the -20 points in league average OPS that Longoria provided compared to Aviles is not significant enough to discredit the +40 points in OPS that Longoria holds over Aviles heads up.

While fielding is still an issue worthy of consideration, that Longoria was superior to Aviles in three of five win and value categories is reason for me to hand the award to Longoria. The following table provides the categories that were used and where one player outperformed the other:

The Rookie of the Year in the American League is a two-horse race. I give my third place vote to Brad Ziegler. Ziegler's season was nothing short of phenomenal. He took over as the closer in Oakland, and, despite having a low strikeout rate, coupled with a brutal strikeout-to-walk ratio, Ziegler managed to avoid allowing runs.
Despite a legitimate argument in favor of Mike Aviles to win the Rookie of the Year award, it will come as no surprise if he isn't even in the American League's top-five for the BBWAA.
With players such as Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox and Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox providing writer-friendly statistics like home runs, stolen bases, and playing for playoff caliber teams, it isn't difficult to imagine Aviles being left off many writer's ballots.
Considering that two of seven Baseball Digest Daily (BDD) writers left Aviles off their top-three ballots altogether, seeing Aviles on the outside of the top-five, while unjustifiable, is something I expect.
Here's how I anticipate the BBWAA writers to screw this thing up:
  1. Evan Longoria: Has all the things voters look for;
  2. Alexei Ramirez: Flashy and on a playoff team;
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury: Broke team record for steals by a rookie;
  4. Joba Chamberlain (New York Yankees): If healthy, could have ran away with this award;
  5. Denard Span(Minnesota Twins): There actually isn't any rationale for him in the top seven or eight, so he's a perfect pick for the BBWAA.

With Brad Ziegler, Armando Galarraga(Detriot Tigers), Chris Davis (Texas Rangers), as well as, homer picks such as Ben Francisco (Cleveland Indians) and Justin Masterson(Boston Red Sox), there is a chance that Aviles falls out of the top ten.

National League

Without a substantial second-half swoon, Geovanny Soto (Chicago Cubs) made it easy for voters to get this one right. There really is no other player that a writer could legitimately argue for over Soto, and if a writer did in fact try to do so, there is an argument for that writer to lose their BBWAA membership.

Where it gets interesting is with the next two-four spots. In fact, by having such a solid season, Soto actually ruined what would have been a very exciting NL Rookie of the Year ballot. With Joey Votto(Cinncinnati Reds), Jair Jurrjens (Atlanta Braves), Hiroki Kuroda (LA Dodgers), Kosuke Fukudome (Chicago Cubs), among others, there is no other clear-cut next in line.

I decided to put Votto as the second best rookie from the 2008 season in the National League. Admittedly, it is because Votto is Canadian, but statistically, I can back this argument up through utilizing Baseball Prospectus' VORP measure, where Votto puts up a mark of 34.0 to Jurrjens' 33.0. In other words, it is a toss-up.

As I previously mentioned, there are specific stats which the BBWAA prefer. One of those stats is how the player's team performed. As such, Fukudome and Kuroda will receive an unnecessary amount of votes. However, I don't feel they will crack the top three.

The BBWAA will get this one right and take the following top five:

  1. Geovanny Soto: No more obvious pick league-wide;
  2. Jair Jurrjens: Not missing significant time helps his case;
  3. Joey Votto: If the season was another month or two, he eclipses Soto;
  4. Hiroki Kuroda: Not really a rookie, but the BBWAA has never cared, so why start now?;
  5. Jay Bruce (Cincinnati Reds): A hot start coupled with improvement during the second half, those are stats, right?

As was the case with the Gold Gloves, I will post the actual results as they become public. Reactions and reflections will also be provided, so stay tuned for those.


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