Friday, November 14, 2003

The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 4: AL MVP 

If you missed them, check out the last two days of Sabey Award coverage:

The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 1: Rookie of the Year
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 2: AL Cy Young
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 3: NL Cy Young

I've been looking at each of the candidates and evaluating them statistically. I give the Sabey to the player I feel is most deserving, and also make a prediction as to who will actually be chosen for the award.

Player              Age AVG  OBP  SLG  BB    K   XBH  HR  AB    R   RBI  Win Shares  EqA  RARP
Garret Anderson     31  315  345  541   31   83   82  29  638   80  116  25.26 (11)  298  38.0
Bret Boone          34  294  366  535   68  125   75  35  622  111  117  29.71 (3)   313  66.0
Carlos Delgado      31  302  426  593  109  137   71  42  570  117  145  32.21 (2)   338  70.1
Nomar Garciaparra   30  301  345  524   39   61   78  28  658  120  105  25.19 (12)  296  55.1
David Ortiz         27  288  369  592   58   83   72  31  448   79  101  15.09 (68)  316  40.2
Jorge Posada        32  281  405  518   93  110   54  30  481   83  101  27.75 (5)   318  58.4
Alex Rodriguez      28  298  396  600   87  126   83  47  607  124  118  32.51 (1)   326  79.1
Manny Ramirez       31  325  427  587   97   94   74  37  569  117  104  27.59 (7)   341  70.7
Shannon Stewart     29  307  364  459   52   66   59  13  573   90   73  18.43 (40)  283  23.1
Frank Thomas        35  267  390  562  100  115   77  42  546   87  105  22.82 (19)  318  51.8

* explanations: win shares, eqa, and rarp

Before I digress into statistical meanderings, I feel obligated to state my position on the whole "What MVP Means" dance. Some people would lead you to believe that the "value" implied by "Most Valuable Player" is not necessarily of the concrete, discernable type. Rather, they might suggest that there is a metaphysical characteristic of certain players that elevate their contribution to a team above that which can be computed, calculated, and otherwise comprehended with the tools we have readily at our disposal. These same people might propose the following absurdities:

1) How can a player on a last-place team be the MVP? They would have finished last without him.
2) He struggled late in the season, when the games "really" matter.
3) He's smelly.
4) He doesn't play for the Yankees.
5) He makes too much money.

Those last three were filler, but you get the point. The first two arguments are not only misguided, but are downright ignorant. Dan Werr writes impressively about this in his AL MVP article at baseballprimer.com. The purpose of statistical analysis as it pertains to baseball players is to take the player out of the context in which he performed, and attempt to universalize his performance for comparison purposes. Is it Alex Rodriguez' fault that his team is lousy and he didn't play "meaningful" games in September? Are we to believe that Jorge Posada's performance in late-season games against also-rans like the Orioles and Devil Rays was somehow more "valuable" than A-Rod's in games against much tougher teams like the A's and Mariners? As you and I both know, the value of a win in September is roughly equivalent to the value of a win in April (or March, as in this season). So rather than debate the merits (or lack thereof) of these vagaries, I will instead make an attempt at determining, simply, which player is the best. The "Best Player" and the "Most Valuable Player", in my estimation, are rephrasings of the same conclusion.

Jayson Stark's non-sensical ramblings notwithstanding, Shannon Stewart is not a legitimate candidate for MVP. For that matter, David Ortiz and Garret Anderson aren't either. Anderson actually had more Win Shares this season than Nomah, who also won't be bringing home the hardware. Nomar and Ortiz were probably 3-4 on their own team this season, behind Manny, Trot Nixon, and probably even Bill Mueller.

I've always been a big fan of Frank Thomas the ballplayer. Even though Frank Thomas the human being has had less-than-stellar moments (like when he said his $10 mill annual salary was insulting), I've always been impressed by his talents. Before OBP and SLG were the talk of the town, The Big Hurt was putting up 1000 OPS seasons consistently. The guy was a beast for most of the 90's, and returned (mostly) to form this season after a couple of lackluster campaigns. His average isn't what it used to be, but he still walks a ton and can hit the ball a long way. Not the MVP though.

