Explaining Miley For NL ROY

Season-ending awards routinely evoke differing passionate opinions amongst baseball fans, writers, and players. A perfect example of that is the debate as to whether Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera should win the American League MVP, which has continuously raged for the better part of September.

With that in mind, I was surprised to see the overwhelming majority of the FanGraphs staff vote for Bryce Harper as the NL Rookie of the Year over left-hander Wade Miley. While arguments can certainly be made for Harper, I thought Miley had a slightly better resume to be crowned the best rookie in the National League this season.

And, I suppose, that definition is where some of the confusion lies in my part. The Rookie of the Year is defined as the best rookie, not the most valuable rookie. That difference in terminology has always led me to vote for the rookie who compiled the best numbers without giving extra consideration to a position player because they largely play every day, and thus, often provide more value to their respective teams — which is why pitchers rarely win MVP awards.

Perhaps I’m alone in interpreting the award in that fashion. It was surprising, however, to see Wade Miley and Bryce Harper so far apart in the voting, despite identical +4.8 WAR seasons. Miley has the fourth-highest WAR of any pitcher in the National League, while Harper owns the third-highest WAR of any NL center fielder. The numbers are so close. There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut decision.

Miley played a huge part in salvaging the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation. The team’s two stalwarts from last season — Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson — failed to reproduce their success, due both to ineffectiveness and injury. Kennedy  was nothing more than league-league average. He soaked up 200-plus innings, but merely posted a 98 FIP- and a 96 ERA-. Hudson, on the other hand, only made nine starts and saw his season end with Tommy John surgery.

With that in mind, the Diamondbacks needed someone to step up and anchor the rotation. Miley was not only the starter who experienced the most success on the mound, but he averaged 6.4 innings per start. Working consistently deep into games helped save the bullpen from overwork. It’s hard to imagine the Diamondbacks’ bullpen compiling the fourth-best FIP in all of baseball without Miley stepping into the rotation with such a high level of success.

The Diamondbacks’ left-hander also has the advantage in playing time. He spent the entire season in the big leagues, while Harper joined in the last week in April. That is a month’s more value Miley provided his team.

Harper evens the scales, however, with his his defensive value — in which he compiled an +8.9 UZR and one of the best arm numbers (+6.6 ARM) in the league. He’s more than a than just a bat. He augmented the Nationals’ production on both offense and defense, which negates much of the advantage Miley has with stabilizing a rotation in potential crisis and overall playing time.

The tipping point for me comes on a razor-thin point, in which Miley performed better compared to his position than did Harper. Miley’s 76 FIP- means he performed 24% better than the league-average pitcher. Harper, on the other hand, posted an impressive 122 wRC+, meaning he performed 22% better than the league-average hitter. Both statistics are park-adjusted, as well, which helps cut out the background noise of Chase Field being more hitter-friendly than Nationals Park.

In terms of which performance is more objectively impressive, Bryce Harper wins in a landslide. He was essentially a five-win player as a 19-year-old, while Wade Miley did so at 25 years old. Perhaps that comes into play for some people, which is fine. That simply did not affect my evaluation of which player had a statistically better rookie season.

When it came down to it, the race was so close that an extremely minor point swung my favor to Miley. He performed a little better compared to the league average than did Harper. That’s why he got my vote.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


31 Responses to “Explaining Miley For NL ROY”

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  1. Doug Gray says:

    You really need to fix whatever you did to the formatting there. Unreadable.

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  2. Jordan says:

    I think a reasonable case can be made for Wade Miley, but you haven’t made it. First you point out Harper’s defensive value, then proceed to ignore it in your ‘tipping point’ section. The fact that Miley was 24% better than league average in the only area in which he provided his team with value was your reason for selecting him over Harper, who was 22% better than league average with the bat in addition to playing plus defense at (mostly) a premium position.

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  3. Bob says:

    This presumes that the 4.8 fWAR accumulated by Miley is correct. BR and BP both have Miley worth around 1.5 to 2.0 WAR less. Plus, in 25 years, do you want to be known as the guy who voted for the 80 game winner over the first ballot HOF?

