The Rookie of the Year race

Bats back Hughes as Yanks pound Twins
Two thoughts on the recent transactions

In the last two weeks we’ve looked at the two big races for the American League hardware. In the Cy Young race, I noted that the contending three pitchers were Weaver, Verlander and Sabathia. At the time, I marked Sabathia as the favorite. This is likely no longer the case given Sabathia’s recent struggles and how well Verlander has pitched, but the three contenders remain the same. In the MVP race, I argued for the inclusion of Curtis Granderson into the top tier of contenders. Granderson’s hitting the ball as well as anyone in the American League not named Jose Bautista right now, but one thing holding him back is the low mark he has received this year from UZR. At the time I argued that I didn’t Granderson’s defense to be nearly this bad, and recently Keith Law has chimed in to the same effect. Granderson’s candidacy is still alive. Spread the word.

The logical next step is the Rookie of the Year award. Like the Cy Young and the MVP, the Yankees have a candidate for the award in Ivan Nova. In this race, though, there’s a clear lack of a frontrunner. Each contender has a unique shortcoming, whether self-inflicted, team-inflicted or voter-inflicted. The race promises to be a free-for-all down the stretch. How does Nova stack up against the other candidates, and does he have a chance to win?

The only reliever in contention for the AL Rookie of the Year is Angels’ closer Jordan Walden. Walden has appeared in 49 games this year and has 26 saves. Over 47 innings pitched he’s boasted a 9.57 K/9, a 3.64 BB/9, and a 3.31 xFIP to match his 2.87 ERA. By Fangraphs’ reckoning this performance has been worth 1.6 fWAR; Baseball Reference values this at 1.5 bWAR. Walden should see some support from voters who place a high importance on the save statistic. After all, Neftali Feliz did take home the award last year as a closer. Walden could be a strong candidate to win.

Another candidate is Walden’s teammate, first basemen Mark Trumbo. Trumbo’s game is his power. He hasn’t hit for average (.259) and he hasn’t taken very many walks (4.6 BB%, .297 OBP), but like Jim Thome he has mashed some taters. In 438 plate appearances, Trumbo has 23 home runs and a .488 slugging percentage, so despite his anemic on-base skills, Trumbo has still put together a .333 wOBA. UZR is a fan of his fielding so far and grades him out at six runs above average, giving him an overall total fWAR of 2.1. Baseball Reference is a little more bearish, grading him at 1.6 bWAR. Trumbo has been more valuable to the Angels according to these metrics than Walden has, but whether voters view it the same way remains to be seen. Trumbo is a one-dimensional player offensively, and this may scare away some voters. Perhaps if he manages to slug his way to 30 he’ll become even more desirable.

While it’s hard to believe he’s eligible, Jeremy Hellickson has pitched his way into the conversation for the award so far this year. This year Hellickson has thrown 134.1 innings of 3.30 ERA ball with a 10-8 record. He hasn’t really been as good as his ERA would suggest, though, and in a lot of ways Hellickson has taken a step back from the superb numbers he put up in a small sample last September. His strikeout rate of 6.03/9 and walk rate of 3.35/9 are both worse than league average and support an ERA in the 4.50 range, as his 4.30 FIP and 4.56 xFIP indicate. Given that Hellickson hasn’t racked up a ton of wins, doesn’t play in a huge market and won’t be on playoff team, it’s hard to imagine him taking home the Rookie of the Year award. I imagine he’ll bounce back next year with a vengeance.

One very strong candidate for Rookie of the Year is in Seattle, second baseman Dustin Ackley. A midseason callup, Ackley has accumulated only 211 plate appearances. He’s adjusted well though, hitting .286/.370/.481 with 5 home runs, good for a .372 wOBA and a 140 wRC+, best amongst rookies. He’s done all this while playing good defense, and so while he’s only played in 50 games(!), he’s already accumulated 2.3 fWAR and 2.4 bWAR. It’s an impressive start for Ackley, but it’s likely that his lack of playing time will hamper his campaign for AL Rookie of the Year. Had the Mariners called him up earlier instead of waiting until June 17, he’d likely be the clear favorite. Ackley’s candidacy then remains a perfect illustration of the question posed to Fangraphs’ readers on Friday. How do you value someone who puts up tremendous production in a shorter context against someone who puts up less production rate-wise but more overall production in a longer context? It should be an interesting question for voters to grapple with, because rate-stat wise Ackley is the best position player candidate in the class.

