August 22, 2008
Picking the AL and NL Rookie of the Year
I wasn't going to extend Award Week past Wednesday, but...
I was watching the White Sox/Mariners game today and, in the first inning, Alexei Ramirez hit a three-run shot, giving him 14 HRs for the year. He's also hitting .310 and slugging .484, third-best for AL second basemen. Everyone has been handing Evan Longoria the AL Rookie of the Year award already, and sure, he'll probably get it-but isn't there an argument for Ramirez?-R.P.
"Isn't there an argument" is a lot like "in the conversation," where it seems to mean, "You ignored my favorite player, you idiot!" If you want to have a conversation that encompasses all the rookies in the AL, sure, Alexei Ramirez is in it. If you're talking about the Rookie of the Year, then Longoria has Ramirez beaten, as do a number of other guys. A .328 OBP is a tough thing to overcome, and Ramirez, who does hit for power, backs that up with a 9-for-17 performance on the basepaths, and rough (if occasionally spectacular) defense at second base.
Longoria, however, shouldn't necessarily be considered a lock for the award. Here are the AL leaders in VORP among rookies, which isn't the final word, but shows that a number of guys are having good years.
Player VORP Evan Longoria 32.1 Armando Galarraga 30.0 Joba Chamberlain 27.2 Mike Aviles 25.9 Greg Smith 25.4 Brad Ziegler 24.4 Nick Blackburn 23.2 Jim Johnson 23.1 Alexei Ramirez 19.2 Justin Masterson 18.7
Longoria has superior defensive value to the other position players on this list, so much so that the VORP edge he has over Galarraga and Chamberlain doesn't completely tell the story. Longoria would be a perfectly reasonable pick for the AL Gold Glove award at third base, and should he take longer than expected to come back and not play much the rest of the way, or if his performance should slip in September, then Galarraga, Aviles, or even a healthy Chamberlain could pass him in value. Brad Ziegler could also conceivably be more deserving, in the unlikely event his RA stays below 1.00 through the end of the season. The shutout-innings-to-start-a-career thing is a nice hook.
With that said, it's unlikely than anyone but Chamberlain could steal the actual hardware in the voters' eyes, but Longoria's status as the AL's top rookie is not a foregone conclusion. He's the favorite, he'd be everyone's pick today, and he's a full win better (and probably more) than Alexei Ramirez.
In case you're wondering-I know I was-Jacoby Ellsbury is eighth among AL rookie position players with a 9.6 VORP. Throw in defense, and he's been worth a bit more than one win. Since his fantastic April, he's been terrible, hitting only .265/.315/.352, although with 19 net steals. Twenty unintentional walks in 374 PAs is completely unacceptable for a hitter of his type.
Over in the National League, there's a pretty fantastic race between 40 percent of the Braves' rotation and Geovany Soto. Soto has accumulated twice as much value over replacement (32.7) as the next-best NL rookie position player, Ian Stewart (15.9). Both Jair Jurrjens (32.5) and Jorge Campillo (29.2) are having comparable seasons to Soto, and could easily surpass him in value over the next five-and-a-half weeks, but because neither rookie righty has a big win total nor a very low ERA, and because both are toiling for a sub-.500 team, they don't have much chance to win the award.
It's Soto's to lose in the voters' eyes, and he is very unlikely to do so. He's been about the best player on the best team in the league, and if that doesn't quite rise to MVP status this year, it's more than good enough to make him Rookie of the Year.