Thursday, November 10, 2011

Does Ivan Nova Have A Chance To Win AL Rookie Of The Year?

(** Author's Note- I completely botched this and forgot that Alexi Ogando is not eligible for the AL ROY this year because he spent more than 45 days on a Major League roster in 2010.  So disregard everything related to Ogando below and just focus on the other candidates. **)

The Yankees have already been heavily featured in the early portion of MLB Awards season, getting shafted out of at least 2 AL Gold Gloves and then having Robbie Cano and C-Grand deservedly win Silver Slugger Awards for their respective positions.  But the real meat and potatoes of award season starts this coming Monday with the announcement of the AL and NL Rookie of the Year Award winners.  And for the first time since Cano in '05 the Yankees have a horse in the race for the AL award in Ivan Nova.  But how good is Nova's chance of really contending for the award?  Let's make like D-Generation X and break it down.

The way I see it, there are five other "real" contenders for the AL award besides Nova, two position players and three pitchers.  The two position players are Mark Trumbo of the Angels and Eric Hosmer of the Royals.  While others may try to make an arguments for Desmond Jennings or Dustin Ackley, those guys don't have a full season's worth of plate appearances under their belts and so my belief is that their body of work can't be looked at the same as those of Trumbo and Hosmer.  So how do these two stack up?

Trumbo: 573 PA (1st among AL rookies), 137 H (2nd), 29 HR (1st), 87 RBI (1st), .768 OPS (7th), .327 wOBA (10th), 105 wRC+ (tied for 9th), 2.3 WAR (4th)

Trumbo's power numbers look good, which is something that old school voters always go for, but his OPS and wOBA suffers thanks to a low BA (.254) and low OBP (.291), both byproducts of Trumbo's low walk rate (4.4%).  However, Trumbo balances out those flaws at the plate by rating as an above average defensive first baseman and a decent baserunner.

Hosmer: 563 PA (2nd), 153 H (1st), 19 HR (3rd), 78 RBI (tied for 2nd), .799 OPS (3rd), .342 wOBA (3rd), 114 wRC+ (5th), 1.6 WAR (8th)

Hosmer beats Trumbo in most of the sabermetric categories thanks to a better walk rate (6.0%) and a much lower K rate (14.6%).  He was a better all around hitter than Trumbo in 2011 but takes a knock in the WAR department thanks to a subpar defensive rating.  Considering that both guys played the same position this season, that could hurt Hosmer.

Nice first seasons for both of those guys, no doubt.  But the real competition for the award, in my opinion, will come down to the four top rookie pitchers in the AL this season: Nova, Alexi Ogando of the Rangers, Michael Pineda of the Mariners, and Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays.  Through both the traditional and sabermetric statistical looking glasses, these guys were the cream of the AL rookie pitching crop in 2011, racking up the top 4 innings totals amongst all AL rookie hurlers and thus creating a bigger body of work to more accurately assess their numbers and weigh them against their rookie counterparts (sorry, Zach Britton).  For the purposes of this comparison, the rankings indicated in the parentheses represent where each pitcher ranks amongst themselves.

Nova: 165.1 IP (4th), 3.70 ERA (3rd), 4.01 FIP (3rd), 5.33 K/9 (4th), 3.10 BB/9 (3rd), 2.7 WAR (3rd), 16 W (1st)

Nova's got a tough case to make.  He threw the fewest innings out of these four guys, even though his total would have been higher if he didn't miss a start after his demotion, and he ranks at or near the bottom in terms of almost all the relevant stats.  But there's something to be said for Nova pitching his best down the stretch and in the postseason, when his K rate, BB rate, and FIP were at their best levels of the season, and whether they like to admit it or not there are voters who will be influenced by that and influenced by Nova's shiny win total.

Ogando: 169 IP (3rd), 3.51 ERA (2nd), 3.65 FIP (2nd), 6.71 K/9 (2nd), 2.29 BB/9 (1st), 3.6 WAR (1st), 13 W (tied for 2nd)

Ogando is solid across the board.  He doesn't rank last in any of these categories and had the lowest walk rate while generating the highest WAR value.  His stuff was electric and except for a few bumps in the road, Ogando stayed relatively consistent all year.  He wasn't a part of the Rangers' postseason rotation during their World Series run, but he did put on a pretty good '07 Joba/"Wild Thing" Vaughn impression as a reliever and had the most time on camera in front of a national audience during the postseason.  Always good to give the voters more chances to watch you work.

Pineda: 171 IP (2nd), 3.74 ERA (4th), 3.43 FIP (1st), 9.11 K/9 (1st), 2.89 BB/9 (2nd), 3.4 WAR (2nd), 9 W (4th)

Pineda was arguably the most dominant of these 4 pitchers throughout the season.  Dude got swings and misses and plenty of Ks, and he had the lowest FIP.  But, over the course of the season, Pineda's ERA and FIP did rise every month from April through August before he rebounded in September.  And he pitches in the Bermuda Triangle that is the Seattle Mariners' organization, where he's overshadowed in his own rotation by King Felix and unknown to the majority of baseball fans.  That lack of exposure could influence some of the traditional voters to vote elsewhere.

Hellickson: 189 IP (1st), 2.95 ERA (1st), 4.44 FIP (4th), 5.57 K/9 (3rd), 3.43 BB/9 (4th), 1.4 WAR (4th), 13 W (tied for 2nd)

Jeremy Hellickson is an interesting case because he's basically all or nothing.  He threw the most innings and had the lowest ERA of the group, but he also had the highest FIP, the highest BB/9, and the lowest WAR value.  The drastic difference between his ERA and FIP and the fact that he won 13 games points to Hellickson being the luckiest of the bunch in terms of BABIP and doesn't bode well for his chances.  But again, there are still plenty of voters who like IP and Wins.

As another way to compare these guys, let's create a points system for the key stat categories above.  1st place in a category counts for 4 points, 2nd for 3, 3rd for 2, and 4th for 1.  If you assign this points system, admittedly a very basic one, to the stat rankings above, the totals would be 22 points for Ogando, 19 for Pineda, 15 for Hellickson, and 14 for Nova.  Again, that very basic points system assumes that all those stat categories are equal in terms of statistical significance, which we know they aren't, but it still shows Nova ranking lower in most of them than his main competition for the award, something that will not work to his benefit.

So what are Nova's chances?  Honestly, they aren't good.  His wins and strong finish to the season work in his favor, and I honestly believe that those two things will stick out in plenty of voters' minds to push them towards putting Nova somewhere on their ballot.  But Nova doesn't stack up statistically to his main competition in terms of other key stats like strikeouts, K rate, FIP, and WAR.  The decided advantage that Ogando and Pineda have over him in those categories should tip the majority of the pitcher votes their way, while Hellickson's high IP, solid ERA, and respectable win total should help him vulture some votes away from Nova as well.  And we all know chicks dig the long ball but so do voters, so there's going to be some ballots that Nova could be left off of thanks to Trumbo and Hosmer.

My prediction?  Nova ends up 3rd, behind Pineda in 2nd and Ogando the winner.  I'm not saying you should go lay money on that in Vegas, but that's how I would vote it.  A bit of a bummer if Ivan doesn't win, sure, but it certainly wouldn't tarnish what we all know was a very strong 2011 campaign for Super Nova.

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