— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, October 20, 2003
Baseball Primer’s 2003 A.L. Rookie of the Year
Is Angel Berroa the centerfold?
Much of the American League Rookie of the Year debate in the mainstream media has focused on whether one player who qualifies as a rookie under the Major League rules is truly a rookie. That is not even an academic discussion as the player in question, Hideki Matsui, who won two Most Valuable Player awards during his career in Japan, is a rookie. The rule is plain on its face and quite unambiguous. But, what the mainstream media is missing is whether or not Matsui was, in fact, the best rookie in the American League this year. He was not.
While they were bogged down in a debate that hinges on what appears to be a question of bias based upon national origin, the mainstream media has missed what has turned out to be a terrific year for rookies in the American League. No fewer than six rookies, including Matsui, had very solid seasons. Granted this isn?t 1987 when Mark McGwire had a historical rookie season, Mike Greenwell and Matt Nokes had excellent rookie seasons, and Kevin Seitzer put up good numbers, but it was a great year none the less.
Baseball Primer authors have unanimously elected Angel Berroa as the American League Rookie of the Year. Berroa wasn?t expected to hit coming into the season, displaying little power and a low average in 2002, at least partially due to knee surgery, along with few walks in his minor league career. But Berroa did hit and finished with 9.64 offensive win shares and as a fine defensive shortstop, accumulated 6.09 win shares defensively. His 15.73 win share total places him behind only Matsui. As you can see in the table above, Berroa matched Matsui?s offensive production, but he was unfortunately in a worse lineup. This led to Matsui collecting a lot more RBI than Berroa and a significantly higher amount of plate appearances. The BBWAA loves those RBI and has followed Matsui all season, so it is unlikely that Berroa will sniff the ROY Award.
Setting aside RBI, I don?t think that Matsui even comes close to Berroa and the Primer authors agree. Berroa and Matsui have nearly identical OPS and RC numbers. Granted Berroa plays in a more hitter friendly stadium, there are other tangible numbers that make up the difference. Berroa played shortstop. Leftfielders who can hit are a dime a dozen. Matsui was eighth among leftfielders in OPS, behind offensive juggernauts Raul Ibanez and Frank Catalanotto. Meanwhile, Berroa was fifth among shortstops, behind only the former trilogy (which is really Wagner, ARod, and Ripken), and defending MVP Miguel Tejada. After Berroa there was only one other productive shortstop: Jose Valentin. Berroa also had a positive stolen base ledger. He stole 21 bases in only 26 attempts. If, in today?s game, a player needs to be successful in 70% or more of his attempts in order to aid his team, Berroa cleared that hurdle easily.
Hideki Matsui did finish second on the Primer author ballots. Matsui led AL rookies in win shares. He had 16.40 offensive shares and 2.49 defensive shares. Of course, he did play on the AL team with the most wins, so there were more to go around. Plus, Matsui did play a lot, playing in every game this season. That comes to an impressive 1400 innings on defense, second among AL outfielders. On a team with bonafide stars at nearly every position, it is surprising that their rookie was the rock.
Jody Gerut did not make the Indians despite an eye-opening spring training. But when injuries befell Ellis Burks and Travis Hafner struggled early, it was Gerut?s turn. When he did come up in May, Gerut started hitting immediately. Gerut led AL rookies in OPS, SLG, and RC/27. He accumulated 11.27 offensive win shares and 2.31 defensive win shares for a total of 13.59 to place second on the Indians behind only Milton Bradley. Gerut only played 127 games and that will hurt him in the BBWAA balloting. Gerut showed up on more Primer ballots than Matsui.
When you have two young stud third basemen who are both ready for the Majors, what do you do? You play them both of course. It took the Rangers a little while to figure out that both Blalock and Teixeira deserved to be in the lineup everyday, but now it looks like they will be in the lineup for at least the next five years. Teixeira led AL rookies in HR and was second in SLG and OPS. He finished fifth among firstbasemen in OPS. Based upon his age (one year older than Baldelli and two years younger than Berroa) and pedigree (5th pick in 2001 draft out of Georgia Tech) Teixeira is likely to have the best career of all of the rookies.
You may have forgotten about K-Rod, but last season he only spent 5 and 2/3 innings in the bigs last year during the regular season. This year, the 21 year old spent the whole season with the Angels and far outshined the other rookie AL pitchers. Rodriguez received one second place vote from a Primer author. Although his 3.04 ERA was not the best among a great Anaheim bullpen (Donnelly 1.58, Weber 2.69, Shields 1.68 in relief), K-Rod was still dominant on the hill, giving up only 50 hits in 86 IP. He also had 95 K?s to only 35 BB. The only negative on his resume was 12 HR against. When Percival?s contract expires don?t be surprised to find K-Rod at the back end of the Angels bullpen. If Billy Beane were running the Angels, Percival would already be gone for someone undervalued and K-Rod would already be the closer.
Rocco Baldelli was the other media favorite this season, and if there is a media backlash against Matsui, I would make Baldelli the favorite to win the ROY. He did, however, only receive one third place vote from Primer authors. Baldelli was highlight reel material almost every night in centerfield for the Devil Rays. He finished with 8.84 offensive win shares and 5.33 on defense. That put him behind only Mike Cameron, Carlos Beltran, and Torii Hunter defensively, among AL centerfielders. I don?t think anyone would dispute how great those three are on defense, so finishing behind them is nothing to sneeze at. Baldelli was the 6th pick overall in 2000 out of High School and has a very high ceiling, but taking more walks will be critical for Baldelli to move from tremendous athlete with okay baseball skills to great baseball player.
With a deep field of candidates who do not necessarily stand out statistically it will be interesting to see how the BBWAA sorts the list.