With Mike Piazza's recent string of mediocre numbers and painful groin injuries, Jorge Posada has become the marquee offensive backstop in all of baseball. Javy Lopez had a ridiculous season offensively, but I'd still take Jorgie for the long haul (though he's 32 already). He's got pop, he's a switch-hitter, and you've just gotta love a catcher who gets on base at a .400 clip. Though he plays a demanding defensive position, he's no great shakes in the field. He still passes balls like Dan Marino and, while I have heard that his throwing has improved, I certainly can't tell from his stats (.282, .290, .280 CS% the past three seasons).

Bret Boone, despite having a very large head, is quite a player. He's a gold glover at 2B, which makes his offensive production that much more impressive. Any time you can get significant production AND great defense from one of the big three (C, SS, 2B), you've got a great player on your hands. I don't know whether it's the THG or the Starbucks or if something just clicked, but ever since coming to Seattle, the man has been a hitting machine. He could take a few more walks, but other than that, he's the best second-baseman in the game. Not the MVP.

It should come as no surprise that C-Del, M-Ram, and A-Rod were in the top five in the AL in OPS, RARP (Runs Above Replacement batter at Position), runs scored, and SLG. This is the cream of the crop, folks. It should also come as no surprise that these three players rank at or near the top in annual salary (Rodriguez and Ramirez are 1 and 2, with Delgado not far behind). These are the kind of offensive forces that you build a franchise around (albeit with more reasonable price tags). Rodriguez is the youngest and the only of the three on the better side of 30. Ramirez had the highest average of the three, and had an OBP just a shade higher than Delgado. Rodriguez was tops in the league in SLG. A-Rod also swiped 17 bases in 20 attempts for an 85% success rate. What really separates these three behemoths from each other is their performance relative to others who play their position. LF and 1B are the two least demanding defensive positions (according to Bill James' defensive spectrum, not counting DH), while shortstop is the single-most demanding position (not counting catcher, which is considered a special case). The defensive spectrum looks like this:

[ DH - 1B - LF - RF - 3B - CF - 2B - SS - C ]

Offense is more highly concentrated on the left end of the spectrum, while defense is more highly concentrated on the right end. It's much harder to find a productive offensive player at 2B or SS than it is at 1B or DH. It is typical for a ballplayer to move leftward along the spectrum, though it is rare for one to move rightward. With any luck, Mr. Piazza will be making a great leftward shift in the coming season, though he may end up shifting even further for an AL team. The defensive spectrum attempts to illustrate how similar offensive production is much more valuable from a shortstop than it is from a left-fielder or a first-baseman. This difference is reflected in a player's RARP. While Delgado and Rodriguez put up similar offensive numbers this season (Delgado held the edge in most, including OPS), A-Rod's performance is more impressive because his was done while playing a position that is less inclined to do so.

2003 Sabey Choice: Alex Rodriguez
Predicted MLB Winner: Alex Rodriguez

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

With a short break in the MLB Awards announcements, here is a snippet from John Sickels' column at ESPN.com about the Arizona Fall League, specifically Met 3B-to-be David Wright:
A well-kept secret, Wright had a solid season in the Florida State League, and has followed that up by hitting .341 with a .433 OBP and a .488 SLG in Arizona. Of particular note are 13 walks and just eight strikeouts in 82 at-bats. He has power and a good measure of refinement at the plate. Wright is also a very good defensive third baseman, more reliable than most players his age, and featuring a strong arm and decent range. I think he is an excellent prospect, and he could see Shea Stadium sometime late in 2004.

