Awards 2009: Silver Sluggers and Rookies of the Year
This is a continuation of a (very) short series in which I provide my votes for the traditional baseball awards in 2009. I do things quite a bit differently than do the BBWAA or the executives asked to provide their votes, in that my rankings are based on objective formulae. Nothing has been manipulated to suit my preferences. I rate players based on total runs above average, which I’ll denote as TRAA from here on out (ideally it’d be “RAA,” but I don’t want to confuse it with hitting RAA or anything like that). I prefer using a baseline of “average” than to use a replacement level. The concept of “replacement level” is an ambiguous one, and while many choose to go with a replacement level of .350, you could make an argument for replacement levels ranging from .290-.450. It really all depends on the preference of the user, and while the standard most use is the +20 runs per 600 plate appearances as seen on FanGraphs, I’d rather just stick to a stable, simple baseline. There’s no theoretical aspect towards a baseline of “average.” It’s simply how many runs above or below you are compared to the average Major Leaguer. TRAA consists of hitting, baserunning and defense. I also include a positional adjustment. It works essentially along the same lines as FanGraphs’ WAR sans the replacement level and the total inclusion of Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Baserunning Runs (without SB/CS). The run estimator I use is an absolute linear weights formula (the same that you see here) converted into runs above average. These figures are then park adjusted based on five years’ data from Patriot. I estimate defensive value and the player’s positional adjustment via UZR. I used Plus/Minus in my last article, but I’m going to stick to UZR for TRAA. This way anyone can put together the numbers on their own without needing a subscription to BJOL.
Pitchers, on the other hand, are rated through tRA, which is a DIPS-based statistic that uses batted ball data and run expectancy to derive a defense and park neutral estimate of a pitcher’s total performance. I have my reservations about using it, seeing as how it’s a far more theoretical process than linear weights for hitters, but I feel more comfortable using it than FIP due to its inclusion of batted ball data (which, ironically, could ultimately make it less accurate in some regards- the way Statcorner calculates it is different than the way FanGraphs does, and this is due to the data source. I’m using Statcorner’s because league averages are included). You could argue that using FIP version of BsR or using straight BsR or ERC would be better and you might just be able to convince me on it. The simple calculation for pitching runs above average is (LgtRA – tRA)/9*IP*-1, and for relievers there’s an adjustment for their leverage index. Anyways, on to the results.
Silver Sluggers, National League:
1B- Albert Pujols, +72.8 (Actual: Albert Pujols, +72.8)
2B- Chase Utley, +35.8 (Actual: Chase Utley, +35.8)
3B- Pablo Sandoval, +32.2 (Actual: Ryan Zimmerman, +15.1)
SS- Hanley Ramirez, +41.6 (Actual: Hanley Ramirez, +41.6)
LF- Ryan Braun, +38.1 (Actual: Ryan Braun, +38.1)
CF- Matt Kemp, +13.5 (Actual: Matt Kemp, +38.1)
RF- Jayson Werth, +21.1 (Actual: Andre Ethier, +14.3)
C- Brian McCann, +3.2 (Actual: Brian McCann, +3.2)
P- Carlos Zambrano
So far, so good. The only differences between my votes and the actual silver slugger winners are at third base and right field, although both Zimmerman and Ethier were outstanding offensive players this year. As a Giants fan, I would have been absolutely thrilled to see Sandoval win the award. Let’s see how well my model predicts the American League silver sluggers:
Silver Sluggers, American League:
1B- Mark Teixeira, +37.2 (Actual: Mark Teixeira, +37.2)
2B- Ben Zobrist, +34.4 (Actual: Aaron Hill, +3.5)
3B- Alex Rodriguez, +26.5 (Actual: Evan Longoria, +13.4)
SS- Jason Bartlett, +23.6 (Actual: Derek Jeter, +23.3)
LF- Jason Bay, +26.6 (Actual: Jason Bay, +26.6)
