The AL Rookie of the Year

My, how time flies. It’s already June and the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft takes place today, which will cause an (exciting) influx of talent into the sport. But there are already some pretty gifted, young players in Major League Baseball. A number of those players are currently vying for the American League Rookie of the Year award. If you sift through all the names, two players float to the surface: Texas’ Elvis Andrus and Detroit’s Rick Porcello.

When the season began, there weren’t many people (outside of Texas and Detroit) that thought these two players would be in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race at this point of the season. It’s not that these two players aren’t talented – they are, and have been at the top of their organizations’ prospect charts (Andrus was signed by Atlanta and traded to Texas) since they signed as amateurs – but they are the youngest players in the Majors at the age of 20. As well, Porcello was just drafted out of high school in 2007 and, after signing too late to play that year, he spent just one year in the minors, which is virtually unheard of for a prep prospect.

So, to this point, which player deserves the Rookie of the Year award? One of the most exciting things about comparing these two players is the fact that both 20-year-old rookies are playing for first-place clubs, so they’re both contributing to a winning team. The biggest difference between the two players is that Andrus is a position player (shortstop), while Porcello is a starting pitching. Andrus likely gets the immediate edge because he impacts his club everyday, while Porcello takes to the mound once every five days. Unfair, perhaps, but a valid point nonetheless.

Elvis Andrus

Currently, Andrus is hitting a solid .276/.330/.405 with three home runs and nine stolen bases in 12 attempts. In 49 games (163 at-bats), the Venezuelan shortstop has plate rates of 6.3 BB% and 13.% K%. Obviously, he’s a bit of a free swinger with a low walk rate, but his strikeout rate shows that he makes good contact. His line-drive rate of almost 20% shows that he’s not just flicking his bat at the ball to make contact with non-strikes; He’s hitting the ball with some authority.

As well, Andrus is playing to his strengths with a ground-ball rate of 57.2%. He’s not a power hitter, so he’s putting the ball on the ground (or on the line) and good things have been happening. Another encouraging number is the BABIP rate of .304. He hasn’t been very lucky with his balls in play, so we can expect a few more to drop in over the course of the season, which could increase his batting average even more.

We also, of course, need to discuss Andrus’ defense because, well, that’s the main reason he’s in the Majors. The gifted fielder has already received some consideration for a Gold Glove. His fielding percentage is a little below the league norm, but that can be blamed somewhat on the fact that Andrus gets to a lot more balls than the average fielder. His RF/g (range factor per game) is 5.16, compared to the league average of 3.94. Obviously, Andrus is impacting the club with his glove just as much as with his bat, if not more.

Rick Porcello

Porcello, on the other hand, had a bit of a slow start to the year and lost three of his first four decisions (Like it or not, win totals seems to be a popular category amongst RoY voters). However, the young hurler then went on a tear in May and won all five of his starts. In those five starts, the New Jersey native allowed just five runs in total.

Overall, in 11 starts on the season, Porcello has a 3.98 ERA, but his FIP is 5.10 which suggests he’s been getting a lot of help from his fielders. That’s not surprising considering that he’s a ground-ball pitcher who lives and dies by his defense. The right-hander has a ground-ball rate of 55.4%. However, when batters get the ball in the air against Porcello, they usually hit it hard and he’s already allowed 10 home runs (17.1 HR/FB) while pitching in a spacious home ballpark.

Despite putting a lot of balls in play (His strikeout rate is just 5.31 K/9), Porcello has allowed just 59 hits in 61 innings of work. For such a young pitcher, he controls the strike zone very well and he’s walked just 20 batters (2.95 BB/9). He is struggling a bit in the splits column. Porcello has handled right-handed batters very well (.186 batting average) but he’s allowed a line of .300/.362/.500 to left-handed batters. An improved changeup (which he uses just 9.3% of the time) might help to combat those troublesome match-ups.

The Conclusion

At this point, my feeling would be that Andrus deserves the Rookie of the Year award a little more than Porcello, who is showing that there is still some work to be done when you look at his FIP and HR/FB rate. As for those actually voting on the award, they will likely be attracted to Andrus’ flashy play and the fact that Texas has improved significantly over last year – in no small part because of Andrus’ defense, which has allowed the Rangers’ pitchers to put balls in play with confidence.

Regardless of who is deserving of the award, both teams should be incredibly excited for the future. Both rookies are building solid foundations for what should be excellent MLB careers.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

43 Responses to “The AL Rookie of the Year”

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  1. Jesse Draper says:

    You might want to take a look at Andrew Bailey before you go crowning Andrus.