The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 3: NL Cy Young 

If you missed them, check out the last two days of Sabey Award coverage:

The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 1: Rookie of the Year
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 2: AL Cy Young

I've been looking at each of the candidates and evaluating them statistically. I give the Sabey to the player I feel is most deserving, and also make a prediction as to who will actually be chosen for the award.

Today I will look at the National League Cy Young award.

Player               Age  IP     K    BB  HR  ERA   WHIP   K/9   K/BB  HR/9
Eric Gagne           27   82.1  137   20   2  1.20  0.69  14.98  6.85  0.22
Kevin Millwood       28  222.0  169   68  19  4.01  1.25   6.85  2.49  0.77
Russ Ortiz           29  212.1  149  102  17  3.81  1.31   6.32  1.46  0.72
Mark Prior           23  211.1  245   50  15  2.43  1.10  10.43  4.90  0.64
Jason Schmidt        30  207.2  208   46  14  2.34  0.95   9.01  4.52  0.61
John Smoltz          36   64.1   73    8   2  1.12  0.87  10.21  9.13  0.28
Billy Wagner         32   86.0  105   23   8  1.78  0.87  10.99  4.57  0.84
Woody Williams       37  220.2  153   55  20  3.87  1.25   6.24  2.78  0.82
Randy Wolf           27  200.0  177   78  27  4.23  1.27   7.97  2.27  1.22
Kerry Wood           26  211.0  266  100  24  3.20  1.19  11.35  2.66  1.02

Unlike the American League race, where every player was a viable candidate for the award, there are a few stinkers here. Despite racking up 21 wins, Russ Ortiz wasn't very impressive this season (or in previous seasons, really). He has benefited much from playing for great teams (Braves, Giants), many of which played in PacBell, a great pitcher's park. His ERA is better than average for the league, but the guy walked 102 batters in 212 innings. What up with that? You might be saying, "Yea, well Kerry Wood walked 100 batters in 211 innings." True, but Mr. Wood also led the league in strikeouts, while Russ Ortiz had a lower strikeout rate than all-but-one of the candidates here. Which brings us to...

Woody Williams. Woody put up very good numbers in the first half, posting an ERA just a shade over 3.00 (3.01 to be precise). My man fell off the wagon (or maybe it was back on the wagon, given his performance in recent years) in Mid-July, though. He put up a bloated 5.23 ERA post-All-Star, whilst giving up 11 homers in only 86 innings.

The next two to leave are teammates. One pitched in the All-Star Game, the other just became a free agent and will likely command more money over more years than a middle-of-the-road starting pitcher should be hauling in. If you guessed Randy Wolf and Kevin Millwood, give yourself a gold star. Perhaps someone can look this up for me, but I would venture a guess that these are the two worst teammates to ever be candidates for this award in the same season. They both had ERA's over 4.00, they both had K/BB in the lower 2's, and while Wolf's K/9 is good, he gave up a slew of long balls this year: almost 1.25 jacks-per-nine. I pity the poor team who signs Millwood to a five-year, $60 million deal (please don't be the Mets, please don't be the Mets).

Billy Wagner (Wags) is a great pitcher with great stuff. He struck out more batters per nine innings than either John Smoltz or Mark Prior. His K/BB is good but not great for a closer. He's a bit prone to the tater, having given up 8 in 86 innings. Nevertheless, he was a huge pickup recently for the Phils, and should help put them over the top in the NL East this coming season. However, he happened to pitch during the same season as two of the best closers of all time (yes, I know it's early to say it, but it's hard to argue). Alas, Wagner won't be winning the Cy Young this year (or any other year, really).

Kerry Wood had another monster strikeout season, leading the bigs in both K's, K/9, and, unfortunately, almost leading the majors in walks (that particular honor belongs to Victor Zambrano). Wood could very well win a Cy Young award one day, that day just isn't today (or any day this week). He's not nearly the best pitcher on his own team, let alone in the whole league.