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    • Ben Hall says:

      “Plus, in 25 years, do you want to be known as the guy who voted for the 80 game winner over the first ballot HOF?”

      That’s a dumb point, if it’s a point at all.

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  4. Brian Mc says:

    You can’t give Harper the award because he’s projected to have a better career than Miley. It’s about which rookie had the best season, and nothing besides this year should be taken into account. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. Harper’s the more hyped prospect, and no GM in their right mind would take Miley over him. That’ll be enough to get him the award.

    And I don’t think he’s the wrong choice either, by the way. I just think it’s closer than people think.

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  5. Jim says:

    I certainly agree that the difference in wording between the awards — BEST rookie versus MOST VALUABLE player — is important. For me, the difference lies in team success (you can only be so valuable on a last place team. As Bill Veeck said to Ned Garver when he asked for a raise after the 1951 season, “We could have finished in last without you.”

    So I can almost never support an MVP from a non-playoff team, but I don’t think team success should have any bearing at all on the Rookie of the Year race. I think a lot of people have let the narrative — 19 year old who leads a team to its first playoff appearance in 31 years — outweigh the “best rookie” criterion.

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    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      But then there’s the fact that, if we’re simply going by quality and not “Most Valuable” Bryce Harper is undoubtedly the RoY. He accumulated just as much value despite playing a month less than Miley. The only point in Miley’s favor is that he provided just as much value as Harper, because Harper was simply better.

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  6. Devon says:

    I think you missed some key stats that tell a big difference between Miley & Harper. Like WPA, where Harper has 2.04 and MIley’s only at 1.29. That tells me that Harper was better for his team in important situations than Miley was. On the other hand, Miley has the superior RE24 with 18.12, compared to Harper’s 12.98…. which I’m very surprised you didn’t mention, ’cause it really makes Miley seem clearly better.

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  7. beau says:

    If they both accumulated the same number of wins but Harper did it in less time doesn’t that make his contribution better for the team, the opposite of the argument you made? Your rate stats support your argument but the counting stats you cite contradict your conclusion.

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  8. Jon L. says:

    There were a few points in your argument that didn’t add up for me. One is that you say you care about “best,” rather than “most valuable,” but all your arguments about pitching well when other starters didn’t and eating up innings to help the relievers point to “most valuable” more than “best.” You say Miley produced more value because he played the whole season, but his fWAR (very much unlike his bWAR) says he was equally valuable, meaning he provided less value for each month of play. Finally, you cite Miley being a slightly better pitcher than Harper was a hitter, just after pointing out that Harper’s defense, arm, and implicitly his speed, add great value. I realize you’re trying to say that Harper’s defense evens things up, considering what Miley did for his staff, but you make no mention of Harper’s comparable achievements – holding down a primary defensive position, and a spot near the top of the order, for a team in need.

    For this reader at least, you didn’t make the case.

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  9. Ivan Grushenko says:

    This relies too much on fWAR as the definitive pitching metric, which it isn’t. Miley fares worse in ERA-, xFIP-, and SIERA than he does in FIP-. Unless somebody buys the idea that FIP is the only metric that matters, they aren’t going to buy your Miley argument.

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  10. Anon says:

    NL average wRC+ is 94

    I assume this includes pitchers and that non-pitcher NL wRC+ is 100

    Is this correct?

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  11. Dave S says:

    You seriously think a 25 yo rookie pitcher is better than a 19 yo rookie CF, when they are having comparatively “equal” rookie seasons? History begs to differ:

    BBref comps.

    Bryce Harper:

    George Davis (930) *
    Mel Ott (928) *
    Al Kaline (906) *
    Ty Cobb (899) *
    Buddy Lewis (892)
    Paul Hines (880)
    Phil Cavarretta (869)
    Ed Kranepool (865)
    Monte Ward (865) *
    Bob Kennedy (849)
    * – Signifies Hall of Famer

    Made Miley:

    Tom Browning (980)
    Doug Rau (978)
    Bill Walker (976)
    Monty Stratton (975)
    Eddie Plank (974) *
    Earl Whitehill (974)
    Ray Washburn (973)
    Donovan Osborne (972)
    Dave Hamilton (970)
    Lance Lynn (968)
    * – Signifies Hall of Famer

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    • Dave S says:

      And honestly… Harper has almost NO comps. The best comps on his list (4 HOFers) only score low 900s.

