Preview: NL Rookie of the Year

Sabean held Posey back for two months. That’s not fair!

I’ll tend to agree that Sabean didn’t need to keep Posey down for two months, but playing “What If” games is a bad idea. Sure, there’s nothing that outright suggests that Posey’s production is illegitimate in any way, and he could have produced another couple of wins in those two months to put him over Heyward. On the other hand, Posey could have figured out something in AAA over those two months that helped him produce when he came to the MLB, and if he had come up earlier, he would not have learned what he did, leading to worse production. He could have also lucked into good production. He could have learned what he did in AAA while in the MLB and produced eventually after a slow start. The point is that NO ONE knows how Posey would have done in those two months, and each of those scenarios have wide-ranging effects on Posey’s production. What we DO know is that Heyward produced what he did over those months. Certainty trumps uncertainty. I’m sorry that Posey had to be the victim of service-time shenanigans, but we can’t do anything about it. You just can’t give Posey credit for that which he didn’t do.

Posey produced the same offense while playing a tougher position.

This is a little harder to dispel. Heyward’s slash line of .277/.393/.456 has similar production value to Posey’s .303/.357/.505 as their OPS+ of 131 and 129, respectively, are nearly identical. Heyward puts more distance between himself (.376 wOBA) and Posey (.368) in wOBA (OBP is weighted heavier because there’s a higher correlation between OBP and runs than SLG and runs–remember, scoring runs is as good as knocking them in), but it’s pretty close and that nagging position thing still exists. It’s harder to do that as a catcher than as a right fielder, and Posey is a catcher, which should give him extra credit (of sorts). But here’s the thing—Posey didn’t catch all of that time. Posey played first base for over a month (30 games) while Bengie Molina caught, and the position adjustment for playing first hurts (well not really “hurts”; it just makes his production less impressive in relation other first basemen instead of in relation to other catchers) Posey’s value. The 76 games behind the plate help his cause, but those games at first definitely hurt his case. Add in that Heyward played well in right (+5.8 UZR), and the position adjustment does not have that big of an impact.

The question, then, becomes how much do those games at first really hurt Posey. That’s a difficult question, and it brings more “What If” questions (What if Posey had caught those games? Would those extra games have tired him more? Etc.). Let’s just not get into those for the same reasons we addressed in the previous section. The more nagging problem is the actual calculations, which aren’t as cut-and-dry. You can argue specifics, but as I stated previously, we’re talking about a pretty staggering difference between the overall productions of the players. That difference is primarily due to Heyward’s 142 games vs. Posey’s 108, and Heyward played in right field for all of those games (76 of those playing an inferior position to Posey, 32 playing a superior position, and 34 just existing when Posey didn’t and doing well in that time—you don’t get points for simply existing). Yes, Posey’s rate stats are similar to Heyward’s (even their counting numbers, HR—18 each—and RBI—72 to 68—are similar), but Heyward was playing well and adding value while Posey “learned” in AAA.

Posey got his team into the postseason.

 

So did Heyward, and Heyward was just as good and probably better in the final months than Buster (wOBAs of .408 and .367 for Heyward vs. .325 and .343 for Posey; the positional adjustment might make up for the huge offensive difference). And yeah, the Giants offense wasn’t great, but the Braves were also missing Chipper Jones and Martin Prado while no one else stepped up. This was a bad piece of evidence to begin with, and Heyward even wins it.

Posey did better in the playoffs and helped his team move farther along.

Regular season awards are just that—regular season awards. It doesn’t matter what either did in the playoffs because all ballots were sent in before the playoffs started.

Heyward’s younger.

This is obviously not in favor of Posey, but you might see this argued in Heyward’s favor. And it’s just as bad of an argument as the others above. All that matters is how well they played. Age matters in projection, not production.

Listen, Posey is awesome. I love the guy, and I hope he has a long career. He can be better than Joe Mauer because of his power (if he draws more walks, which is certainly possible given his history), and he may last longer at catcher because of his build. But the ROY award is for their first season. Posey probably got screwed by service-time issues, but life isn’t always fair. Heyward got to play from Day 1, and he did an amazing job. Posey did an amazing job as well, but he didn’t do it as long. Yes, you can make the argument that Posey would have done well in the time he was in the minors, but it’s not a concrete one. Again, certainty trumps uncertainty. We know Heyward produced, but we don’t know about Posey. As for who will actually win the award, I’d bet on Posey because he was getting the publicity at the end of the season, but remembering that I like Posey, Posey getting the award would be a mistake, just not one anyone is likely to regret.

