Monday, September 20, 2004

NL ROY

I don't really agree with the sentiment I've seen expressed that mlb.com is offering better editorial content than ESPN.com; ESPN.com is pretty bad, but mlb.com is still centered on team-centered prattle and very rarely provides objective, intelligent analysis. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that; that's what almost every newspaper in the country does and many readers want that stuff (I'm simply not one of them).

Anyway, on Mondays I normally forget who is playing whom and who has the day off and typically check the mlb.com homepage to look at the schedule. Sometimes when I do this my eye strays to their news section, and it did today. I clicked on the link for a debate on who the NL Rookie of the Year is, mainly because I momentarily couldn't recall who was a rookie this year. I was treated to dueling essays by Ed Eagle and Mike Scarr, Eagle arguing for Jason Bay and Scarr arguing for Khalil Greene. Off the top of my head, I was pretty confident that Greene had been, by most metrics, an average defender and a .280ish EqA hitter while Bay had been a .290ish hitter whose defense I knew nothing about. I figured that the debate would come down to how important their defensive positions were (and, given the sources, subjective conjecture on the merits of each as a fielder) and whether Greene's playing every day (until this past week, that is) made him a better ROY candidate than Bay since Bay hadn't played until mid-May. I got plenty of the former and none of the latter.

If you've read this blog, you know this is my cue to use some advanced metric you may not even have heard of to make a comparison between the two. Well, I won't disappoint. Greene has been a solid defender, though statistical analysis doesn't come close to providing support for Scarr's contention that he's played shortstop "exceptionally well". In fact, there's something of an unintentional in-joke in Scarr's argument when he says:

David Wells' 18 years in the Majors have allowed him to see a number of shortstops. At stops in New York, Baltimore and Toronto, Wells has had the pleasure of the services of a number of All-Star shortstops playing behind him, including Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Fernandez.

Boomer would take Greene.



Okay, Tony Fernandez was an excellent fielder, but I doubt David Wells is concerned with hurting his feelings. The year that Wells played with Cal Ripken, he had a Rate2 of 100, exactly league average, and the highest Rate2 Derek Jeter had while playing with Wells was 93, meaning over the season he'd cost the team about a win versus an average shortstop. Anyway, Greene's Rate2 this season is 97, not bad but a bit below average. If you prefer the more observational statistic zone rating, Greene has a .847, 12th among 23 major league qualifiers. So let's call Greene an average defender at the second-most valuable defensive position on the diamond. Eagle argues that Bay is a would-be centerfielder and his play at leftfield has been exceptional. If this was truly the case, someone would have to explain why Tike (.274/.306/.367) Redman, whose defense is somewhere between average and bad, has started 124 games at centerfield this season and Bay only three. Bay is perhaps an above average defensive leftfielder (perhaps), with a Rate2 of 103 and a zone rating of .845 (just below Jose Guillen and just above Barry Bonds and Adam Dunn). So whatever value is assigned defensively here should be based on which position is more significant defensively and not which player has peformed better at their position.

In terms of offense, there's no question that Bay has been better on a plate appearance by plate appearance basis. Bay's hitting .294/.375/.576 versus Greene's .273/.354/.446, and Bay leads in EqA (.304 to .285), runs above replacement (33 to 32), and runs above average (21 to 16). Because of Greene's position and his edge in playing time, Bay trails in VORP (value over replacement position), 37.4 to 34.1. But in terms of raw offense, Bay is the winner.

And just as Mike Myers used to say "Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance," now is the time on the Fourth Outfielder when we WARP. Greene leads in wins above replacement (WARP1), 6.2 to 5.0. Since I'm a big fan of using WARP to determine overall value, I'm definitely willing to say that Khalil Greene has been the more valuable rookie. At the same time, however, I wonder whether Rookie of the Year should go to either a) the most valuable rookie or b) the rookie who was the best when playing. Bay lost the first five weeks of the season because of his shoulder surgery, and I don't know if that should be counted against him for an award like Rookie of the Year.

Ultimately, this question underlines the futility of Rookie of the Year. It's a nice little prize, and it seems to be the only one guys who play wearing glasses can win. Bay has provided a win above replacement for every 21.6 games he's has played, and Greene has provided a win above replacement for every 22.1 games he's played. Greene's injury means that if Bay keeps producing over the remaining weeks he'll close the gap in total productivity, perhaps closing the overall gap to a half win. But you know, this "debate" is beginning to feel about as relevant as a tree falling in an uninhabited forest, which fits in nicely with the amount of people who will actually read this post. So let's leave it at this: if you can't get enough of very good rookies who play 120 games, Bay is your guy, and if you can't get enough of rookies who are nearly as good but play 17 more games, Greene is your guy.

Why is it that I feel things like who should be the AL Cy Young are relevant but things like who should be the NL Rookie of the Year are irrelevant? And why do I feel dutiful when writing about the former but guilty when writing about the latter? I guess I'll have to leave these questions for a future psychoanalyst.

Song of the Day: Good Morning Heartache, Billie Holiday

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