Flying cars, beaches in Kentucky, and Lucas Giolito—the future is going to be awesome. At the same time, we have no idea exactly how things will turn out. Still, armchair prognosticators and analyst-experts alike do our best. As such, the Baseball Prospectus staff published predictions for the 2016 season. As was noted by readers—and discussed briefly on Effectively Wild—the Twins have two interesting facets to their seasonal predictions. First, the top three predicted finishers in the American League Rookie of the Year voting are all members of the Twins: Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Byung-Ho Park. Second, the Twins are projected to win just 78 games by PECOTA, but the staff predicts that they’ll come in fifth in the American League Central.
The best question here is this: Could the Twins be both a team with the three best rookies in the American League and also be a last-place team? There’s only one way to find out. (Just kidding, there are probably three.) But here’s one way: We can go back and look at previous years’ Rookie of the Year voting, examine the other teams that have had multiple ROY candidates, and see how they've fared.
I’m not looking for anything so strong as running the table for all three top spots in the Rookie of the Year voting. (Spoiler alert, that hasn’t happened in the past 30 years.) All I want is to find two or more rookies who received 5 percent of the vote. As such, I looked at the past 30 seasons—going back to the 1986 campaign. In the end, I found 15 teams in the past 30 seasons who fielded two players (or more) who earned 5 percent or more of the Rookie of the Year votes.
|Year||Team||Win%||Pythag Win%||Player 1||RoY Rank||Player 2||RoY Rank||Playoffs?|
|2014||Yankees||0.519||0.478||Dellin Betances||3rd||Masahiro Tanaka||5th||No|
|2013||Rays||0.564||0.537||Wil Myers||1st||Chris Archer||3rd||Lost ALDS|
|2013||Dodgers||0.568||0.55||Yasiel Puig||2nd||Hyun-Jin Ryu||4th||Lost NLCS|
|2011||Braves||0.549||0.526||Craig Kimbrel||1st||Freddie Freeman||2nd||No|
|2008||Reds||0.457||0.442||Joey Votto||2nd||Edinson Volquez||4th||No|
|2007||Red Sox||0.593||0.624||Dustin Pedroia||1st||Daisuke Matsuzaka||4th||Won WS|
|2006||Marlins||0.481||0.492||Hanley Ramirez||1st||Dan Uggla||3rd||No|
|2004||Padres||0.537||0.539||Khalil Greene||2nd||Akinori Otsuka||3rd||No|
|2002||Orioles||0.414||0.433||Rodrigo Lopez||2nd||Jorge Julio||3rd||No|
|1995||Angels||0.538||0.563||Garrett Anderson||2nd||Troy Percival||4th||No|
|1993||Marlins||0.395||0.401||Jeff Conine||3rd||Chuck Carr||4th||No|
|1992||Brewers||0.568||0.592||Pat Listach||1st||Cal Eldred||4th||No|
|1989||Orioles||0.537||0.514||Gregg Olson||1st||Craig Worthington||4th||No|
|1989||Cubs||0.574||0.554||Jerome Walton||1st||Dwight Smith||2nd||Lost NLCS|
|1988||White Sox||0.429||0.464||Dave Gallagher||5th||Melido Perez||6th||No|
Those teams, in aggregate, had a .515 winning percentage, and 10 of the 15 were winning teams. Four of the 15 went to the playoffs, and one of them—the 2007 Red Sox—won the World Series. For whatever its worth, having multiple Rookie of the Year votes tends to correlate with winning seasons.
Of course, most of these seasons tend to not even have players that win the award and win second place. Many of them include fifth- and sixth-place finishers. So, let’s take a quick look at the teams that appear to get the closest.
Six of the teams had two of the top-three Rookie of the Year finishers: the 1989 Cubs, the 2002 Orioles, the 2004 Padres, the 2006 Marlins, the 2011 Braves, and the 2013 Rays. The Marlins are a special case, and we’ll get to them later, but four of those six teams were winners. The Orioles and the Padres had the second- and third-place finishers for their given leagues. The O’s—featuring starter Rodrigo Lopez and reliever Jorge Julio—weren’t very good at all (.433 Pythagorean win percentage), while the Padres lined up shortstop Khalil Greene and reliever Akinori Otsuka and did fairly well (.539 Pythagorean win percentage).
The Rays, Braves, and Cubs all get a little closer, with a Rookie of the Year winner and either a third-place finisher or a second-place finisher in addition to the champ. Tampa Bay had Rookie of the Year winner Wil Myers and pitching wunderkind Chris Archer just a few years ago, and leveraged them to a .537 Pythagorean win percentage … and a spot in the NLDS. The Braves of 2011 weren’t as good of a team (.526 Pythagorean win percentage), but they at least had a winner (Craig Kimbrel) and second-place finisher (Freddie Freeman). And the 1989 Cubs had the immortal combo of Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith, two talented outfielders who helped Chicago make it to the NLCS with a .554 Pythagorean win percentage.
So, up to this point, it seems as if the teams with multiple Rookie of the Year candidates happened to be pretty good—and the more recognized those rookies were by the voting bloc, the better the team happened to perform. Four of the five teams we just reviewed were winning teams (both by real winning percentage and the Pythagorean version), and two teams made it to the playoffs. That’s good news for the Twins, at least from a correlation standpoint. But none of those teams most closely mimicked the Twins’ collection of potential star rookies.
The one team that gets closest is the 2006 Florida Marlins. That team had a Rookie of the Year in Hanley Ramirez, but also the third- and fourth-place finishers in the NL race: Dan Uggla and Josh Johnson. Like the 2016 Twins, this team featured a top up-the-middle prospect overflowing with athleticism, a high-end pitching prospect, and an older guy with some power. Better still, the Marlins had three more players who got Rookie of the Year votes: Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez, and Josh Willingham. For a team with Max Kepler in the wings—as well as infielder Jorge Polanco—there’s the possibility that this is a team with even more rookies who could play a part for the 2016 team.
Unfortunately, that Marlins team went 78-84, for a .481 winning percentage; their Pythagorean record was .492. That was Joe Girardi’s one full season with the team, they had Miguel Cabrera putting up his second-best season by WARP—he was worth 7.2 wins—and they were still a fourth-place team. Even if the Twins could get an MVP-caliber performance out of someone like Miguel Sano or Brian Dozier and get great rookie seasons from three different players, they could still be in a position where they don’t crack .500.
Then again, the exact lineup of Buxton, Berrios, and Park (or Kepler) going one-two-three in Rookie of the Year voting hasn’t happened at all recently. Maybe that could be the difference-maker, the guarantee that the team would succeed in 2016? But, as history shows, you need more than just three good rookies to make a winning team.