8 thoughts on “Preview: NL Rookie of the Year

  1. baseball fan

    take your WAR and shove it!!!!!!!!!!!!

    you're obviously not a baseball writer, just a statistician.
    where's your FEEL for the game???????????

  2. LarryAtIIATMS

    Mark, I have a problem with the argument that Hayward deserves the award because he produced over a full season. I would buy that argument for any other award, but not ROY. 2010 WAS Posey's rookie year. He's not going to get another one.

    Similarly, I would not use WAR here. WAR is not the best way to compare a full season to a partial season.

    I think Posey deserves credit for playing the tougher position. Even in a partial season, Posey's WAR was fifth best among all MLB catchers. Heyward finished 7th in WAR among right fielders. Posey looks even more impressive if you use stats that don't penalize Posey for his partial year. For all catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, Posey finished 2nd in wOPA, behind only Joe Mauer. Heyward finished 6th in wOPA for right fielders with the same number of appearances.

    You might also consider Heyward's .335 BABiP. He's probably not going to be able to sustain that.

    Finally … I know that we're not supposed to look at the post-season, but I peeked. Advantage to Posey here also.

    • Mark Smith

      Let's take this piece by piece:

      1) Let's look at this another way. This season was 162 games, and the ROY is given to who produces more over that span of time. It doesn't really matter how many games you play, but playing more helps accumulate value. If Posey had accumulated as much or more value than Heyward, I would have said Posey should win it, regardless of playing time. I'm simply looking for value here, not playing time. My comment on the games played is that people want to prorate Posey's season and give him credit for "what he could have had". That's a problem. Baseball seasons are littered with guys who play well for 100 games and suck the other 60. Posey makes this more difficult because he played well for, essentially, his first 100 games. If he was another player with 60 games left, we might think that he would regress over those next 60 games. The point with the playing time issue is to ensure that no one adds on anything to Posey's numbers because it would be based on assumptions. Again, if the WAR numbers had been switched, I would have been happy to give it to Posey.

      2. WAR is essentially a counting stat, and I assume your argument will lead toward rate stats. That's fine as long as you realize that Heyward's is over 140+ and Posey's is over 100. It's not a given what Posey would have done over those 40 games.

      3. The 5th and 2nd place finishes in those categories are nice, but what about the differences in those situations. Posey finished (given that each team had one starting catcher, which isn't true, but stay with me) 5th among all catchers, but there are only 30 of them. Heyward finished 7th out of 90. In the other category, the relative difference gives them the same score (2/30 or 6/90). And it's much more difficult for Heyward to put himself in that company given the relative productions of their positions.

      4. A .330 BABiP is difficult but not unsustainable. Remember, pitchers usually stay within .290-.310, but players have a much wider range. Given Heyward's propensity for hard contact, it's not unreasonable to think he could repeat that BABiP. Most importantly, however, we need to remember that we aren't looking at regression and projection here. Heyward produced the offense he did, and whether or not we think he can reproduce it is irrelevant in this argument for a seasonal award. BABiP DOES NOT work the same for hitters and pitchers.

      5. DON'T USE THE PLAYOFFS! Small sample size, cherry-picking, it's a regular-season award …

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Mark, we have a problem: these guys only have one rookie season, and it can be a short season. I think 130 ABs in one season will disqualify a player for consideration in the next season. Given the MLB tendency to hold rookies in the minors for a couple of months (to avoid the rookie achieving "Super Two" arbitration status), we're always going to have top rookies playing for partial years. What do we do about this?

        My vote is not to judge a rookie too harshly just because he hasn't played a full year. If you're going to measure rookies purely on full-year value statistics like WAR, you give too much credit to the rookies who play the full season.

        I think that Heyward deserves credit for amassing a full season's worth of strong statistics. That's an accomplishment that deserves to be counted. But I wouldn't give it the same weight you're giving it, and I'd blend in some rate statistics along with the counting statistics.