Now let's get down to it. We have four pitchers left: two starters, two relievers. John Smoltz had a brilliant year for the Braves, and actually posted a better ERA and K/BB than Eric Gagne. However, it's hard to overlook the man who broke the modern-day K/9 record (previously held by one Armando Benitez, when he K'd 14.77 batters per nine innings in 1999, splitting time between setup and, when Johnny Franco went on the DL, closer). Gagne was flat-out sick this year, notching an ERA of 1.20, a WHIP of 0.69, and a HR/9 of 0.22. That's just over 1/5 of one homerun every nine innings. Did I mention he set the record for most K's per nine innings? The man struck out nigh 15 batters for every 27 outs he recorded. He blew zero saves this season (one if you count the All-Star Game), though I don't find saves all that indicative of a pitcher's performance. This was quite possibly the best season for a relief pitcher ever, putting Dennis Eckersley's '92 Cy Young season to shame in virtually every category.

Deciding on the best starting pitcher between Mark Prior and Jason Schmidt is really a toss-up. Jason Schmidt had a better WHIP, but that was likely due to the Giants' infield defense being significantly better than the Cubs'. Their walks were about the same, homers were about the same, IP were about the same, ERA were about the same. See where I'm going with this? The main thing that really separates these two pitchers' performances is Prior's strikeout rate, which is a good bit better than Schmidt's. That's not to take anything away from Schmidt, who struck out more than a batter-per-inning, a great mark for a starting pitcher. But Prior struck out 37 more guys and, subsequently, had a better K/9 and K/BB ratio.

If Mark Prior were in the American League this season, he would have been my choice for AL Cy Young. It's unfortunate for him that he was not, because I think Eric Gagne was a better pitcher this year. Prior had a phenomenal year, and undoubtedly (barring injury) has one, probably multiple Cy Young awards in his future. He's only 23, and is already one of the best pitchers in the game. If you were to ask me who I would rather have on my team, the choice wouldn't even be close. Prior would be my #1 pick among all pitchers in the majors, but that's a different story. Gagne was obscenely good this year and, although he was probably babied a bit (as are most closers not named Mariano Rivera), he is the 2003 Saby Award winner for National League Cy Young.

2003 Saby Choice: Eric Gagne
Predicted MLB Winner: Eric Gagne

Monday, November 10, 2003

The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 2: AL Cy Young 

Yesterday, in The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 1, I took a look at the American League and National League Rookie of the Year races.

Today I will break down the American League Cy Young candidates.

All of these pitchers had very good or great seasons, but only one can win the award (duh).

Player              Age  IP     K   BB  HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9   K/BB  HR/9
Bartolo Colon       30  242.0  173  67  30  3.87  1.20  6.43  2.58  1.12
Keith Foulke        31   86.2   88  20  10  2.08  0.89  9.14  4.40  1.04
Roy Halladay        26  266.0  204  32  26  3.25  1.07  6.90  6.38  0.88
Tim Hudson          28  240.0  162  61  15  2.70  1.08  6.08  2.66  0.56
Esteban Loaiza      31  226.1  207  56  17  2.90  1.11  8.23  3.70  0.68
Pedro Martinez      32  186.2  206  47   7  2.22  1.04  9.93  4.38  0.34
Jamie Moyer         40  215.0  129  66  19  3.27  1.23  5.40  1.96  0.80
Mark Mulder         26  186.2  128  40  15  3.13  1.18  6.17  3.20  0.72
Mike Mussina        34  214.2  195  40  21  3.40  1.08  8.18  4.88  0.88
Andy Pettitte       31  208.1  180  50  21  4.02  1.33  7.78  3.60  0.91

There's only one relief pitcher in this group, and he isn't going to win. Keith Foulke had a great year as a closer for the Oakland A's, racking up 43 saves (overrated), while posting the lowest ERA and WHIP and the highest K/9 among the candidates. Unlike typical modern-day closers, Foulke actually pitched more than one inning on 21 occasions this season (Eric Gagne did so only 11 times). Unlike Gagne's candidacy in the NL, where the argument could be made that there aren't any ridiculous starting pitchers, the same can't be said of Foulke.