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  2. Marc Hulet says:

    Andrew Bailey has great numbers but he’s playing for a last-place team (in the eyes of voters), and he’s also a relief pitcher. If he can recorded at least 20 saves, he maybe gets consideration.

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    • Jesse Draper says:

      Good point about the last-place team. I think he gets better than 20 saves by years end, but you’re right, voters will probably see last-place team and reliever and move along.

      Regardless of what the “official vote” says, I still think Bailey ends up being the most valuable rookie in terms of stats and valuable production for his team. I could be wrong, and both Andrus and Porcello are excellent young players. It’s just hard to ignore how consistently Bailey has bailed out the young Oakland starters. 4 wins and 5 saves to-date with great peripherals.

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      • Nate Peters says:

        Yeah, so far Bailey has been excellent. If he pitches at the same level the rest of the way, he definitely deserves some attention. Obviously, the award voting doesn’t look at things like WAR, but they probably should.

        If the AL West continues this way, Andrus will get it simply for being the starting SS of a playoff team, but if the A’s can creep back into things and Bailey can record 20-25 saves, he deserves consideration.

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      • Teej says:

        Andrus is on pace to be a four-win player. Bailey’s pitching well, but I have to go with the everyday player. And Bailey’s unlikely to keep stranding 87% of his baserunners.

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  3. JCA says:

    “Overall, in 11 starts on the season, Porcello has a 3.98 ERA, but his FIP is 5.10 which suggests he’s been getting a lot of help from his fielders. That’s not surprising considering that he’s a ground-ball pitcher who lives and dies by his defense. The right-hander has a ground-ball rate of 55.4%. However, when batters get the ball in the air against Porcello, they usually hit it hard and he’s already allowed 10 home runs (17.1 HR/FB) while pitching in a spacious home ballpark.”

    In other words, he’s John Lannan 2008. FIP 5.18, ERA 3.68, GB% 54.2%, HR/FB 15.2%, except he plays for a major league team.

    If one of the late May / early June call ups goes on a tear, then my guess he beats out both. For example, Reimold already leads rookies in home runs. 6 in 23 days since his call up. ZiPS projects 13 for the rest of the season. Suppose that he ends up slightly better – 16, which is about 1 a week (half of what he’s doing). Does 22 HRs and a .280 average put him in the conversation? What about 25 HRs, which is not out of reach?

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  4. Mark R says:

    Why are we citing range factor when a much better defensive metric is available and promoted by this very site?

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    • Alaskan says:

      I think Marc is looking at the numbers the voters look at. It seems like more of a who WILL win analysis, rather than a who SHOULD win.

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    • Marc Hulet says:

      The better defensive metric used by this site is better in a larger-scale reference, rather than a partial season.

      As for Outman vs Porcello, I think voters weigh the team’s performance as well, which might give the edge to Porcello… especially if Detroit makes the playoffs while Oakland continues to struggle at the bottom of the AL West.

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  5. Kevin S. says:

    Why mention Porcello without talking about Uehara or Outman, both of whom have higher WAR? Speaking of WAR – Jesse, Andrus has been half a win better than Bailey so far, and for that to change, it’ll have to be because Elvis screws up, not because Bailey gains on him.

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  6. Tad Hamilton says:

    Josh Outman is the leader as of now.

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  7. Josh says:

    As someone else stated, why not mention Reimold at this point as well? Not sure how his glove rates out (which is important, though probably not as heavily weighed in by the actual voters), but his BB:K is good and his power is solid. His GB rate is a bit higher then I’d expect from him since he has solid power, I’d expect him to start generating more loft and hitting some more flyballs to help make up for a high HR/FB% that will likely come down. I also can’t help but notice his BABIP is only .278, which seems low for someone who hits the ball hard, as he does, so I’d expect that to go up and his batting average to follow. All in all, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reimold post 20-25 HR’s with a .290 BA and solid OBP and OPS probably with mediocre counting numbers given his spot in the order. That said, I would think that line would create a nice stir and throw him into the mix. Overall, good read though!

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    • Brent says:

      I was thinking the same thing: Where’s Riemold? 6 HRs/14 RBIs with a .880 OPS in only 22 games is worth a nod.

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  8. Josh S says:

    I was also going to mention Outman. I don’t think he is getting talked about nearly enough. As mentioned though, what makes Porcello impressive is that he is only 20 years old.

    Porcello: 11
    Outman: 10

    Porcello: 6-4
    Outman: 4-0

    Porcello: 3.98
    Outman: 3.17

    Porcello: 1.30
    Outman: 1.17

    Porcello: 5.31
    Outman: 7.39

    Porcello: 1.80
    Outman: 2.04

    Porcello: 5.10
    Outman: 4.20

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    • If I had to vote for a pitcher right now it’d be Outman, but I’d still vote for Andrus over him.

