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Where Should Buster Posey Rank in Rookie of the Year Voting?

September 2, 2010

Should Buster Posey win the Rookie of the Year Award in 2010?

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, “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.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Kool permalink
    September 3, 2010 3:01 AM

    This is why I don’t like WAR that much. If Buster was not playing his replacement would have continued to be Bengie Molina. Buster’s been better than him in just about every category. Imagine how different the Giants would have been with Bengie instead of Buster. Still, I wouldn’t be mad if Heyward won. He’s been great for them.

    • triplesalley permalink*
      September 3, 2010 5:17 AM

      Interestingly enough, Bengie’s actually been right around replacement level this year- so the estimate most likely won’t be *too* far off.

      I wonder how much better off the Giants would’ve been if they had started the season with Posey behind the plate. I imagine it would be somewhere around two additional wins, but there’s really no way of telling.

    • TheGig permalink*
      September 3, 2010 9:53 AM

      That’s not really a reflection on WAR as much as the Giants management of Posey. If you start the season with Posey he could very well be a 5-6 WAR player this season.

      The other thing is that Buster spent time playing 1st base as well as not playing all the time when Molina was here (thanks Boch), and obviously Posey’s extremely more valuable as a catcher than a 1st basemen.

      Also you really don’t explain why you don’t like WAR. The part about Bengie and Buster is one of the many reasons WAR is so useful; we can compare players in a neutral setting and examine the difference in value they did or may have provided.

      • Kool permalink
        September 4, 2010 11:27 PM

        Yes but I doubt that we would only be 3 games worse if Bengie was still the man behind the plate. A large part of our hot July was Buster. Buster seems to be better at every part of catching than Bengie. He’s not a double play machine, he has some pop, the wild pitches/passed balls have gone down a lot since Bengie left, etc. I don’t like WAR because of the weighting of the ratios and that we will never know if Buster gave us 3 more wins more than Bengie would have. Besides, wins are deceiving with pitchers so I think that they would be deceiving as measured over replacement.

        I feel like relying too much on stats takes some of the chance that unlikely things will happen. For example, I did not know what WAR was a few months ago when the Giants got Aubrey Huff. I’m thankful for my ignorance. If I did know, I would have hated the move, been negative at the onset of the season, etc. I actually believed that Huff would be good. Sometimes, you just have to throw the stats out the window (at least during the offseason sometimes).

        But I do like stats when I believe that they show the true value of a player. Like, FIP is fine for Tim because he pitches in a way that FIP would suggest is good. He hasn’t been as good admittedly this year, and, FIP has shown that as well. However, it is not impossible to be a great pitcher and have a less stellar FIP and vice versa.

        I DO LIKE that Andres is seen as good by WAR because he looks like he is when you watch him play.

        I’m somewhat stuck in the middle in these kinds of things (though I am an optimist and biased).

  2. Doug permalink
    September 3, 2010 7:09 AM

    awesome article. i’d imagine that posey’s patience will emerge once pitchers start throwing more conservatively to him which doesn’t seem like has happened at all yet oddly. he’s clearly not aggressive at the plate and knows what pitches to lay off.

    • triplesalley permalink*
      September 3, 2010 7:17 AM

      Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping for too- it’s just a bit worrisome to see a player that demonstrated such a willingness to walk in the Minors see his walk rate drop so much in the Majors. Given the Giants’ overall tendency to swing at almost anything, I’m a bit concerned that they’re rubbing off on him some…but, I have faith that he’ll revert back to his usual style of play.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. aGIANTman permalink
    September 3, 2010 1:09 PM

    In order to make this a fair comparison, don’t you need to adjust for service time with the big league squad? If you look at a stat that just compares them straight-up which does not consider service time, then Heyward has played in 114 games with 496 PAs with a wOBA of .381, Posey has played in 81 games with 331 PAs with a wOBA of .376. Hence, when opportunities at the plate are weighted, Posey and Heyward are almost identical in terms of wOBA, a metastat that measures the things most important for run creation. When you add that Posey plays a position which is usually offensively challenged (C), whereas Heyward plays a position which is typical for premier offensive players (RF), it seems clear that Posey’s value has been greater than Heyward’s if adjustments are made to account for service time and position played.