Bartolo Colon, while fat, was not the best pitcher in the American League. His rotundness notwithstanding, he posted the highest HR/9, third-highest WHIP, and second-lowest K/BB. He pitched the second-most innings, but gave up too many homeruns and did not strike out enough batters.

Forty-year-old Jamie Moyer is the oldest by six years, but that's not why he won't win the award. His HR/9 was very good, but his WHIP was only lower than Andy Pettitte's, and he simply doesn't ring up enough K's. He's a great pitcher, and probably will be for a few more years (I can't believe I just said that), but his K/9 and K/BB leave much to be desired. He was likely helped out considerably by the Mariners' defense and their four gold gloves. If he put that many balls into play with the Mets' defense behind him, he wouldn't have been nearly as "lucky".

Andy Pettitte had been a very good pitcher for the Yankees over the years, but he struggled away from the Stadium, posting an ERA a half-run higher on the road this season. He also gave up many more homeruns (15 to 6). This was just a flukey season for him, though. Right? Hardly. Over the previous three seasons (2000-2002), Pettitte's ERA was more than three-quarters of a run worse on the road (4.20 to 3.46), and his walks were way up (75 to 48) in a similar number of innings (268 to 275.2). Any ballclub interested in signing Pettitte to a megabucks contract may want to keep these in mind, especially if he'll be pitching his home games at Ten-Run Field in Houston. He wasn't even the best pitcher on his team, let alone the best in the league.

Along those lines, I'm also going to eliminate Mark Mulder. He had a great year for the A's, but wasn't quite as good as teammate Tim Hudson. They posted similar numbers, with Mulder posting better strikeout rates and Hudson giving up fewer homeruns. At the end of the day, I give the nod to Hudson because he posted comparable numbers over many more innings (53.1 more to be exact).

While I'm pickin' off A's, I'll dismiss Hudson too. Though slightly better than Mulder, his K/9 was not great and his K/BB was fairly poor. He had the second-best HR/9 here, but that just wasn't enough.

The Moose has been let loose. Mike Mussina put up another great season in pinstripes, and was overshadowed again (think Roger Clemens in 2001) by a teammate with lesser stats but more wins. I'm also going to cut Esteban Loaiza. I don't really have great reasons for cutting either of these guys, except that they weren't quite as good as Pedro and Halladay. They both put up tremendous numbers, and either could have won this award if the competition weren't so stiff.

Halladay or Pedro. Pedro or Halladay. This is a tough one, guys. Other than innings pitched and KK/B, Pedro dominated this race in almost every important category. His K/9 was awesome for a starting pitcher, his ERA and WHIP were microscopic (Halladay's WHIP was almost as low), and his HR/9 was otherworldly. The freakin' guy gave up seven homeruns in almost 190 innings! Despite Halladay throwing 80 more innings and posting the best K/BB of any starting pitcher in the bigs, I have to give this one to Pedro. Halladay will probably win the real award, but Pedro gets the Sabey.

2003 Saby Choice: Pedro Martinez
Predicted MLB Winner: Roy Halladay

Sunday, November 09, 2003

The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 1: Rookie of the Year 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to bring you the first annual Sabey Awards, where I pick my winners of MLBs fall awards. The candidates are those suggested by MLB.com's Awards page. I guess these are considered the official candidates, though quite a few of them are borderline at best. Quite frankly, I had to click on the "R. Johnson, TOR" link just to find out that the "R" stood for "Reed". My ignorance to the lesser-knowns notwithstanding, I will attempt to evaluate each player objectively via rudimentary statistical analysis. So, without further ado...