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      • Nick says:

        How much of a boost does Outman get if he’s selected for the All-Star team as the A’s rep? Making the All-Star team will certainly add to his resume for the voters I would think.

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  9. David says:

    I think the general consensus is that Riemold is an average fielding corner OF with a pretty good arm. I’d say his UZR will be in the +/-3 range at the end of the season. As recently as 2006, he was playing CF in the minors, and not too badly either, according to TotalZone.

    Will he make Rookie of the Year? I don’t think so. Playing in such a hitting-friendly position, you’d have to be excellent to win that award, not just very good, especially since Riemold isn’t a great defender. His current ZiPS projection has him finishing the year .278/.336/.490 with 19 HR and 48 RBI.

    Last time anyone with an OPS that low won ROTY was in 2003, when Angel Berroa hit .287/.338/.451 as a shortstop. Meanwhile, Jody Gerut finished 4th in the voting with a line of .279/.336/.494. That’s remarkably similar to Riemold’s projection, wouldn’t you say?

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  10. David says:

    Also I just realized I spelled Reimold’s name wrong in that entire post. He clearly isn’t following the naming convention established by Matt Wieters. Must be some clubhouse tension going on there.

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    • joser says:

      Actually, they’re both conforming to the convention established by the German language, which is that the second vowel is the one you pronounce.

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  11. Joe A says:

    “As for those actually voting on the award, they will likely be attracted to Andrus’ flashy play”

    When was the last time a player with such a modest line got voted ROY based on exceptional defense. I looked back about 10yrs and couldn’t find an instance. Maybe it’s a good time to (re)start though. Bobby Crosby’s 04 line was only slightly better, but it did include 22HR and the pickins were slim that year.

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  12. Drew M says:

    I’m sorry, but you have to consider Reimold more. The guy gets better every day, and his average will continue to go up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished hitting around .295 with over 20 homers.

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  13. Casey says:

    With the small sample size the decision is quite tricky. Things could change drastically be the end of the year. Reimold should be at the top of this list right now though.

    The agrument that a LF shouldn’t be in this discussion with the numbers Reimold is putting up in comparison to his competition is silly.

    If that’s the case, then Ryan Howard was never worthy of ROY consideration in 2005, let alone winning it.

    But, if Porcello

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  14. Greg says:

    If you want to talk about Porcello, and aren’t sold on Reimold or Uehara… why not Brad Bergesen?

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  15. Mike says:

    I think the dark horse will be JASON VARGAS. He has a slight better ERA, WHIP, and Ks per 9 than Rick Porcello. Although he only has 3 wins compared to Porcello’s 8, Vargas has had much less run support and much less starts. Vargas has had only 8 starts and if you look at those 8 starts, 4 of those games he has pitched 5+ innings and gave up only 1 earned run. In addition to that, he has pitched 7 quality starts out of 8. He is much more effective than Porcello. If Vargas had pitched 13-14 starts and played in a bigger market on a more popular team, he would be leading the AL for ROY.

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  16. John Smith says:

    Ricky Romero

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  17. Justin says:

    I know Nieman from Tampa had some innings last year but was it enough to not qualify this year? Whenever I watch them play, the announcer is always so excited about his stuff and repeatedly calls him one the top rookie pitchers this year.

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  18. Justin says:

    J.A Happs stats are ambiguous, he has 3 of his wins against the Nats, 1 coming against SD and Pit. The only respectful one is recently against TOR, but that has even come when Tor has been in their slide.

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  19. RichRuss says:

    When the year comes to a close the hands down winner will be Gordon Beckham of the White Sox. Since Jun 26th he’s hitting .381 and gaining confidence with every game. After getting the call and going 0 for 13 in his first 4 games, he’s hit .330. The multi-hit games are pilling up and he had a stretch going 6-6 over a 2 game span. He’s struggling a bit at 3rd base which has him playing out of position and learning it as he goes, but regardless I believe he’ll be at the top of the list as the season closes, barring injuries.

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  20. Teddy says:

    Brett Gardner anyone?

    His numbers are much better than Andrus’s.

    Or is he technically not a rookie?

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  21. Zack says:

    What, no love for Ricky Romero?

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  22. East Los says:

    ROY by far should be East LA product Ricky Ro

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  23. Cameron R. says:

    How about The Whitesox Gordon Beckham he is amazing so he is going to win

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  24. Q says:

    maybe earlier in the year i wouldnt have but now i have to agree, Gordon Beckham has been playing very well the last few months and really getting better at that 3rd base spot. hes on a 5 game hitting streak. even if he doesnt win a roy he will be a good player for the sox in the long run.

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