Jeremy Hellickson is the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year. Despite the fact that Hellickson finished with just 1.4 WAR — good for eighth among AL rookie pitchers — he managed to beat out some other very qualified candidates for the award. The BBWAA has come under fire for some of their selections in the past, and Hellickson’s selection might spark the same debate once again. That said, Hellickson did have a fine season, and there were obvious reasons to select him as the most valuable rookie in the league. Whether or not you agree with the methodology, this is how Hellickson managed to take home the award.
Depending on what stats you choose to look at, this is the area where Hellickson’s candidacy suffers the most. The 13 wins and the 2.95 ERA certainly look nice on paper, but we know those aren’t the best ways to evaluate players anymore. When looking strictly at WAR, Hellickson finished eighteenth among all AL rookies — behind guys like Casper Wells and Vinnie Pestano. Unfortunately, none of Hellickson’s advanced stats really justify his low ERA. His strikeout rate was rather pedestrian, and his walk rate was nothing to brag about either. The fact that he pitches in the AL East should be worth some bonus points, but probably not enough to vault him above some of his peers. Based solely on 2011 performances; Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley, Brett Lawrie or Desmond Jennings would have been better choices for the award.
Length of performance
This is where Hellickson starts to separate himself from the group. Hellickson accumulated more playing time in the majors than any of his competitors — with the exception of maybe Mark Trumbo. The voters were definitely influenced by this, as both Hellickson and Trumbo finished 1-2 in the voting. While Ivan Nova and Zach Britton posted slightly better WARs in the same division, Hellickson threw twenty more innings than either player. The voters took length of performance very seriously, as Jennings and Ackley drew only three combined votes despite higher WAR totals. Lawrie did not receive a vote even though he performed just as well as Ackley in a smaller sample of plate appearances.
It’s unclear how much this matters to the BBWAA, but it’s interesting to at least consider future projection when looking at the results. While Dave Cameron recently argued that some of the players in the running may have higher upsides than Hellickson, it’s tough to penalize Hellickson in this area. He entered the season at or near the top of every prospect list out there. Perhaps Hellickson doesn’t have the upside of some of the other candidates, but it’s highly unlikely that he fades into obscurity or turns into a pumpkin next season.
Although Hellickson isn’t a runaway candidate in any of the three areas, he’s still a strong candidate for the award based on these three criterion. While Hellickson struggles in the performance area, his numbers looked good in the traditional areas — which the voters still value quite a bit. The area where Hellickson really stands out is length of performance, where Hellickson threw 189 innings for a playoff team. The voters really seem to value length of performance highly. They will overlook better performances in order to reward guys who were in the big leagues longer. Based on future projection, it’s tough to argue against Hellickson all that much. The BBWAA may not always get it right, but Hellickson’s selection is far from egregious when you consider the factors that go into the voting.