American League

When I think of the AL ROY candidates, the usual names come to mind: Hideki Matsui, Angel Berroa, Jody Gerut. MLB.com evidently needed ten candiates for each award, so we also get Joe Somebodys like Craig Monroe and the aforementioned Reed Johnson. Nevertheless, each player will be given equal consideration, as I attempt to not let my Big-Cityness cloud my objectivity. I am going to compare the hitters to each other and the pitchers to each other, and then decide on a winner based on the results of those comparisons.

The Hitters

Rocco Baldelli, Devil RaysAngel Berroa, RoyalsJody Gerut, IndiansReed Johnson, Blue JaysHideki Matsui, YankeesCraig Monroe, TigersMark Teixeira, Rangers

Below are the pertinent stats for each hitter...

Player          Age AVG OBP SLG BB  K  XBH HR  AB  R   RBI SB/CS
Rocco Baldelli   22 289 326 416 30 128  51 11 637  89   78 27/10
Angel Berroa     25 287 338 451 29 100  54 17 567  92   73 21/5
Jody Gerut       26 279 336 494 35  70  57 22 480  66   75  4/5
Reed Johnson     26 294 353 427 20  67  33 10 412  79   52  5/3
Hideki Matsui    29 287 353 435 63  86  59 16 623  82  106  2/2
Craig Monroe     26 240 287 449 27  89  42 23 425  51   70  4/2
Mark Teixeira    23 259 331 480 44 120  50 26 529  66   84  1/2

Okay, let's start weeding them out. Craig Monroe, despite his 23 HR and 70 RBI, is just this side of useless. That .287 OBP is downright Rey Ordonez-esque (that is, if you disregard his uncharacteristic 2003 campaign where he hit .316 in 117 AB, albeit with only two walks). His slugging is middle-of-the-pack here, but he's old for a non-Japanese rookie at 26, and shouldn't really be in consideration for this award.

Reed Johnson isn't going to win this award either. His .353 OBP is nice, but is largely contributed to by his .294 AVG. 20 BB in 412 AB is almost as bad as the Baldelli kid.

Speaking of Baldelli, can a brother get a base-on-balls every once in awhile? 30 BB in 637 AB is actually worse than Choppin' Brocolli himself. He did manage to swipe 27 bases, but at the cost of 10 caught-stealing (73%, a bit higher than the break-even point). He's essentially Alphonso Soriano without the power numbers which, as we know, isn't much at all.

To narrow it down to a nice even (odd) three, I'm going to show Mark Teixeira (or as my buddy Steve calls him, Tex-ee-era) the door. His 26 bombs are the most among the candidates, and he has the second-highest slugging among this group, but his .259 AVG and .331 OBP aren't going to cut it with the Beane-counters here.

Jody Gerut outslugged everyone here, besting $7-million-per-year Hideki Matsui by almost 60 points. However, he only reached base 33% of the time.

That leaves us with The Big Two. Hideki Matsui, the heavy favorite to win this award at the onset of the 2003 campaign, and Angel Berroa, who most people hadn't even heard of (myself included) when 2003 kicked off. Berroa bested Matsui in slugging by 15 points, which is not much more than negligible. Berroa stole 21 bases in 26 attemps, which is a terrific 80% success rate. I am not a big fan of the stolen base, but if you can swipe them at an 80% clip, be my guest. Their homeruns were very similar: 17 to 16 in favor of Berroa. Matsui held a big lead in RBI, but that's largely (read: entirely) a product of the Yankees sluggardly sluggers clogging up the bases in front of him. When you have guys like Jason Giambi (.412 OBP) and Jorge Posada (.405 OBP) hitting in front of you, it's not that hard to rack up the ribbies. Matsui gets the edge in OBP by 17 points. While this is similar to Berroa's edge in SLG, OBP is considered to be much more valuable than SLG. The ability to get on base is, quite simply, the ability to avoid making outs. As we know, there is no commodity as precious to a team as outs are.

