Before I begin, please allow me to congratulate both Craig Kimbrel and Jeremy Hellickson for winning their respective league’s 2011 Rookie of the Year awards. It was the first time since 1981 when Dave Righetti (NYY- AL) and Fernando Valenzuela (LAD- NL) won that each league’s award went to a pitcher in the same season. Both seemed deserving of such esteemed honors, although one brings on a greater debate than the other. Kimbrel, with a record 46 saves by a rookie, finished with a 2.10 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and an eye-popping 127 strikeouts in 77 innings of work. Hellickson, starter of 29 games and winner of 13, finished the season with a 2.95 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and notched 117 Ks in a rookie-leading 189 innings. I could talk about peripherals and who was more deserving and what not, but that’s neither here nor there right now. What is important is how winning this award affects the value of each player in 2012 fantasy baseball drafts. All too often, players are drafted based on name and hype and winning the Rookie of the Year award certainly helps build both. So before you go breaking the bank to acquire this year’s crop, allow me to point out that you should probably keep your expectations low.
Here’s a look at Rookie of the Year winners from 2000 – 2010 with their award winning season’s stats followed by the totals from their sophomore campaign.
If for some reason color coding needs to be explained, then allow me to tell you that red indicates a regression, green is an increase in overall production and blue is, statistically, a lateral move.
While there are definitely some seriously talented players listed here, you can’t deny the fact that regression in the second year is much more common than improvement. Yes, even the great Pujols regressed during his sophomore season, although anyone would be lucky to own his regressed stats, right? But for whatever reason it may be — Coghlan’s unsustainable .365 BABIP, Jennings’ high HR/FB in Coors Field, Crosby’s high K% and low AVG — several of the winners had flaws in their game that indicated a downturn was coming. Perhaps the adrenaline from playing their first full year helped mask some of the negatives, but if you sifted through the data enough, there were plenty to be found.
Now obviously there are no tangible predictors for injury. Sometimes, as in the case with Posey, you never see them coming and it’s always too late when you do. However, when you’re talking about hamstrings or broken fingers from aggressive slides, knee tweaks, whatever, sometimes it’s the hard-nosed, gritty play that does a guy in. The pressure the following year that stems from winning an award like this is usually pretty high for a young player. You want to come into camp strong the following year. You’ve already set the bar high and now you’re putting pressure on yourself to do even better. You push yourself more, you might play through a hammy tweak you shouldn’t play through, you play a harder edged game and all of that opens yourself up to getting hurt more easily. Such was the case of several listed above.
Yes, that run of players from ’05 through ’09 was pretty special. Players like Longoria, Ramirez and Howard were on a level far beyond most of their peers even coming into their first season. Greatness was already expected and the award just confirmed what we already knew. But so many of the others didn’t so much come from nowhere, but the expectations of them were not nearly as high as those who were rated at the top by Baseball America and other scouting publications. When you watch a player come up through the system, you can tell who’s got it and who doesn’t. Longoria had it. Hinske did not.
So when you’re deciding where to draft Kimbrel and Hellickson this year, you have to ask yourself whether or not they “have it” as well. Kimbrel’s basic and peripheral stats look incredibly consistent from his time in the minors, even with a higher than usual BABIP. However, one can’t help but think about Feliz’ declining K% in his sophomore year and wonder if Kimbrel might go the same route. And Hellickson, well, you’ve heard the debates and have looked at his stats. If he truly had the edge because of innings pitched, then the low K% and nasty FIP can’t be ignored for next season. I’m not saying to necessarily avoid these guys next year. Just don’t overpay because “award winning” comes attached to their name.