Can Chris Johnson win the rookie of the year award?

As Chris Johnson continues to scald the ball, we are starting to hear murmurs about Chris Johnson's chances to win the Rookie of the Year (ROY) award.  Granted most of the discussion has come from Houston media, like this article by Zachary Levine in the Chronicle, and the occasional comments from the team's radio and television broadcasters.  To tell you the truth, I can't recall discussion outside of Houston about Chris Johnson as a ROY.  I won't say that I have reached a personal conclusion as to whether Chris Johnson will deserve the award, but I do get irritated when good performances by Astros' players are ignored by the national media.

So, let's take a look at Chris Johnson's performance, compared to some other rookie position player candidates this year.  (I will leave out pitchers in this article, mostly because it seems like position players usually have an advantage with voters.)  This is not about which of these young rookies will have the best careers.  In my view, the ROY should be based on the rookie's performance during his rookie season.  For instance, we know that Chris has benefitted from an unsustainable BABIP of .426,but the award shouldn't be about luck or lack thereof. Whether due to high or low BABIP, the player's actual output is what it is.  National League rookie candidates are shown below.

 

Rookie wOBA

Johnson   .403

Stanton  .391

Posey   .387

Heyward  .359

G. Sanchez  .358

S. Castro  .339

 

So, based only on current batting, Chris Johnson has been a better offensive player than any of the other rookies---so far.  Of course, Johnson's current rate stats may be a bit misleading.  After all, he has the fewest plate appearances of these rookies.  And he is the most likely to face regression through the remainder of the season.  Also, we have omitted defensive value, and Johnson has the worst defensive value among these rookies at this point of the season.  So, let's try to come up with a more complete answer.  After the jump, I will attempt to project a WAR for each player at season end.

Wins Above Replacment (WAR) is the familiar metric published at Fangraphs.  It takes into account offense, defense, and the position value.  Because WAR is based on production--rather than a rate stat--it rewards the players who have played in the most games this season.  In order to gauge the amount of regression on offense expected for each player, I used ZIPS-updated.  Two of the rookies (Stanton and Castro) didn't have a ZIPS-updated value.  In their case, I used the average regression percentage based on ZIPS-updated for the remaining rookies.  The defensive part of the WAR valuation is tenuous, given the small sample size for UZR and our lack of knowledge as to what the true fielding skill level should be for each of these players.  So, the first WAR comparison projects only the offensive component of WAR through the remainder of the season. (The fielding value remains fixed at the current level.)

WAR (Offense Updated)

Posey  3.2

Johnson  3.07

G. Sanchez  2.85

Heyward 2.8

S. Castro  2.41

Stanton  2.26

My second WAR projection updates both the offensive and defensive components of WAR.  I have arbitrarily assumed that the current defensive value trend continues through the season with an arbitrary 10% regression toward average. 

WAR (Offense & Fielding Updated)

Posey  3.88

Heywood  3.42

Stanton  2.9

G. Sanchez  2.85

Johnson  2.8

S. Castro  2.4

As shown by comparing the two WAR rankings, Chris Johnson's rank declines substantially if you assume that his current negative defensive value continues to accumulate for the remainder of the season.  By contrast, continuation of Heywood's and Stanton's plus defense improves their ranking.  Posey's lead in WAR is significant in either projection.  However, I feel that the defensive udpates, in general, have questionable reliability.  In particular, the Fangraphs' defensive valuation for catchers probably is incomplete and questionable.  Yet the defensive value for Posey provides a considerable part of his high WAR ranking.  But if I'm in a betting mood, I would take Posey as the best ROY candidate based on WAR. Posey is a solid hitter whose bat is extraordinary for the catcher position. 

Based on this analysis, it is unlikely that Chris Johnson will be the top ranked rookie position player, but he is not that far out of the running.  If more emphasis is put on the offensive value, Johnson's chances will improve.  If Johnson doesn't regress as much as the ZIPS-update suggests, and he improves his defense over the remainder of the season, it is possible that we will look back and say that he deserved the ROY--regardless of the actual voting.

And that takes me to the voting considerations.  Let's face it; most voters won't be using WAR to rank the rookies.  There are several factors which will work against Chris in the ROY voting. First, Chris Johnson was not a well regarded prospect, and several of the other rookies (like Stanton, Castro, Heyward, and Posey) are high level prospects who have received a lot of hype.  It may be unfair, but the players' reputation will have an effect on the voting.  Second, Chris Johnson has played less of the season than the other candidates.  Third, Johnson is playing for the Astros, who aren't contenders and don't get a lot of attention in national media.

What do you think?

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