The Pitchers

Lance Carter, Devil RaysMike MacDougal, RoyalsFrancisco Rodriguez, Angels

I'm not really sure why I'm even looking at these. None of them ever get any press for this award, and it's already almost 3am. But I will forge ahead.

Player             Age  IP   K  BB HR ERA  WHIP K/9  K/BB HR/9
Lance Carter        28  79.0 47 19 12 4.33 1.15 5.35 2.47 1.37
Mike MacDougal      26  64.0 57 32  4 4.08 1.50 8.02 1.78 0.56
Francisco Rodriguez 21  86.0 95 35 12 3.04 0.99 9.94 2.71 1.26

In the race to decide who the best AL pitcher to not win the ROY this year, there are really only two horses here. Lance Carter is basically a bum, and has no business on this list. For that matter, let's make it a one-horse race really quickly. Mike MacDougal had a nice season, with a very good K/9 and a superb HR/9. However, K-Rod was better in almost every category, save HR/9. His WHIP was razor-thin, his K/9 was terrific, and his K/BB was very good as well. Plus, he's only 21, so despite the rest of the Angels team falling off the face of the earth this season, Francisco Rodriguez was far-and-away the best rookie pitcher in the American League.

The Final Answer

This was a harder decision than I thought it would be. For most of this season, I have felt that Hideki Matsui's candidacy was based largely on his overvalued RBI total. Compound this with the fact that I am a Yankee-hater, and I could have very (very, very) easily picked Berroa here. However, I think the correct choice should be Matsui. He demolishes Berroa in BB/K and BB/AB and, despite his questionable eligibility, he is my choice for 2003 American League Rookie of the Year.

2003 Saby Choice: Hideki Matsui
Predicted MLB Winner: Hideki Matsui

National League

As with the American League, I will divide the candidates into Hitters and Pitchers, which will allow for more reasonable comparison. Also like the AL, there are a number of players here who are mainly filler so that MLB could run the list to ten.

The Hitters

While the American League was short on pitching in this race, the Natioinal League is a bit short on hitting. Each of these four guys had nice rookie campaigns, though.

Player          Age AVG OBP SLG BB  K  XBH HR  AB  R   RBI SB/CS
Marlon Byrd     26  303 366 418 44  94  39  7 495  86   45 11/1
Miguel Cabrera  20  268 325 468 25  84  36 12 314  39   62  0/2
Jason Phillips  27  298 373 442 39  50  36 11 403  45   58  0/1
Scott Podsednik 27  314 379 443 56  91  46  9 558 100   58 43/10

One player is clearly the class of this list, and I will get to him in a minute. There are no duds on this list (aka Craig Monroes), as all four of these candidates put up very nice seasons. Miguel Cabrera, a mid-season callup from AA, has by far the highest ceiling, in particular because of his age (he's six years younger than the next youngest player here). He had the highest SLG here, and drove in the most runs of the group, despite having the fewest number of at-bats. However, he had a lot of trouble getting on base, hitting only .268 with an OBP of .325. His walk rate isn't bad considering his age, and he is a potential superstar for the Marlins.

Marlon Byrd looked like a bust two months into the season. He was hitting a Pat Burrell-esque .193 at the end of May, with a pathetic .538 OPS. He turned it around nicely, though, finishing at .303 and .784, respectively. His plate discipline is decent (44 BB in 495 AB), and he made the most of his speed, swiping 11 bases with only one caught-stealing. He didn't hit for much power, but that's somewhat expected from your leadoff hitter.

Jason Phillips was a huge surprise for the Mets. He was called up in mid-May for good, splitting time between catcher and first-base after Mike Piazza tore his groin. He's old for a rook at 27, but he hit just shy of .300, and showed impressive plate discipline, posting the second-highest OBP here at .373. His 11 homers are good for a catcher but shabby for a 1B. All told, his BB rate will probably get better with more experience, but he needs to hit the weight room to add some pop to his bat.

