Is Craig Kimbrel the NL Rookie of the Year?

Craig Kimbrel continues to build on his ridiculous rookie season. While he’s been mentioned as a popular Rookie of the Year Award candidate, Kimbrel notched his 41st save last night — a rookie record — which should only increase his candidacy in the voters’ eyes. The save stat may be criticized in the advanced stats community, but the BBWAA voters still seem to hold the save in high regard. Last season, for example, Neftali Feliz won the award based on his high saves total despite finishing behind Brian Matusz in WAR. It wasn’t an egregious error, but it goes to show that the save still matters to the voters. With Kimbrel reaching heights no other rookie closer has reached before; has he all but locked up the National League Rookie of the Year Award?

Based on recent trends — especially in the American League — there’s a really good chance the NL R.O.Y. race is already over. While few rookies are actually thrust into the closer role — likely due to their manager preferring someone with a “closer mentality” — rookies with high saves totals typically perform well in the R.O.Y. voting.

In recent years, rookie closers have dominated the voting in the American League. The previous two winners of the award — Nefali Feliz and Andrew Bailey — were closers for their respective teams. In 2006, Jonathan Papelbon finished second in the voting, and a year earlier, Huston Street took home the hardware in the AL. Shingo Takatsu — if you considered him a rookie at the time — finished as the runner-up in 2004.

Posting a high saves total does seem to help rookies perform better on the ballot. While Papelbon and Feliz were the second best rookies in their respective seasons according to WAR; Bailey, Street and Takatsu all performed much better in the R.O.Y. voting than they deserved based on their WAR totals.

Over in the National League, things have been quite different. A closer hasn’t won the R.O.Y. Award in the NL since Scott Williamson accumulated 19 saves for the Cincinnati Reds in 1999. John Rocker actually posted 38 saves that season, but failed to make the ballot. The lack of closers on the NL ballot in more recent years is likely due to poor candidates, however, and less about voter preferences.

Looking back through the FanGraphs rookie leaderboards, there haven’t been many NL rookies thrust into the closer role in recent seasons. John Axford was a nice surprise last year — posting 24 saves for the Milwaukee Brewers — but he was up against some of the best rookie competition we’ve seen in years. Manny Corpas and Takashi Saito also managed to post some high saves totals over that period, but we’re also up against some pretty stiff competition.

If recent history is any indication, there’s a good chance the R.O.Y. Award is going to Kimbrel. High saves totals have been rewarded over in the AL in recent years, while the NL hasn’t had a decent candidate in quite some time. Due to Kimbrel’s gaudy saves total, it’s highly likely that he walks home with the hardware when the season ends. Kimbrel currently leads all NL rookies in WAR, so he’s certainly a legitimate candidate. Still, Kimbrel should win the award based on his complete dominance of the National League this season; not just his gaudy saves total.

We hoped you liked reading Is Craig Kimbrel the NL Rookie of the Year? by Chris Cwik!

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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JT Grace
Guest
JT Grace

Great article. Kimbrel’s only real competition comes from his own teammate, Freddie Freeman.

Hizouse
Member
Hizouse

You can’t ask “Who’s going to win an award?” and then only discuss one candidate.

Santos
Guest
Santos

Did he ask that? It seems pretty clear from the title it’s an article about Kimbrel’s chances specifically. Am I missing something?

DD
Guest
DD

Santos – wouldn’t you agree that his chances are heavily dependent on what other candidates are doing this year, and the perception they have in the voters’ eyes?

Santos
Guest
Santos

Yeah I suppose I would agree with that. I guess Hizouse’s wording threw me off a bit. He stated “Who’s going to win an award” as if the article was to discuss everyone’s chances, when I read it as an article discussing Kimbrel’s chances with regard to previous closers winning the award. I guess Hizouse’s point, however, is inherent in any discussion like this since you really can’t decide if someone is worthy for something without comparing his performance to the other candidates.

Nik
Guest
Nik

Only Freddie Freeman? Try Danny Espinosa.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Espinosa has tailed off pretty significantly in the second half. And even though it’s unfair, the voters still use BA to judge players. So with Espinosa hitting .229, he’s probably getting left out of the conversation, even though he should be in the running.

Luke M
Guest
Luke M

Stop it.

SOB
Guest
SOB

Vance Worley

By the end of the year he will be looking at 125-140 IP overall, and if he keeps up the production he will have lines extremely similar to those of teammates Halladay, Lee and Hamels.

Its impossible to overlook

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

I haven’t followed his season, so perhaps when you say “if he keeps up the production” you’re talking about recent trends rather than his whole season’s body of work. Assuming you’re not, though, this is pretty silly. His FIP and xFIP, while quite impressive for a rookie starter, aren’t in the same ballpark with Halladay, Hamels, and Lee. I’m not saying Worley should get no RoY consideration–he’s had a very good season in limited playing time, while Kimbrel has been elite in a full season of an intrinsically less valuable role. But either way you come down on that, there’s no basis for putting Worley in the conversation with the Phillies’ front 3.

SOB
Guest
SOB

When mentioning the other three, I was referring to actual on field, ie more superficial, results (which is what these awards are generally decided on) rather then advanced sabermetric projection which gets its true value from predicting future production instead of telling people what actually did happen. Vance with a 9-1 record, the team being 14-2 when he starts and the miniscule 2.65 ERA is every bit as strong as the results the Phillies have gotten out of any of the other three. (and if he happens to keep up the recent trends you mention, you’re looking at about a 8.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, .65 HR/9 range pitcher over the last two months – which would match up very well with Halladay, Lee or Hamels)

As far as the “limited playing time” compared to Kimbrel’s “full season”, you are right about it being roughly half a season to a year long gig. But you are also talking about a “limited playing time” of roughly 140 IP verses about 75 innings of full season because Kimbrel is a reliever. This difference will also likely play into the final month, where 2 poor outings can have a rather dramatic effect on Kimbrels superficial lines because of the limited amount of innings short guys see.

No matter, I was saying a 10+W/1-3L, 2.5- range ERA rookie with about 140 innings on a championship caliper team is going to get a ton of vote attention here.

Nick44
Guest
Nick44

“Vance” should only win awards for best animal performance opposite PeeWee Herman in a movie about traveling circuses.