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NL Rookie of the Year


Was over at the Chronicle's site, and saw their newest poll, about Taveras and the Rookie Of the Year award, and because I'm a sucker for stuff like that, I went ahead and voted.

You do that, they show you the results, and though it doesn't take a PhD in communications to figure out that a plurality of the Chronicle's readership might think that Willy should take home the hardware, I was a little shocked at the margin.

For those of you not familiar with the poll, it looked like this:

Does Willy Taveras deserve the Rookie of the Year Award?
No, give it to Zach Duke
No, give it to Jeff Francoeur
No, give it to somebody else
After starting at 97% in favor of Willy getting the Jackie Robinson Award, that number has dipped--to 93%.

That's what I call a mandate, in Texas, anyway.

Willy's always had me a bit conflicted: he does things with his speed no-one else (including Jose Reyes, bee-yotch) in the game can do, but then struggles going first to third 'cause he didn't follow the ball as he was setting out. Or he very famously drops the squeeze 'cause the pitch wasn't perfect.

Or he strikes out 85 times and walks 25.

Alright, I'll lay off. But Taveras is a study in contrasts. He is currently seventh in the league in hits with 148, and tied for the league lead in multi-hit games. But the OPS is at .330 and the slugging is within points of that.

Do you give him credit, or take demerits? Is Taveras really deserving of the Rookie of the Year?

Well, let's start by getting one thing straight: Jeff Francouer should not win the award, nor, if recent trends hold fast, will he.

Since 1990, ten hitters have won the NL award, and none of them had less than 450 plate appearances. (The closest would have been Raul Mondesi in the strike year of 1994, who had 454. Jason Bay had 472 last year). Jeffy may end up being a fine player, many times greater than Taveras will ever be (although Taveras HAS outhit Francouer over their last eight games), but Francouer has no chance of reaching 450 PA"s. He has 154 right now and at his current rate of 3.85 a game over Atlanta's final 32 games, he will finish with 285.

Sorry Charlie, but that kind of "tweener" season--enough PA"s to make a strong impression, but not enough to win the ROY--happened to Frank Thomas, too. Them's the breaks.

So I will jettison Francouer, and not reluctantly, either. Remember Kevin Maas? He had a great month in his first year, too.

And Zach Duke--although seemingly the only pitching candidate now that Jeff Francis' ERA has ballooned to 5.61--is really not viable either. If he's lucky, Duke'll have made fifteen starts by the end of the year. Like Francouer, he'll be fun to watch next year.

Taveras leads all rookies in plate appearances, and that holds a great deal of weight with me, but actually, there are only ten rookies in the NL who are on pace to reach even 355 PAs, and we need to limit our discussion to those ten like, immediately.

The ten, with their current and expected Plate Appearances are:

Willy Taveras 531 662
Garrett Atkins 434 541
Jason Ellison 365 458
J.J. Hardy 323 399
Chris Snyder 317 389
Chris Burke 307 383
Rickie Weeks 307 380
Kelly Johnson 304 379
Cory Sullivan 292 364
Ryan Langerhans 288 359
  *TPA X (162/Team's Games Played)

No question in my mind the 359 from Langerhans (I HATE Langerhans!) is at least 50 plate appearances too few for consideration, but I wanted to make sure I got everyone even remotely qualified in. . . .

Now, Willy's game is batting average, singles, and I think that we can agree that his Achilles' heel as it were would be the range of skills represented by OPS. He neither hits enough extra base hits nor gets on base enough. I think that's a fair statement.

If you can go that far, it would then follow that anyone who doesn't have an OPS as high as Willy shouldn't get the award. After all, we KNOW Willy has a higher batting average than that player, and we know he's got more plate appearances and therefore both his quantity AND his rate stats are going to be better. There are four players from that list who come up short of Willy in OPS, and they gotta go:

355 XPA and OPS > .690
Player OPS
Rickie Weeks .757
Garrett Atkins .746
Kelly Johnson .743
Ryan Langerhans .721
Jason Ellison .710
Willy Taveras .691
Chris Burke .657
Cory Sullivan .645
J.J. Hardy .626
Chris Snyder .601

Even that .691 might be setting the bar too low. You've got to go back to 1985 in the NL to find somebody who won the award with a lower OPS. That would've been Vince Coleman, who actually had a .655 for the Cardinals that year. Since 1990, the lowest OPS belonging to a Rookie of the Year is .730 by Eric Karros in 1993.