My top choice among the hitters is definitely Scott Podsednik. He had the highest AVG and OBP, hitting .314 and walking just about once every ten at-bats. He was also very successful on the bases, stealing 43 bags in 53 attempts (81% success rate). He scored 100 runs on a lousy Brewer team. He's no pup (27 years old), but he was a pleasant suprise for the Beermakers.

The Pitchers

Player             Age  IP    K  BB HR ERA  WHIP  K/9  K/BB HR/9
Brad Lidge          26  85.0  97 42  6 3.60 1.20 10.27 2.31 0.64
Horacio Ramirez     23 182.1 100 72 21 4.00 1.39  4.94 1.39 1.04
Jeriome Robertson   26 160.2  99 64 23 5.10 1.52  5.55 1.55 1.29
Oscar Villarreal    21  98.0  80 46  6 2.57 1.29  7.35 1.74 0.55
Brandon Webb        24 180.2 172 68 12 2.84 1.15  8.57 2.53 0.60
Dontrelle Willis    21 160.2 142 58 13 3.30 1.28  7.95 2.45 0.73

This is the group that most people expect the Rookie of the Year to come from, with most people putting their money on the D-Train. Before getting to him, lets pare this group down by a few.

The two worst pitchers here are Jeriome "Don't Call me Jerome" Robertson and Horacio Ramirez, particularly Robertson. His ERA was over 5, WHIP was over 1.5, and he gave up a ridiculous 23 taters in only 160.2 innings. I'm not really sure why he's a candidate, other than the obvious fact that he is actually a rookie. His stats are not very good, and he does not project well at all. Ramirez is a similar case, but he strikes me as a league-average pitcher who may be able to stick around simply because he's a lefty. He doesn't strike out a lot of guys, he gives up a lot of walks, and he's prone to the gopherball. He is only 23, but he smacks of Glendon Rusch to me.

Oscar Villarreal pitched well for the D-Backs, but really doesn't compare favorably to Brad Lidge, who can straight-up bring it. This guy was overshadowed in Houston by fireballers Billy Wagner and ex-Met Octavio Dotel, but he's got a cannon of an arm, and projects very well as a dominant closer-to-be. His K/9 and HR/9 are downright silly, and he kept his BB at a manageable level. These are very important, defense-independent stats, that are usually excellent indicators of a pitcher's ability to succeed year-in and year-out. However, it would be tough to give the award to Lidge with the year that another pitcher had.

Dontrelle Willis had a phenom-like first half, posting an ERA of 2.08 while giving up only three homeruns and fanning 79 batters in 82 innings. He was the toast of the town, and the early favorite to win this award. He must have hit a wall sometime in July, though, because he really fell apart in the second half. His 4.60 ERA was more than double his first half mark, while giving up 10 longballs in 78 innings. After soaring out to a 9-1 record at the All-Star break, he notched a mediocre 5-5 down the stretch. So, while his sideways cap and funky delivery were very entertaining, he was not the best rookie pitcher in the National League.

That honor goes to the oft-overlooked Brandon Webb. He bested Willis in almost every important category: IP, K/9, K/BB, HR/9, WHIP, ERA. This matchup wasn't even really close.

So we have our best hitter in Scott Podsednik. We have our best pitcher in Brandon Webb. Who's going to win? Neither of them, but that won't stop me from picking Webb as the Should-Be NL ROY. While Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson spent much of the year on the disabled list (and Johnson spent the rest of the time pitching like Reed Johnson), Brandon Webb was pitching like a #1 starter. I remember his debut as a starter, when he stepped in for the Big Unit to embarrass the Mets to the tune of 10 strikeouts and three hits. I haven't heard him mentioned in any Cy Young discussions, but he is certainly a viable candidate for that award too.

2003 Saby Choice: Brandon Webb
Predicted MLB Winner: Dontrelle Willis

I'll be back tomorrow with my analysis of the American League Cy Young candidates.

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