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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bryce Harper, Wade Miley, and the Meaning of the Rookie of the Year

There are fewer than thirty games left in the season. I find that shocking, for some reason. There still seems so much left ahead of us, but no team has more than thirty games left. With the stretch run so close, now seems like as good a time as any to look at the NL Rookie of the Year race, like I’ve been meaning to.

People say that the Most Valuable Player award is rather ambiguous in intent. Is it for the player that provided the most value to their team, regardless of how good their team did? Or should the team also be in playoff contention? I think the argument is pretty clearly on the side of the player that provided the most value period, regardless of their team’s standing.

That ambiguity is nowhere close to that in the Rookie of the Year Award. Is it for the Best Season by a Rookie, or the Best Rookie? You may be asking, what difference does that make? Basically, the argument can be easily summarized this season.

The way I see it, the NL Rookie of the Year is a four-way race. Using Wins Above Replacement as a starting point, Fangraphs has the top four rookies on the senior circuit as follows:

Wade Miley-4.1 WAR
Mike Fiers-3.0
Todd Frazier-2.9
Bryce Harper-2.9

WAR isn’t so definite that the difference between 2.9 and 3.0 is noticeable. We can use different stats, too. For example, Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR (which is more or less a different stat, as it uses a different fielding stat and an entirely different method for pitchers when calculating value) has them as follows:

Wade Miley-4.0
Bryce Harper-3.1
Mike Fiers-2.3
Todd Frazier-1.8

I mean, they’re close. Miley has a definite advantage, but it’s not huge. It may last until the end of the year, but it may not. You could defend the statement that he has the best season by a rookie in 2012, though. But there’s another number to consider.

Mike Fiers-27
Todd Frazier-26
Wade Miley-25
Bryce Harper-19

That number, obviously, is their ages. Harper is on a totally different level than the other three. Why should that matter? Well, consider the top NL pitchers by Fangraphs’ WAR, with their ages:

Clayton Kershaw-4.8, 24
Stephen Strasburg-4.6, 23
Johnny Cueto-4.6, 26
Gio Gonzalez-4.5, 26
R.A. Dickey-4.4, 37
Wade Miley-4.1, 25

Dickey is clearly the outlier, but the other five are interesting. Two of them, who are actually rated higher than Miley, are younger. They just had the “bad luck” to be so good that they’re already veterans, and thereby ineligible for the award.

Put another way, using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, Miley has the 181st best season by a 25-year-old pitcher ever, going by their version of WAR. Even if he manages another full win in the last 30 games, that still doesn’t even get him into 90th place. Compare that with Harper’s ranking among 19-year-old hitters:

Mel Ott-3.7 WAR in 1928
Bryce Harper-3.1 WAR in 2012
Edgar Renteria-3.1 WAR in 1996

Bryce Harper is already second among seasons by a 19-year-old, and he probably has over a hundred plate appearances left to improve on that. So, while Miley may be having a slightly better season, Harper’s season is much, much more impressive. Enough so that, if the season ended today, I would probably vote for Harper for Rookie of the Year-I think he has been the Best Rookie this season.

2 comments:

  1. So this writer is saying Miley should be penalized for choosing to go to college instead of being drafted out of high school like he was? Good for Miley! He deserves the award even more for being a good role model to kids!

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    1. In what way did I say that he was being penalized for attending college? Even if you want to ignore the fact that he left school before senior year (which I feel like isn't significantly better as far as role model things go), then he still took twice as long to make it through the minors as Harper. Had he made it to the league as a 22 year old, this wouldn't be as close an issue.

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