In eliminating Hardy, Snyder, and Burke, you are eliminating numbers 4, 5, and 6(T) in plate appearances, creating a gap of 50 plate appearances between Ellison, who's barely on pace to reach Mondesi's 454, and the next guy, who happens to be Weeks.

And eliminating Sullivan takes out the fourth-highest batting average, after Taveras, Atkins, and Ellison. Nobody after those top three left is hitting over .247.

And that seems pretty low, doesn't it? I know we're living in the era of OPS, where Adam Dunn hits .230 and people salivate over his power numbers, but it's still hard to imagine someone hitting .247 getting many votes.

Again looking at the ten position player winners in the NL since 1990, we find that no winner has had a batting average under .257. That average belonged to Eric Karros, who I guess we're seeing has the weakest credentials of any recent winner.

Still, I don't wanna disqualify anybody unfairly. So what can OBP tell us? What I think it tells us is that Langerhans needs to be eliminated. You can't really look to history as the cutoff, because Karros had an absurdly low .304 OBP in 1993. But Langerhans at .322 is ranked 96th in OBP on the list of those who've got those 275 PA's we were looking for. In other words, 70% of his peers are better at getting on than he is. Taveras--who again we admit is weak in the area--is bettered by only 55% of those with as many PA's in the league.

With the slugging (slightly) under .400, with the batting average under .250, and the OBP low, it's hard to make the case for Ryan. Especially when we here at the Crawfish Boxes hate him. . .

355 XPA & OPS>.690 & OBP>.330
Player BA OBP
Garrett Atkins .276 .348
Rickie Weeks .247 .341
Kelly Johnson .246 .338
Willy Taveras .298 .336
Jason Ellison .277 .331
Ryan Langerhans .245 .322

And it's here where I kind of have to get off the bus with Taveras. While again, I don't think Weeks and Johnson have enough plate appearances, it's hard not to notice that while Weeks is the second worst of the five remaining players with a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.63, Taveras is much worse than that at a ridiculous 3.81. I have tried not to penalize each player for being the type of player that they are, but how can you say "well, Taveras is a speedy leadoff type," and then reward that kind of ratio? Taveras is one of the five best rookies in the NL, OK. But it goes no further than that, unless he walks 40 times and strikes out none in September.

All the rest of it and K/BB
Player K/BB K BB
Garrett Atkins 1.30 52 40
Jason Ellison 1.75 42 24
Kelly Johnson 1.86 69 37
Rickie Weeks 2.63 73 28
Willy Taveras 3.81 84 22

Once I take the bold step of saying bon Voyage to Taveras, it all becomes crystal clear. Weeks is raw power but lacks discipline, Ellison looks smart, but both components of OPS are a little low. Runner-up Kelly Johnson might strike out a bit too much, and if not, all three haven't played as much as the last candidate, and the one we here at The Crawfish Boxes have decided (at least as we write at the end of August) should be the Rookie of the Year: Garrett Atkins.

Atkins is on pace for a .276-11-58 season, and that should be good for second place among rookies set to finish with 350 PA's in all three Triple Crown categories. He is also currently leading that same group of rookies in OBP, and is second in OPS. His ratio looks tightest, and he leads the ten rookies I've considered in RBI's per plate appearance. Basically, Atkins represents your best option after Weeks if you value power over all else, and represents your best option after Taveras if you just want a guy who has the ability to get on four times in a game. Atkins is therefore possessed of the greatest and broadest skillset and significantly (to me, anyway), he's done it longer and more consistently than anybody other than the eliminated Taveras.

But gosh, comments welcome. . . .