Michael Pineda may have the strongest statistical case for the American League Rookie of the Year, certainly as a pitcher. He’s thrown 141 innings of 3.77 ERA ball, striking out 9.1/9 and walking 3.13/9. His FIP and his xFIP are right at that level, 3.60 and 3.57, respectively. Pineda is hurt by a subpar win-loss record, currently 9-7, but at least he’ll have a shoulder to cry on in Felix Hernandez. Fangraphs values his performance at 2.3 fWAR, and Baseball Reference has him at 2.2 bWAR, higher than any other candidate aside from Ackley. Simply put, Pineda’s been fantastic. He’s seen his ERA regress to the mid-3 level supported by his peripherals in recent weeks, but it shouldn’t detract from his excellent overall season. Whether voters are able to look past this, him tiring down the stretch, and a mediocre win-loss record is another question.

It doesn’t really feel right to put Ivan Nova in the same class as Pineda and Ackley, but it’s possible it will happen this November when the ballots are revealed. This is largely because Nova is currently the owner of a 12-4 win-loss record, one that might lead you to believe he’s been better than Pineda. He hasn’t been. Still, Nova has been impressive, particularly compared to preseason expectations. He’s thrown 117.2 innings of 4.21 ERA ball, a number which aligns neatly with his 4.11 FIP and 4.31 xFIP. His calling card has been ground balls so far, and he’s gotten them nearly 55% of the time. His strikeout rate (5.28 K/9) and walk rate (3.21 BB/9) are both below league average, but it’s possible he’ll flash better strikeout ability down the stretch thanks to the addition of his slider.

At the end of the day, Nova’s statistical profile isn’t all that impressive when put next to players like Ackley or Pineda. In fact, it’s nearly identical to Orioles’ rookie pitcher Zach Britton. Yet the fact that Britton sports a 6-9 W-L record and plays for a non-contending basement-dweller means his chances are virtually nill, while Nova stands a good chance of contending. If Nova manages to win fifteen games, he may sneak his way up the ballot. Can’t you hear a writer defending his vote by saying, “I voted for 15-game winner Ivan Nova. The pitcher’s job is to win games. Period.” Ivan Nova certainly can.

I mentioned to Joe on Friday that I would be pushing hard for Granderson to get the AL MVP, even if Jose Bautista deserved it more. It’s a total homer move. My brain knows that Bautista should likely be the winners, as it does that Pineda or Ackley should be the winner here over Nova, but I still can’t help but root for the hometown fellas to take home the hardware. How cool would a Sabathia-Granderson-Nova sweep be? Forget your sabermetrics, win-loss is where it’s at.

Bats back Hughes as Yanks pound Twins
Two thoughts on the recent transactions
  • JD

    You are pretty hard on Nova. Excluding two starts this kid has been excellent. Lots of poise.

    • whozat

      “He’s thrown 117.2 innings of 4.21 ERA ball, a number which aligns neatly with his 4.11 FIP and 4.31 xFIP. His calling card has been ground balls so far, and he’s gotten them nearly 55% of the time. His strikeout rate (5.28 K/9) and walk rate (3.21 BB/9) are both below league average”

      Is any of that false? How is that being “hard” on Nova?

      • JD

        The last outing aside, Nova has been the Yank’s second best pitcher since his return from AAA. He is getting stronger while Pinelda is fading. He may winn 15 plus games, a feat few rookies have accomplished this decade. I am not debating the recitation of the stats, I am debating that he is not in the “same class”. I think that he is, and I think this site has been unfairly negative on Nova in many posts.

        • Cuso

          I’m a big Nova supporter. But he’s not in that class with Pineda.

          Pineda has been the 2-man in Seattle’s rotation for the entire season.

          Nova, deserved or not, got demoted to AAA for a month.

          Nova could outclass Pineda from here on out by dazzling everyone in his remaining starts.

          But Pineda is still in a different grouping than Nova. In my opinion, that’s pretty clear.

  • Wrecky

    Pineda is a beast. That guy is huge. He will be better than King Felix in the long run. That being said, I really hope Granderson gets the MVP. Also, as much as it pains me to ask as a Yanks fan, why isn’t Ellsbury in the conversation? I would take him over Joey Bats at this point.

    • Charlie

      Who said he wasn’t in the conversation. If memory serves the post mentioned three red sox: Ellsbury, Pedroia and Gonzales as legit candidates, while also including Bautista and the grandyman.

      • B

        I meant in this post. Honestly, as good as Joey Bats has been, I really think think the race for MVP is between Grandy and Ellsbury. They have both been consistently good and carried their respective teams when the other high profile players on their teams have been hurt and/or were underperforming.

        • blee

          I dont even see why Bautista is a ‘clear’ frontrunner.. or why pedroia or ellsbury is even in the conversation…

          Granderson is on pace to finish the season at a potential line of .285 40hr 120 rbi 130 runs scored 30 sb.

          that’s a legendary season… currently he has 1 less HR than bautista.. and a large gap in avg.. but Granderson’s RBI, Runs, SB is no contest.

