No shortage of Rookie candidates

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
1:50
PM ET
I'll preface my preview of the Rookie of the Year Awards with this codicil: There are not any wrong answers this year.

Well, of course there are. Brennan Boesch would be a wrong answer. But there aren't any reasonable wrong answers. There are three outstanding candidates in the National League, and two in the American League. The actual winners are undoubtedly going to be drawn from those five, and it's exceptionally difficult to make a strong argument against any of them.

Not that we don't all have our favorites. I've got the results of the inaugural SweetSpot Network Awards voting, Rookies of the Year only. In the American League, Detroit's Austin Jackson just edged Texas's Neftali Feliz; Feliz actually got nine first-place votes to Jackson's seven, but Jackson made up the difference in second-place votes as a few voters simply couldn't support a relief pitcher. And in the National League, Jason Heyward out-pointed Buster Posey, taking 13 of 19 first-place votes (oddly, Chris Johnson grabbed one too). Jaime Garcia finished a very distant third.

Coincidentally or (probably) not, that's exactly how I voted.

The argument for Feliz is obvious: He was awesome, pitching 69 innings and racking up 40 saves -- setting a new rookie record, by the way -- for a championship team. Just one year ago, Andrew Bailey was named Rookie of the Year after saving only 26 games (granted, Bailey pitched more innings with a lower ERA, but we're making the case for Feliz).

Feliz is an outstanding candidate. He's just not as outstanding as Austin Jackson, who started 140 games in center field, played (by most measure) truly brilliant defense, and scored 103 runs. Granted, he was just decent with the bat. But a Gold Glove-quality center fielder with league-average hitting stats? Yes please.

It's a bit more complicated in the Senior Circuit, where we've got two hitters who missed a chunk of the season and a starting pitcher who did not. If Buster Posey or Jason Heyward had played the whole season, either would be a near-unanimous choice. If Jaime Garcia had started 20 games rather than 28, he wouldn't merit more than a passing glance.

But they did not. Hence, complicated.

Garcia was really really good.

He was not fantastic. Instead of pitching 200 innings, he pitched 163. His 2.70 ERA ranked fourth in the league and his home-run ratio ranked fifth, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 33rd in the league.

It was a fantastic season for a rookie. But you need more than that this year, because Heyward and and Posey both did fantastic things, period.

The argument for Posey -- and I've heard it a few hundred times now -- goes something like this ...

1. The Giants wouldn't have won without him. (True)

2. The Giants' pitching staff wouldn't have been as good without him. (Arguable)

3. Playing time is irrelevant. (Risible)

The problem with the first argument is that it's just as true about Heyward. The Giants won 92 games, the Braves won 91, and both needed to win exactly as many games as they did. There simply isn't any advantage to either player on this score.

The second argument is a tough one, only because it's not supported by a great deal of evidence. Yes, San Francisco's pitchers did better when Posey was behind the plate. But the difference wasn't massive, and if there's one thing we know it's that attributing the performance of pitchers to catchers is a slippery business, indeed. What happens if Posey's Catcher ERA over the next couple of seasons is higher than his backups'? Will Giants fans do an abrupt turnaround? The funny thing is that one of the Giants' broadcasters was highly critical of Posey's catching skills in August. Was Krukow -- widely considered one of the best analysts in the business -- simply wrong?

Maybe. Or maybe (as I suspect) Krukow exaggerated the impact of Posey's deficiencies. But it seems awfully early to anoint Posey the second coming of Jim Hegan.

And of course the playing time argument is silly. Heyward started 136 games. Posey started 105 games, and here's a dirty little secret that Giants fans don't want you to know ... Of Posey's 105 starts, only 75 were behind the plate. His argument is largely built on his performance as the Giants' catcher ... but he was the Giants' catcher for less than half the season.

Does Posey still deserve credit for catching 75 games (and playing first base in 30 more) while Heyward was playing right field? Of course. Any reasonable system used to evaluate a player's value gives Posey extra credit for catcher. Still, even with the extra credit he winds up somewhere between one and two wins behind Heyward.

Granted, that's giving Posey credit for being a catcher, but very little (if any) for being a good catcher. The problem is that if you give him a full win for being a good catcher, you're saying a good catcher over a full season is worth two full wins, and that a great catcher over a full season is worth three full wins. So let me ask you, Giants fans: Are you ready to pay Yadier Molina $12 million per season for his defense?

Probably not.

To me, the argument for Posey as the best rookie hinges on your ability to convince me that you know how to measure a catcher's defense and that Posey played fantastic defense in his 75 games behind the plate.

Good luck with that. For the moment, though, I'm going to stick with Heyward because he played significantly more games than Posey and hit just as well.

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