Where Should Buster Posey Rank in Rookie of the Year Voting?
It’s been a while since the Giants have had a legitimate candidate to win the Rookie of the Year award- don’t get me wrong, Matt Cain’s freshman campaign was solid (190.2 IP, 3.69 tERA), but he was overshadowed by Hanley Ramirez (.364 wOBA, 17 HR, 46 2B, +11 baserunning runs) and Ryan Zimmerman (.348 wOBA, 20 HR, 47 2B, +4 runs saved), along with Dan Uggla (.347 wOBA, 27 HR, +3 runs saved). I’d say Cain was more deserving than Josh Johnson for certain, but I wouldn’t say that he was better than the others- at least, not more deserving than Hanley Ramirez.
Tim Lincecum’s rookie campaign was solid, even better than ROY winner Ryan Braun- seriously, I know the guy’s a fantastic hitter, but…geez, people, the guy’s downright horrible in the field. Even if you’re not a believer in the advanced defensive metrics- which had him at -30 runs (!!) in 2007, the fact that he had 26 errors (9 fielding and 16 throwing!) and a fielding percentage of .895 should make people say, “hey…maybe we shouldn’t give this guy the award.” It worked for some, as Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki- a player both scouts and the numbers love (+23 runs saved) managed to gather 15 first-place votes (Braun received 17), but the shiny batting average and home run totals persevered. In any case, Lincecum didn’t get any ROY love, which is really too bad. He was certainly better than his 4.00 ERA suggested, even if his walk rate was uninspiring.
Pablo Sandoval didn’t get to have a chance to make a run for the Rookie of the Year Award. That’s really a shame, too, as the Panda logged 145 AB in 2008, disqualifying him for challenging for Rookie of the Year honors in 2009 (you need to enter the season with less than 135 AB or 50 IP to qualify). I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Pablo would have run away with the award over Chris Coghlan- even with the traditional trifecta of player valuation, a .321/9/47 line isn’t nearly as impressive as a .330/25/90.
This season, the Giants have a real Rookie of the Year candidate- one that won’t be noticed just by the saberemetric circle, but by the mainstream media as well. The kid’s name is Gerald Demp Posey- “Buster” for short. He’s a catcher that can hit- and not just hit, but…hit very well. He’s the type of guy scouts drool over- a very gritty, driven person with outstanding baseball intelligence and the physical tools to match. He has a smooth right-handed stroke that generates a lot of line drives and the bat control to make solid contact with almost any pitch, along with the willingness to go the opposite way. He waits for his pitch, and his knowledge of the strike zone is phenomenal for a player his age. Behind the plate, he’s got an absolute cannon of an arm- not only is it strong, but it’s deadly accurate- and he’s shown quick improvement at blocking wild pitches. In short, the kid’s a stud. And he’s ours. And he’s not only lived up to expectations in his first season in the Majors; he’s surpassed them.
As of today, Buster’s hitting a ridiculous .329/.375/.503, with an ISO of .174 and a wOBA of .376. He’s also knocked 10 home runs and 19 doubles, showing plenty of pop- which is incredible considering the position he plays. The one thing that I’ve been disappointed with is his walk rate, which stands at a paltry 6%- well below what I expected from him. I’m hoping that this is an outlier, and that next year he’ll show more discipline- otherwise, he’ll fall into the same trap Pablo Sandoval did this season. Really, that’s the only knock I have on the kid- otherwise, he’s been nothing short of amazing; a real godsend for the Giants. But how does he stack up to his competition?
Below is a chart showing the top rookie hitters in 2010- “LWTS” are the player’s runs above/below the National League average, “Situational” are the runs above/below the league average in terms of generating productive outs and avoiding the double play, “Baserunning” are Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Baserunning Runs and account not only for stolen bases/caught stealing, but taking the extra base in different circumstances, “Positional” is the player’s positional value as used on Fangraphs.com, “Defense” is an average of UZR and Plus/Minus, and “Rep.” are the player’s Replacement runs, defined as 20 runs per 650 plate appearances. “RAR” are Runs Above Replacement; the sum of the components. “WAR” are the Wins Above Replacement; RAR converted to Wins via PythagenPat.
You may be wondering why Mike Stanton doesn’t appear on my list; I have him as being exactly league average with the bat. FanGraphs likes him for +5 runs offensively. I think this is due to the fact that we’re using a different park adjustment- mine is based on the player’s handedness (Dolphin Stadium is good for RHB) and I also account for strikeouts, of which he has done in nearly 35% of his at-bats. He’s also been a poor situational hitter. By the way, I don’t want you to think that I’ve excluded pitchers- I’ll get to the final list in a moment. As it currently stands, Jason Heyward stands head and shoulders above all other rookies. You’ll probably notice that Heyward’s batting runs have him as +29, whereas FanGraphs has him at +24. I think the culprit here is the fact that FanGraphs excludes reaching base on an error; of which Heyward as 12- tied with Ryan Theriot for most in the Major Leagues. So he’s being undervalued a bit by their WAR, in my opinion. Good ol’ Buster comes in second with 3 WAR. How does the total ranking look? Here is the final list, pitchers included (I used BsR to estimate runs allowed, then made an adjustment for the pitcher’s propensity to induce double plays):
Posey comes in third in my final ranking; behind the phenomenal Heyward and the surprisingly good Jaime Garcia. Strasburg, despite being lights out in his starts (2.98 BsR/9) won’t be challenging for Rookie of the Year honors now that he’s out for the season. Honestly, I can’t see anyone approaching Heyward’s level- he’s already at five wins, and the Braves would be roughly 73-60, two games behind the Phillies rather than in the lead. That said, Heyward could very well be the difference between making the postseason and not making it (depending on the Giants, of course). On that note, the same very well could be said for young Gerald as well. Without him, the Giants are somewhere around 71 wins, and their chances of making the Postseason diminish.
As much as I want Buster to win the Rookie of the Year, I couldn’t in good conscience hand it to him…at least, not yet. As of right now, I’d give it to Heyward without hesitation. Let’s hope the voters think differently, and let’s hope Buster does something special in the remaining month of the regular season.