Posted By Jeff Fletcher on November 14, 2011 11:30 am
Now that the winner has been revealed, and I can take some comfort in the fact that most of my colleagues agreed with me, here’s how I settled on my ballot…
I had a very tough time with this award. It went down to the wire. I think a reasonable case could be made for any of four guys: Jeremy Hellickson, Eric Hosmer, Ivan Nova and Mark Trumbo. And that says nothing of two guys–Dustin Ackley and Desmond Jennings–who might actually have been the best rookies, but who didn’t get enough playing time to warrant consideration ahead of players who did it for 120+ games, or 25+ starts. I also thought Jordan Walden, Michael Pineda, Guillermo Moscoso and Jemile Weeks had the type of seasons that easily could have earned them votes most years. Heck, Walden and Pineda could have won the award easily some years.
But this was a tough year to be an AL rookie.
Back to my Big Four. As I thought about it, I first concluded that Hellickson was better than Nova, so that eliminated Nova. Hellickson had a 2.95 ERA, compared with Nova’s 3.86. Also, Nova didn’t have to face the Yankees, and Hellickson didn’t get to face the Rays.
So now I just had to pick between Hellickson and Hosmer and Trumbo. The knock on Trumbo is that his rate stats were not that great: .254/.291/.477. Also, he got worse as the year went on, which indicates to me that the league caught up to him. Hosmer had better rate stats, but he loses some points because he was not playing in a pennant race, like the other two. Hosmer also didn’t come up until May, while the other two guys were doing it all year.
Hellickson did it all. He was in a big league rotation all year, pitching in the toughest division in baseball — with a 3.72 ERA in 48.1 IP against the Yankees and Red Sox — and he got better as the year went on. He had a 2.64 ERA in the second half.
So, that took care of the hardest part.
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay.
Now, how to fill out the last two spots. Although I’d established that Hellickson was better than Nova, I hadn’t compared Nova to Hosmer and Trumbo. This is a tough one. I used to think it was tougher to break into the majors as a starting pitcher than as a position player. Back in the steroid era it seemed that way. I’m not so sure anymore. Now if you asked teams if you’d rather have a guy throw 165 innings with a 120 ERA+ or have 500 PAs with an 120 OPS+, I’m not sure which they’d take.
Using ERA+ and OPS+, I ranked Nova, Hosmer and Trumbo among their peers. Among all starting pitchers in the AL who threw at least 80 innings (halfway to qualifying for the ERA title), Nova ranked 21 of 69 (70th percentile). Among all AL first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances (again, halfway to qualified), Hosmer was 5 of 14 (65th percentile) and Trumbo was 7 of 14 (50th percentile).
That tells me that was Trumbo was really just an average AL first baseman, while the other two were both better than average. Even if you rank them by counting stats, which are Trumbo’s best attribute, his 29 HRs ranked fourth and his 87 RBIs ranked fifth among AL first basemen.
That’s not enough to put Trumbo over Hosmer or Nova.
So, Hosmer or Nova for No. 2?
Hosmer’s OPS+ was 120 and Nova’s ERA+ was … 120. (See, I didn’t pull those numbers out of thin air.) They both ranked roughly the same relative to their position in the league.
I decided to go with Nova because he did it all year, in a tougher division, in a pennant race, with the pressure of New York. Hosmer is probably a better pure prospect — he’s three years younger — but I don’t use that as a primary consideration. This isn’t about who has a better future. It’s about who performed the best in 2011. (That’s also why I didn’t give any consideration to the fact that Hellickson’s .224 BABIP is perhaps a sign that he overachieved. Yes, to all you FIPpers who would have picked Pineda, I also think Pineda is probably going to be better than Hellickson and Nova in the future, but this is about who performed the best in 2011, not who can repeat it in 2012)
So, my final ballot looked like this…
I fully accept that this is an imperfect ballot, because there were so many qualified candidates. Someone was going to get screwed. As I did my ballot in September, I knew that people would be upset in November (probably people in Anaheim).
Like I said, it was a tough year to be an AL rookie. And a tough year to be a AL Rookie of the Year voter.