      The worst comp on Mileys list is a 968. So, Miley is highly comparable to that list of “good quality” starting pitchers.

      Meanwhile, its hard to find anyone to compare with Harper… even HOFers!

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      • philosofool says:

        I get what you’re saying, but B-Ref’s similarity model is very bad for a 19 year old because playtime becomes a huge part of it. If you look at actually numbers, position, and handedness, Harper’s top comps is clearly Ken Griffey Jr. Mantle is second, but switch hitting clearly makes an important difference. Harper shares with both of these guys power and speed with good (but not elite) discipline and contact skills.

        Junior and Mantle. Jebus.

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      • Matthias says:

        On Carson’s Fangraphs Audio with the Baseball Prospectus crew the other day, I think it was Sam Miller that mentioned that only fifteen 19-year-olds had ever produced a 1+WAR season. Comps are tough.

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    • The Real Neal says:

      I missed the part where he said he would rather have Miley going forward. Rookie of the Year awards should be taken in a vacuum… it’s not the Best Expected Career Going Forward Award.

      Based on the article, Harper should be the RoY. I’d love to see an article which includes umpire favoritism into the caculations. How much better would Miley have been had the umpires given him the calls at the rate they did Harper (or vice-versa)?

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      • Jason B says:

        “I’d love to see an article which includes umpire favoritism into the caculations”

        Ummm….wat

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      • Pig.Pen says:

        Seriously? Have you seen Harper play at all this year? His strike zone has been about the size of a Buick. Check the pitch f/x of his playoff AB’s and look at some of the called strikes that have gone against him. Imagine, if every team Miley faced had been scouting him since he was 16 (and in some cases 14), where would he be at? Harper has not only had the BEST season, he’s also had the more valuable and impressive season.

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  12. Dave S says:

    off topic… here’s Mike Trout’s current list of comps (thru age 20):

    Vada Pinson (955)
    Frank Robinson (947) *
    Mickey Mantle (944) *
    Tony Conigliaro (933)
    Orlando Cepeda (925) *
    Al Kaline (919) *
    Ted Williams (919) *
    Jimmie Foxx (906) *
    Ken Griffey (905)
    Jason Heyward (900)
    * – Signifies Hall of Famer

    thats an amazing list…

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  13. philosofool says:

    I really think when you have two players that have equal fWAR (ignoring the fact that other WAR metrics have Harper 1.5 wins higher), the tie breaker for rookies should look at what distinguishes the season. There’s a reason that the award is fully named the “Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year”.

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  14. Jason says:

    Miley had a great season, Harper had a very good one. Part of Harper’s narrative is that he had a dominant september/october, but that ignores the fact that he was dreadful in July and mediocre in August.

    I think he’s a very good player and that he’s likely headed for superstardom, but it’s annoying to see Miley’s season be so readily dismissed by Harper fans.

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    • philosofool says:

      I don’t think it’s dismissed. They think Harper is more deserving of the award because his season, equal to Miley’s in WAR, was more significant historically.

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  15. dcs says:

    In a case like this, where their WAR seasons were almost the same, it is entirely legitimate and appropriate to look at who is–in reality–the better player as a tiebreaker. And there can be no doubt as to who that is.

    Harper is an easy, no-brainer choice over the finesse pitcher Miley who may never have a season like this again…

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  16. Justin says:

    MIley would have won it if it weren’t for Harper’s September

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  17. Nathan says:

    How much WAR did Trout generate in his interleague games? Maybe he deserves both the AL and the NL rookie of the year award.

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  18. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    So Miley was a slightly better pitcher than an excellent defensive CF was a hitter, so he had the better year?

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  19. Josh says:

    I would say Miley really didn’t do anything that moves the needle. He had good season. Harper had a good season, but one in which we do not see very often in Baseball. Playing CF is hard enough, but to do it well at the age of 19 is something we haven’t seen since 1989. I will take a 5 tool CFer producing in the top of the batting order in terms of value over a pitcher of Miley’s ability.

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