          (lets not even get into defense.. which is ridiculous at this point, if u watch the games, Granderson is clearly not a bad CF.. an above avg one at the least.. )

          • whozat

            Because of Bautista’s .455 OBP, and the fact that Runs and RBI are significantly impacted by the quality of one’s teammates. In the areas over which a hitter has control, Bautista has performed head and shoulders above the rest this season.

    • Guns of the Navarone

      Taking Ellsbury over Bautista is batshit, BATSHIT crazy.

      • Slugger27

        no, it isnt at all

  • Sayid J.

    As good as Pineda has been for most of the season, he has clearly tired over the last month (6.75 ERA in July, 6.55 in August). If he continues to pitch for the rest of the season, his stats will likely decrease further and his ERA could end up similar to Nova’s. Pineda is obviously still better, but in terms of voter’s eyes, a similar ERA and a better W/L record from Nova could be enough to sway people to ignore the K and WHIP numbers. Every time Pineda takes the mound, that ERA gets closer to the 4’s.

  • Kosmo

    I think Pineda wins it. Jamil Weeks might receive a few votes too.

    • Kosmo

      I forgot about Hosmer .

  • http://none Favrest

    If Nova pitches well down the stretch he could get up 16-18 wins. Not many rookies over the years have achieved that.

  • observer

    The more i observe UZR, the more i understand what a poo statistic it really is, tainted by the prejudiced observations it depends upon. The math geeks think they are precise and dispassionate, but the results belie their hubris…

    • Mike Axisa

      …tainted by the prejudiced observations it depends upon

      Isn’t that the same thing non-math geeks rely upon?

    • UncleArgyle

      I agree. These defense stats are useful, but absurdly over-rated and flawed. As far as I can tell the basic premise is that the only people qualified to observe good defense are those who work for Baseball Info Solutions. Hubris indeed.

  • Michael Mirabella

    Why is Ackley so raved about, I really don’t see anything that pops out.

    • Sayid J.

      OBP, power, solid defense from a very young player?

    • ChrisS

      He’s 23, provides average to good D at 2B and has an .850 OPS. You know how many players 23 & under have an OPS greater than that in more than 20 games? One. Eric Hosmer at 103. You know how many 2B have better than an .800 OPS? Three: Pedroia, Cano, and Zobrist.

      Kipnis is a comparable 2B.

      Ackley is good and he’ll be good for a long while.

    • ChrisS

      He’s 23, provides average to good D at 2B and has an .850 OPS. You know how many players 23 & under have an OPS greater than 100 in more than 20 games? One. Eric Hosmer at 103. You know how many 2B have better than an .800 OPS? Three: Pedroia, Cano, and Zobrist.

      Kipnis is a comparable 2B.

      Ackley is good and he’ll be good for a long while.

      • ChrisS

        Wow I F’d that all up. Mods can delete the dupe.

        You know how many 2B in MLB have better than his .846 OPS? Three: Pedroia, Cano, and Zobrist.

        • MikeD

          Ackley would get my vote for ROY today, although as the Verlander-Sabathia debate has shown, much can change quickly. (And with just about six weeks left, much can change yet again.) I have a prejudice in award voting toward players providing high production out of the up-the-middle positions, which would normally thrust Granderson right to the top of the conversation with Bautista, but Pedroia and Ellsbury are messing things up this year.

          As for your double post, it’s probably not your error. RAB will hang sometimes after hitting “submit comment,” yet editing of the comment is still allowed during this hang time. Hit submit a second time and there’s a double post if a single word, or character, is changed from the original. My guess is you edited a word or two while the system was hanging.

  • Captain Beatty

    MVP- Granderson
    ROY- Nova

    I think Verlander gets the Cy Young now. CC pitched himself right out of it the past few starts. But Nova is the ROY. The kid was jerked around between the majors and AAA and still may end up with 16-18 wins. That’s a ROY.

    • Bill

      I agree Verlander gets the Cy Young. Granderson in my mind should be at least 2nd in the MVP race right now. He’s a better candidate than all three of the Boston guys IMO if Granderson doesn’t win it better go to Bautista, but I’m certainly pulling for Grandy. Nova needs to pitch well down the stretch to grab the ROY. He’ll probably need 15 wins, but that’s certainly doable. Pineda looks gassed and is really dragging right now. Writers won’t vote for Ackley based on half a season. Trumbo has probably the best shot assuming Pineda keeps going the way he has. Trumbo should be around 30HRs by the end of the year. If he hits 30 I think the award is his. Hellickson and Walden are the dark horses. If other guys slip they could slide right in there, but right now I’d say Trumbo and Pineda are the front runners and Nova is probably ahead of Hellickson, Walden, and Ackley, but just barely.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    If I had to vote today, I’d vote like this:

    MVP: Bautista – 2nd: Granderson
    Cy Young: Verlander – 2nd: Weaver
    ROY: Pineda – 2nd: Ackley (if he qualifies)

    tbh I don’t see any chance for Nova winning the ROY-award. Pineda is straight up better. By a country mile.

