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Idle thoughts on Rookies of the Years since 1949

June 17, 2012

A brief discussion on this year’s Rookie of the Year candidates will illuminate my motivation behind this post.

Mike Trout has all but clinched the AL race. His 2.9 fWAR* is far and away the best figure among AL rookies (Seattle DH/C Jesus Montero is second with 0.6), and good for fourth among all American League position players. He was not called up until the end of April, yet he is tied for the most stolen bases in the AL. UZR ranks Trout as the second-best defensive outfielder in the AL behind Ichiro, who only plays in right field. Since his debut, the Angels are 30-17; before, they were 6-14. Crusty old sportswriters, a.k.a. most of the voters for these awards, will love that last stat especially.

*WAR according to Fangraphs. Generally, I use Fangraphs for recent years (2002-present) and baseball-reference for everything before that. I have no good reason for doing this. Fangraphs has batted ball data for hitters starting in 2002, which is nice. Later on I will give you tables filled with bWAR, but they will just say “WAR.”

It’s actually a race in the NL. Kirk Nieuwenhuis (1.6), Zack Cozart (1.5) and Bryce Harper (1.1) are the only rookies with an fWAR above 1. Expect the crusty old sportswriters to vote for Harper unless Nieuwenhuis or Cozart run away with it. Harper’s a national story (he’s been hyped since he was 16) and he runs really hard; hustling earns you like 1000 crusty sportswriter points.

Harper and Trout, ages 19 and 20 respectively, are considered the two best talents of their generation. Their rapid ascension to the big leagues attests to that. They have the potential to be one of the greatest Rookie of the Year pairs ever.

The only truly great RoY paor I can remember came in 2000, when Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki won. I decided to look into the best pairs by career WAR for shiggles.

Jackie Robinson won the first Rookie of the Year award in 1947. From 1949 onward it was awarded to two players, one per league, unless there was a tie in the voting. Then both players would win for that league. (This happened twice, but none of those players were good enough to skew the results.) Here are the top 10 combos by career WAR.

Gil McDougald totally rode Willie’s coattails. Pujols and Ichiro have an outside chance at climbing to second on this list.

Here are the bottom 13 pairs. There are 13 because three of the pairs are recent winners and thus haven’t had enough time to put some meat on their WAR.

Joe Black and Harry Byrd will feel shitty when they read this and find out they were less valuable in their entire careers than Craig Kimbrel and Jeremy Hellickson have been in a little over three years combined. Angel Berroa has a Chris Coghlan voodoo doll to ensure that Coghlan never surpasses Berroa’s -0.4 career WAR.

Talk about similarities: Buster Posey and Neftali Feliz won RoY in 2010, met in the World Series that same year, have accumulated the same amount of WAR in their careers and now their teams are considering a permanent position change for them. The Giants are keen on keeping Posey out of harm’s way by putting him at first, but he’s having none of that right now. The Rangers moved Feliz from closer to starter this season, but he suffered an elbow injury, so when he returns they might move him back to the bullpen to reduce stress on his arm.

Here’s the whole list:

Ryan Braun and Dustin Pedroia (2007, ranked 25) and Hanley Ramirez and Justin Verlander (2006, 27) are the pairs with the best chance of moving into the top 10.

In both cases of co-winners, one of the two co-winners had a virtually negligible impact on the career WAR statistic. Alfredo Griffin and John Castino shared the AL award in 1979. Castino had a career WAR of 14.2, Griffin -0.1. In 1976 Pat Zachry and Butch Metzger shared the NL RoY. Zachry owns a career 10.9 WAR, Metzger 0.9.

Dick Allen.

McDougald helped end another RoY’s career prematurely. Herb Score (1955, ranked 42) was truly great in his firs two seasons, striking out 245 batters his first year and 263 the next. But in 1957 McDougald lined a pitch back into Score’s eye. (This is all eerily similar to the saga of Tony Conigliaro.) Score missed the rest of the season and had arm problems in 1958. Perhaps he would have injured his arm anyway; perhaps the long layoff from the eye injury took his arm out of pitching shape. According to the SABR baseball biography project, the incident had as much of an effect on McDougald as it did on Score:

McDougald lost his desire to play baseball and retired after the 1960 season. Whether or not the incident with Score was responsible, the Yankee’s average dropped from .289 in the seven years before 1957 to .253 from 1957 through 1960.

The average WAR for NL RoYs is 30.88; for the AL, 24.78. So I guess I shouldn’t make McDougald feel worse by saying he rode Willie’s coattails. He had 14 more WAR in his career than the average AL dude, and that’s a whole Dontrelle Willis.

***

Young Jay-Z would like to say hello.

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