MLB Rookie of the Year Race Update: Week 14
One of my favorite movies has always been The Rookie. Whether it's Dennis Quaid's Grinch-esque grin or that darned-tootin' cute little kid, that flick gets me every time.
One part that used to bug me about it is how Jimmy Morris, the 35-year-old rookie reliever, is portrayed as being a lights-out strikeout machine. I mean, dude's a rookie - let's at least try to be realistic about what he could do.
I said "used to" bug me for a reason. What this year has shown is that certain rookies can swim in filth on the mound and rake at the plate. This crop of dudes would make Morris look like a high school science teacher. (Side note: Morris actually did look like this, finishing with a 4.80 ERA in only 15.0 career innings. Just don't tell that to 11-year-old me. It also doesn't make his story any less weep-inducing.)
In order to rank these majestic mammals of mayhem, we'll be using a couple of different metrics. First and foremost, we'll use numberFire's nERD. For hitters, nERD is a measure of the number of runs above an average player each batter would be if he were to record 27 plate appearances in a game. So, Mike Trout's 5.08 nERD means he would be worth 5.08 more runs than an average player if he had every plate appearances. Hermuhgursh. I'll also be looking at weighted on-base average (wOBA). It's basically what OPS wishes it were. It combines on-base percentage and slugging in a way that properly weighs each outcome (walk, single, strikeout) based on how much that outcome helps a team's expected run total. It's awesome.
For pitchers, nERD is a measure of the runs they allow above or below a league-average pitcher. Felix Hernandez's 2.67 nERD means that he would allow 2.67 fewer runs than a league-average player if he were to pitch an entire game. For more on nERD and other holy numberFire stats, you can click here.
Lastly, I will also show a player's previous ranking. That is referring to our Rookie of the Year Race from two weeks ago. I tried to find parallels between soccer and baseball. It was not pretty. With all of that now established, let's get to this week's version, chillens.
1. Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
nERD: 2.77 | wOBA: .401 | WAR: 2.7 | Previous Ranking: 2
Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Call the presses, Charlie, because the king has relinquished his crown! For the first time since the May 7th edition of these Rookie of the Year standings, Masahiro Tanaka is not at the top. It's the young buck that likes to chuck, Jose Abreu.
Two weeks ago, Abreus nERD was a very respectable 2.25. He's bumped himself all the way up to 18th among all batters and sixth among first basemen. That's largely because he has unleashed the Kraken on the league over those two weeks.
Abreu has at least one hit in each of his last 14 games, hitting .351/.383/.719 over that span with a .467 wOBA, six home runs, and only an 11.7 strikeout percentage. What's a brudduh gotta do to get on the Home Run Derby ballot? They're just keeping me from hearing Ernesto Jerez call an Abreu bomb in the Derby, which is cruel. I dream of such an event every night. Dígale que sí a este hombre de mi corazón.
Luckily, Abreu has finally reached his dream of re-claiming his spot at the top of these rankings. It's prestigious. I promise.
2. Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees
nERD: 2.35 | ERA: 2.10 | WAR: 3.0 | Previous Ranking: 1
Because Tanaka lost his top spot, the world is clearly collapsing on him rapidly, and he will no longer be effective from here on out. Of course. What else could it mean?
Or maybe not. The man still has that 2.10 ERA, a 2.91 fielding-independent pitching (FIP, which only accounts for the number of walks, hit batters and home runs a pitcher allows as well as the number of strikeouts they record) and a 2.46 xFIP (which assumes a home-run-to-fly-ball ratio of around 10.0, which is the league average). His nERD is still the seventh lowest among all pitchers.
Yet, at the same time, there may be some reason for concern. Tanaka has faced four teams twice this year - the Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Cubs. When Tanaka is facing a team for the first time, his ERA is 1.87. The second time around, that escalates to 2.89. Again, this still isn't bad. But it's not the same shut-you-down-'til-you-frown Tanaka that we've seen this entire season. I'm not saying you need to jump off the bandwagon or anything - it's just something to keep an eye on moving forward.
3. Dellin Betances, RP, New York Yankees
nERD: 1.92 | ERA: 1.50 | WAR: 1.9 | Previous Ranking: 3
The Yankees' bullpen has not been very good this year. They rank 10th in the A.L. in reliever ERA at 3.96. If you decide to take Betances out of the equation, things get straight gross, and not in the good way.
On the season, in addition to his 1.50 ERA, Betances has a 1.27 FIP, 14.25 strikeouts per nine innings, and 3.00 walks per nine. Once you remove Betonces' stats, the Yankees bullpen ERA spikes to 4.55, which would be the third highest total in the A.L. One guy is single-handedly bringing his bullpen's ERA down more than half a run. That's worthy of an award if you ask me.
4. Jake Odorizzi, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
nERD: 1.91 | ERA: 4.14 | WAR: 1.7 | Previous Ranking: 4
Let's jump in the way-back machine, kiddos. We're going all the way to June 5th. Odorizzi is struggling pretty hardcore through his first 12 starts of the season with a 5.31 ERA. No stickers for you, home boy.
Now back to July 1st. In his last four starts since those dark days of June 5th, Odorizzi has a 1.44 ERA over 25 innings. I think I like the new version better, but that might just be me.
Which Odorizzi is the real one? Well, obviously it's neither. In both segments, his FIP has been fairly consistent: 3.17 in the first 12 games and 3.14 in the last four. That's probably about where he'll normalize to as the season goes along. With a 10.56 strikeouts per nine innings this season, the highest of any rookie to make more than four starts, it's hard to see this guy going back to the demon-infested Odorizzi from the first two months.
5. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
nERD: 1.41 | wOBA: .364 | WAR: 1.4 | Previous Ranking: Not Ranked
Although Springer has cooled from his absolutely torrid late-May pace, the dude is still putting up some ill numbers. After hitting another bomb last night, he's up to 16 on the year. He's the only rookie not named Jose Abreu with more than 10. Among rookies with at least 200 plate appearances, Springer also ranks second behind Abreu in both wOBA and slugging percentage.
The biggest knock on Springer (and justifiably so) is his strikeout rate. Through 289 plate appearances, Springer has already struck out 94 times (32.5 percent). That's absurdly high.
A main reason behind that is Springer's contact rate. Houston will soon be called the Windy City if Springer doesn't stop whiffing. There are 166 batters in the majors this year that have recorded enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Only one of those has a contact percentage below 64.0 percent; that's Springer at 61.1. Nobody is even close to swinging and missing as often as Springer is right now. The conundrum here, though, is that when he does make contact, ball go far. That makes him valuable, but a reduced strikeout rate would drastically increase that.
There's our list for this week, but we'd love to hear your thoughts. Send us a tweet to @numberFire or leave your thoughts in the comments down below. Also, if you have a better suggestion for an end-of-the-year trophy than a crude cardboard cutout of Dennis Quaid, I'm all ears. I just want to keep this baby for myself.