Saturday, October 1, 2011

2011 AL Willie Mays Award

As part of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I have already voted for the 2011 AL Connie Mack Award for top manager, and Walter Johnson Award for top pitcher.  Now, in what might be the toughest and closest race, is my ballot for the Willie Mays award for top rookie.   It was an excellent rookie crop.  Among pitchers we had Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda , Jeremy Hellickson, Alexi Ogando and Zach Britton who all had great inaugural seasons.  On the offensive side of the field we had Eric Hosmer, Dustin Ackley, Mark Trumbo, JP Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, Desmond Jennings and Jemile Weeks among others to consider.

So, who gets my vote for the 2011 AL Willie Mays Award?
The winner is Seattle starter Michael Pineda.  You may look at the stats on the back of his baseball card and be underwhelmed by his 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA.  But he had a WHIP of under 1.1 (along with only 7 other AL hurlers), struck out more than 1 batter per inning (higher rate than Verlander, 2nd in league) with a K/BB rate above 3 and a WAR (*) of 3.4
#2 - Dustin Ackley.  Another Mariner, Ackley hit .273/.348/.417 and was virtually tied with Lawrie for the highest WAR among rookie hitters.  All while turning concerns into his fielding at 2nd base into a positive.
#3 - Brett Lawrie - only appeared in 43 games, but that was enough to lead all rookie batters in WAR. He batted .293 while slugging .580 and his numbers extrapolate to 34 HR/ 94 RBIs over a full season.  Plus several heroics for this Canadian playing North of the border.

Honorable mentions go to everyone listed at the start of the post, but I want to explicitly explain why I left some of them off the ballot:
Hosmer - At first glance his numbers look deserving of at least a top 3 spot. He hit .295 with 19 HR.  But being a first baseman, expectations are higher.  7 AL rookier hitters had a higher WAR than him, including Josh Reddick.
Trumbo - 29 HR led all rookies, but his inability to take walks,  led to an OBP of only .291.
Arencibia - 23 HR for a rookie catcher is nothing to sneeze at, but he struck out 133 times, and only batted .219.
Hellickson - Many people are talking about his 2.95 ERA and not to take anything away from his great rookie season, but he had a KK/B rate of only 1.6 was 2nd worst among all AL starters.  This led to him having the worst difference between ERA and FIP in the majors, which isn't a formula for sustained success.
Nova - he looked like he had an impressive rookie season with a 16-4 record, but a deeper look at the numbers shows his record might not have been indicative of his stuff.  He had among the lowest K/9 rates of any starter leading to a low KK/B rate, as well as a high WHIP.

(*) Note: In this blog, unless otherwise explicitly stated, I use fangraphs version of WAR.  I will post an entire article on WAR in the near future.

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