CF- Torii Hunter, +15.6 (Actual: Torii Hunter, +15.6)
RF- Shin Soo-Choo, +30.5 (Actual: Ichiro Suzuki, +27.5)
C- Joe Mauer, +49.7 (Actual: Joe Mauer, +49.7)
DH- Adam Lind, +26.4 (Actual: Adam Lind, +26.4)
It looks like the silver slugger voters have a good idea as to what they’re doing when it comes to evaluating hitters. Zobrist was most likely omitted due to his positional versatility, so I can’t fault them for that. Aaron Hill had a good (if somewhat overrated) year at the plate. Third base, shortstop and right field are the other positions where there’s some discrepancy, although the difference between Bartlett and Jeter (0.3 runs) is essentially a wash and both players were equally deserving. Ichiro had a fine year as well, but Shin Soo-Choo was extraordinarily underrated. All in all, it looks like the voters got it right. Now on to the Rookie of the Year awards:
Rookie of the Year, National League:
Chris Coghlan won the National League award, gathering around 53% of the first-place votes. Coghlan hit .321 with 162 hits, 84 runs, 31 doubles and an OBP of .390- all numbers that worked to his advantage to gain the accolade. Looking a bit further into the numbers, he had a .303 wAVG and a .372 wOBA and was worth +17.5 runs above the average hitter, 16th in the National League. By all accounts he had a good offensive season. His baserunning was above average, rating as +1.8 runs above average. His defense, on the other hand, was a -9.8 runs- and his positional adjustment, -5.9, puts him as a -15.7 overall defender. Add everything together, and you’re looking at +3.2 TRAA. That’s pretty good, mind you, but not nearly as well as his rookie colleagues. Colby Rasmus, for example, was a -4.2 overall hitter (-9.2 hitting; +5.0 baserunning), but his defensive value (+10.3 UZR, +1.3 positional adjustment) gives him +7.4 TRAA. That’s 4.2 more runs of production you’re getting from Rasmus as you are from Coghlan- and Colby was dead last in the ROY voting. Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ rates as a +5.0 TRAA pitcher, and Cubs rookie Randy Wells was a +12.4, along with the Braves’ Tommy Hanson. So you’re already looking at four rookies that outperformed Coghlan- but which one stood out the most?
That belongs to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. In 493 PA, McCutchen was a +13.7 hitter, +0.6 baserunner, -0.8 defender. Include +1.7 runs for playing center field, and McCutchen finished with a +15.2 TRAA. That’s 4.75 times more value than Coghlan, and he came in fourth overall. Talk about an underrated season! McCutchen has been the Pirates’ top prospect for a number of years now, and he’s already seemingly blossomed into a well-above average ballplayer. Whether or not he can sustain this amount of success or expand on it remains to be seen, but all the tools are there for him to be a true impact player.
1. Andrew McCutchen, +15.2
2. Randy Wells, +12.4
3. Tommy Hanson, +12.4
Rookie of the Year, American League:
Oakland’s Andrew Bailey took the honors for the American League ROY, receiving about 40% of the votes. Bailey’s “mainstream” statistics- a 1.84 ERA and 91 K in 83.1 IP, 26 saves in 30 opportunities- all pointed towards some serious dominance. And he was dominant. Once taking into consideration his leverage index and his defense and park neutral runs allowed, Bailey was a +26.7 TRAA pitcher- and that performance was the second best among AL rookies. Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello was a measly -11.0 TRAA (his defense-independent statistics suggest he was extremely lucky in 2009), Rays starter Jeff Niemann was a +3.9, White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham was a +0.3 and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was a +9.0. The only rookie to outperform Bailey was his own teammate, Brett Anderson, who posted a +27.1 TRAA in 180.2 xIP in what was an outstanding rookie campaign.
1. Brett Anderson, +27.1
2. Andrew Bailey, +26.7
3. Elvis Andrus, +9.0
Next up? The Cy Young Awards and the MVPs, of course!