    • triplesalley permalink*
      September 3, 2010 2:17 PM

      Everything you’re talking about is actually accounted for in WAR. 🙂

      As you’ll see in the chart, there’s a column labeled “Rep.” This stands for Replacement Level, set at 20 runs per 650 plate appearances. So, Heyward’s Rep. Level right now would be 20*(496/650) = 15 runs; Posey 20*(331/650) = 10 runs. Positional difficulty is accounted for in “Positional”- Heyward was docked; Posey credited. A right fielder is about -7.5 runs per 162 games; a catcher +12.5. Unfortunately for Posey, some of his positional value has been hindered by Bochy playing him at first base quite a bit earlier this season.

      • aGIANTman permalink
        September 3, 2010 7:59 PM

        This doesn’t make sense to me. . . if you are indeed already adjusting for service time, how could their respective wOBAs be so close (Posey = .376; Heyward = .381), yet their WARs be so different given Posey plays a more difficult position (offensively speaking)? Can Heyward’s baserunning speed and defense really add that much value above Posey? Perhaps I am just not well-enough versed in advanced stats (this is probably the problem), but speaking from a common sense point of view, something just doesn’t seem right with your analysis. It looks like Heyward, according to your analysis, has the greatest advantage over Posey in LWTS , which is not a stat I am familiar with, but which you describe as “runs above/below” league average. How is that calculated since run creation is a complex business (hence stats such as wOBA)? Maybe you can explain a bit further if you have time. I know a bit about advanced metrics, but always enjoy learning more.

      • TheGig permalink*
        September 4, 2010 10:55 AM

        I think the point he’s getting at is that some of the advantage Heyward has over Posey is that he’s played more thus giving him more opportunities to provide more value. This is represented in the half win advantage in replacement value, as well as some lost in positional value, and then of course the difference in LWTS due to the extra PA.

        I believe he wants to see what the difference would between the two players if they had the same playing time (or in other words, Posey’s numbers extrapolated to match Heyward’s PA).

  4. triplesalley permalink*
    September 3, 2010 9:34 PM

    wOBA are Linear Weights (LWTS) expressed as a rate statistic. It was originally named lwtsOBA, but the creator (Tom Tango) changed it to wOBA for short. All the gritty little details can be found here:

    Posey would get a higher bonus for defensive difficulty had he not played so much 1B- that lowers his overall adjustment. The fact that Heyward has more playing time, in addition to superior baserunning and defense, makes him the more valuable player despite having a similar rate of offensive performance.

    Unfortunately, I have to cut this short- when I have more time, I can try and explain it in more detail. Please, feel free to ask as many questions you may have!

    • djh permalink
      October 6, 2010 4:47 AM

      You say Heyward has superior defense, but he plays at the margins (RF) whereas Posey play (very well) up the middle, throws out base stealers, manages the pitching staff, and is involved in every pitch. I can’t see how Heyward is winning the defensive battle.

      • triplesalley permalink*
        October 6, 2010 3:50 PM

        Defense is accounted for in Wins Above Replacement in terms of SB/CS, PB/WP etc., but not “game calling” and the like. Intangibles are a dangerous thing for us to speculate on because we’re not actually in the clubhouse, nor are we seeing things from both sides- so all we’d be doing is making educated guesses at best. We can talk all day about Posey’s added value because of his intangibles, but we cannot do so without mentioning Heyward’s reputable penchant for coming through in the clutch time and again this year.

        I’m not going to give Posey an arbitrary boost simply because I want him to win- doing so would compromise my efforts to remain objective…as hard as that may be. Hopefully they come out closer in my recalculations, as I’d feel more comfortable giving the nod to Posey.