        To clarify point 3: on FanGraphs, Heyward finished 7th in OPA out of the 33 MLB right fielders with at least 400 ABs. Using the same parameters, Posey finished 2nd out of the 18 MLB catchers with at least 400 ABs. Even with these parameters, Posey finishes well ahead of Heyward on a relative scale (2/18 is a lot less than 7/33). If I drop the catcher's AB requirement to 270 ABs, then Posey finishes 3rd out of 34. Yes, I agree, right fielders tend to hit better than catchers, but isn't that part of Posey's value, that he provides strong offensive output while playing a position where strong offense is more difficult to find?

        On BABiP, I agree with you that it should not count for much. I still think that Heyward will have trouble maintaining that BABiP, but that's an argument for another day. I also agree that the post-season should not count.

        If Heyward had won, I would not have objected. He would have swept the field in the AL, and he was no worse than the second best rookie in a crowded NL field.

        • Mark Smith

          First, I want to reiterate that I think Posey is an acceptable choice. As far as mistakes (in my opinion) go, this is like a kid dropping a milk jug while trying to help his mom cook dinner. It's no big deal, and the intention was there.

          Anyway, I think we're getting caught up in the first paragraph somewhere, but I'll mention the other thing first. Yes, Posey gets credit for catching, but that's already accounted for in WAR with their position adjustment. It may not be enough, but it's already a huge boost to Posey's numbers. Also remember that Posey didn't catch that much.

          Okay, back to the first paragraph, which is probably the hardest to deal with. I want you to prove to me that Posey got screwed. I agree that he probably did, but you tell me with absolute certainty that he was ready and the Giants, who know him best, didn't have him work on something. He had only played 125 minor-league games, and I don't know how anyone would know for sure he belonged in the majors.

          Yes, this trend of holding prospects causes some problems with rookie status and the ROY award. Let's pretend for a moment that it really matters who wins the award. I agree that having rookies start at different points of the season causes problems, but it's always been that way. The trend has exacerbated the problem, but most teams with outstanding rookies give them a bonus anyway. But what's the change to correct this? Are we enlarging the number of ABs to keep players rookies and, if we are, to what number? Are we going to create a rule stating that teams can no longer bring up prospects after a certain date without a DL causation? Good luck trying to prove that.

          But your point is well-taken. Players' service times are manipulated, and that may cause them to lose their chance at the award. And while I don't think the award really matters especially in relation to others, I'll grant that the players do care, and we have to find a way to make exceptions. Here's the problem, though–how do you adjust? Sure, you can use rate stats, but those are susceptible to sample size problems that are still problematic after an ENTIRE season. Diminishing the sample size really isn't an answer. For example, Posey had an awesome year, and his rate stats were excellent. Now, let's enlarge that to an entire season to compare to Heyward. How do you do that? You better not just prorate it because Posey A) would have had to have been a catcher the ENTIRE time (Molina would not have been retained), B) could have tired because of A, C) may have not produced at the same level (due to luck, tiring, or simple regression to actual talent level), and D) would not have had the AAA experience to build on. I hear you on the rate stats, especially because it's 400 ABs and not 100, but A) his stats still weren't enough to even get CLOSE to Heyward and B) manipulating rate stats without evidence is dangerous.

          On your Point 3, it seems a little like cherry-picking to me, but even if Posey is better relative to position, WAR does already grant a substantial positional adjustment to Posey to compensate.

          But in total, the problem I have with the number of games played argument is that it seems to actually penalize Heyward for playing all those games. He had to start right out of the gate when Posey didn't. What if he had extra time in the minors? What if you take away the month and a half he played hurt and his offense suffered?

          Yes, the playing level wasn't exactly even in regard to service time, but there's no real good way to adjust for it. You really just have to give them credit for only what they did do.

  3. NAM

    ESPN hates the Giants everybody knows that..so WHATEVA…..

    • We might have our winner for dumb comment of the week and it's early on Monday morning.

      #1: We are not owned/governed/managed by ESPN
      #2: We are not paid by ESPN
      #3: Thinking that an entire network hates one team is sophmoric

  4. LarryAtIIATMS

    C'mon NAM, I write for this blog also and I've made my argument for Posey. You're not being rational if you fail to see the strong case that can also be made for Heyward.

    Also, No. Cals pronounce the Rs at the end of their words.

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