    • JoshTFL

      I don’t know if the voters have changed their tunes or not but I could see Granderson not being a clear silver medal. Gonzo’s getting a lot of love as is Ellsbury. Granderson will get a lot of love, no doubt, but I could see voters voting pretty inconsistently.

  • Rainman

    The pitcher’s job is to win games. Period.”

    Is this statement wrong?? This is all a pitcher should care about

    • Guns of the Navarone

      A pitcher leaves the game after 7.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K. He’s losing the game 1-0. Has this pitcher not done his job?

    • Slugger27

      well, the better a pitcher pitches, the more likely he is to win more games.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      The pitcher’s job is to win games. Period.

      Is this statement wrong??

      Yes, it is wrong. Very, very wrong.

      A pitcher’s job is to put his team in position to win games. In the AL, he has absolutely no control over how his team responds offensively, so he could pitch very well and either lose the game or get a no-decision (remember Shield’s loss to CC 1-0?).

      As an extreme example, in 1968, Bob Gibson pitched to .853 WHIP, a 1.12 ERA, had an 11.9 WAR, won the CYA and the MVP , and yet he lost 9 games.

      Are you telling me he didn’t do his job in those 9 games? Because if you are, you don’t understand the game of baseball very well.

      • Kosmo

        Tremendous season for Gibson. In his 22 wins he gave up , get this , 13 ER in 204 innings pitched for a 0.57 ERA !!!!!!! In Gibson´s 9 losses he pitched to a 2.14 ERA. 5 of his losses were by 1 run.

    • MikeD

      A pitcher’s job is to help his team win games.

  • Rainbow Connection

    Should this be filed under ‘whimsy’?

  • DSFC

    there is no argument to be made for Ellsbury over Granderson. None.

    • MikeD

      He plays for the Red Sox.


  • FIPster Doofus

    The max games Ackley will be able to play this year is 91 (he’s at 52 and Seattle has 39 left). Compare that to, say, Trumbo, who has been in his team’s lineup for the whole season. For that reason, and the fact that Ackley’s AVG/HR/RBI line doesn’t pop out, I can’t see him impressing the conventional-thinking voters.

    As for Pineda, Mitch Williams and Larry Bowa were saying on TV earlier this week that a pitcher shouldn’t win ROY because he’s not contributing every day. While that’s bullshit reasoning, I suspect that a lot of voters are on the same side as Williams and Bowa.

    Either Ackley or Pineda would get my vote, FWIW, but I’m not that optimistic about their chances.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    MVP – Granderson. If you lead the league in RBI’s and Runs scored, hit 40 hrs, steal 20ish bases, and hit 10+ triples for a contending team, and noone else is cloning your stat line, I think you should be MVP. Joey Bats has the obscene OBP, but unless you have a Bonds/A-Rod type of season (in a year where noone else is standing out), your teams performance will hinder you, in my opinion.

    Cy Young – Verlander. Wins, ERA, Complete games. Nuff said.

    ROY – Ackley or Pineda. I love Nova, but Pineda’s been more consistently dominant.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      If you lead the league in RBI’s and Runs scored

      The extent to which an individual can control those stats is limited to his HRs. That’s it. Everything else depends on his teammates.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think Curtis is certainly a legit candidate for MVP, I just don’t think those particular stats are all that telling.

  • Dave

    Don’t discount the voters being leery about Bautista. Not that it is fair, but it’s out there. Grandy is the safe choice.

    Great guy, no rumors, and on the better team. Unless Bautista goes crazy, Grandy will win it. And catches like Grandy made last night make UZR look even stupider.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Since voters have been reluctant to vote for a pitcher as MVP since 1984, and despite the fact that Neftali Feliz won the ROY last year it is more difficult for a rookie pitcher to win it. Thus I propose an award for ROY pitcher to be named the Walter Johnson award, him being the second winningest pitcher in the history of the game behind Cy Young.

  • RichYF

    Nice read, Stephen.

    At 1.3 bWAR, I agree that Nova falls short for this conversation. He still has 7-8 starts to force himself into the picture though.

  • Vanloan

    I wonder if Nunez gets enough playing time if he could get himself into the conversation. He’s got a 270 avg, 5 hrs so far, and 18 stolen bases. He’ll have to play regularly and play well, but I think he could be in the discussion.

  • Vanloan

    I screwed up he only has 4 hrs, probably too many errors as well.