  5. September 27, 2010 7:43 PM

    This makes sense, but can’t one look beyond the WAR? The fact that he’s done such a good job calling games behind home plate is certainly something to look at…and I don’t know if WAR takes it into account, but he has done a decent job throwing out would-be basestealers. He hasn’t had as much playing time as Garcia/Heyward, so he hasn’t had the opportunity to produce as much WAR, but he’s certainly had a big impact. Also, WAR doesn’t take into account how the presence of Posey’s bat affects the rest of the lineup. With the threat of Posey in the lineup, other hitters might be getting better pitches to hit and thus hitting better, all because of Posey.

    • triplesalley permalink*
      September 27, 2010 8:48 PM

      “This makes sense, but can’t one look beyond the WAR?”

      Absolutely, you can do that. I prefer to evaluate players by a consistent standard so as to prevent my own biases from coming in to play. The beauty of WAR is that it’s merely a framework. One can adjust components to their liking…but, of course, you have to be consistent about it.

      “The fact that he’s done such a good job calling games behind home plate is certainly something to look at…and I don’t know if WAR takes it into account, but he has done a decent job throwing out would-be basestealers.”

      The defensive component of WAR for catchers accounts for SB/CS based on pitcher handedness and the player’s rate of allowing wild pitches and passed balls. Game calling is NOT taken into account, because we simply don’t know how much of an impact a catcher’s game calling has on a staff. This is counter intuitive to traditional thought, but think about it- yes, it is the catcher that calls the pitch- but it is the PITCHER that ultimately 1) decides whether or not to throw the pitch, and 2) executes the pitch. A catcher can call a great game but still have poor results because of the pitcher’s inability to follow through.

      “He hasn’t had as much playing time as Garcia/Heyward, so he hasn’t had the opportunity to produce as much WAR, but he’s certainly had a big impact.”

      I projected Posey’s full-season performance in a subsequent post to help answer the “what if?” question, and found Posey and Heyward to be pretty close- but with the edge still going to Heyward. I’m not comfortable giving Posey credit for playing time he hasn’t had. Posey has certainly had a major impact on the Giants.

      “Also, WAR doesn’t take into account how the presence of Posey’s bat affects the rest of the lineup. With the threat of Posey in the lineup, other hitters might be getting better pitches to hit and thus hitting better, all because of Posey.”

      WAR doesn’t take into account how the presence of Heyward’s bat affects the rest of the lineup, either.

      There’s actually not much evidence supporting the notion that hitters see a huge shift in the quality of pitches they see, which is once again counter intuitive to traditional thought. Everyone was talking about how the presence of Manny Ramirez made Andre Ethier see better pitches- and in turn, Ethier was smacking the hell out of the ball. But once we look at the actual pitch type/location distribution Ethier saw, we see that it was virtually the same as without Manny. Perhaps the boost was psychological, perhaps Manny gave him some tips, or perhaps Ethier just happened to put everything together right around the time Manny arrived.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  6. September 27, 2010 11:21 PM

    No problem. That all makes perfect sense actually. The one thing, though, is the effect that catching has on offensive production. I guess it can’t really be measured…but I would assume it’s harder to put up good offensive numbers if you’re spending nine innings behind the plate day after day. There’s no question about it, though, Heyward’s numbers are phenomenal. Especially his OBP. It’s too bad this rookie class is so good…Posey would have won easily over Coghlan and Bailey.

    • triplesalley permalink*
      September 28, 2010 2:24 AM

      You’re absolutely right- catching definitely takes a toll on the body. This is why we use the positional adjustment as a part of WAR- a catcher receives +12.5 runs per 162 games caught; a corner outfielder -7.5. That probably doesn’t fully account for everything, but I think it makes for a nice start to help adjust for that.

      And yeah, this rookie class is ridiculously strong- maybe even historically strong. Just imagine if Stephen Strasburg were still around- the race would be even tighter!

      • September 28, 2010 3:01 AM

        Do you think Heyward gets bonus points because of his age? Posey’s like three years older…

      • triplesalley permalink*
        September 28, 2010 9:25 PM

        I personally don’t take age into account- it’s based on pure performance. But it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the voters do consider it and weigh it in somehow.

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