National League Rookie of the Year

By Jason Wojciechowski on October 12, 2010 at 10:30 PM

One of my goals for the day was a NL RoY post, so here it is.

I'm going to do this in reverse order of how I started the American League post, because I want to focus on a key point in the battle between Jason Heyward and Buster Posey: playing time and position.

Jason Heyward, I don't have to tell you, was Atlanta's everyday right-fielder this year, racking up 140 games in the outfield and 623 trips to the plate. The only thing standing between Heyward and a full complement of games played was a disabled list trip from June 27th to July 15th because of a left thumb bruise. (Injury data via the spreadsheet compiled by Jeff Zimmerman.) Buster Posey, by contrast, did not grace Giants fans with his presence on the major league roster until May 29th. He was the team's everyday first basemean until the end of June, when a spot was finally cleared for him to catch, which he did with aplomb through the end of the season. The final tally was 76 games behind the plate and 30 on the right side of the infield. His total plate appearances thus came to just 443, or 180 fewer than Heyward.

What do these position and playing time stats mean in terms of value? Posey's credit for playing time comes to 12 runs, while his credit for position stands at just +3, a number weighed down by the negative figure associated with his monthlong sojourn on the infield. Heyward, as a corner outfielder, gets dinged on the positional adjustment (-7), but his additional playing time adds up to +17. Before we even consider performance, then (to the extent being on the field isn't "performance", which of course it is), the tally stands at: Posey +15; Heyward +10.

Playing time isn't just important in figuring replacement level, though -- 180 extra PAs are a lot for a hitter of Heyward's caliber in which to create additional value.
Heyward notched an excellent .393/.456 OBP/SLG line, exactly the kind of performance that is likely to be undervalued by some fans for being heavy in on-base value and (relatively) light in slugging. Heyward also added eleven steals, but he was caught six times, so his pilfery was not a positive overall. Still, that .393 OBP is massive (4th in the entire league), and it drove a batting runs value of +27 per Rally (or +28 per Fangraphs; or +40 per StatCorner).

The shape of Buster Posey's performance was more pleasing to power addicts: .357/.505. Compared to Heyward, in other words, he traded 35 points of on-base for 50 points of slugging. Unfortunately for Posey, that ratio is out of whack: OBP, without accounting for lineup position, is something like 50-75% more important than SLG. This explains why Posey has a higher OPS but lower wOBA than Heyward does -- wOBA actually measures run-scoring value with the bat using empirical data, while OPS merely approximates it by adding together two numbers willy-nilly. Anyway, Posey's contributions with the wood come to +16, eleven runs fewer than Heyward, leaving him six runs behind before considering defense and base-running.

I've already mentioned Heyward's poor work on steals, but the Baseball Prospectus baserunning reports show that his overall running value made up for that, as he clocked in at +2.4 for the year (leading the Braves, actually, which says more about the Braves than it does Heyward). Buster Posey, while young and seemingly somewhat athletic, is still a catcher, and he runs like one: he managed to take 2.3 runs off the board with his legs this season (despite being on base less often than Heyward as a percentage and due to playing time). Posey, then, would have to make up about a ten-run gap on defense.

I don't have my prospect books with me here in my hotel, but my understanding is that Heyward is a well-regarded defensive player. As such, unless Posey is an otherworldly defensive catcher, I find it implausible that Posey could have made up a win's worth of value in a half-season behind the plate. Jason Heyward, then, gets my NL Rookie of the Year vote.

I should give at least passing mention to a couple of other NL rookies who had very good seasons, but who were overshadowed by the Heyward-Posey duel. Neil Walker had a +11 bat in 469 PAs as the Pirate second baseman, a very nice year. Dan Hudson notched 2.0 WAR in just 11 starts for the Diamondbacks (and his WAR in systems that use actual RA is significantly higher, due to his 1.69 ERA (vs. a still-excellent 3.22 FIP)).
Saving the best honorable mention for last, Jaime Garcia's nearly full season in the Cardinals' rotation (28 starts, though they babied him to just 163.3 innings) with a 3.41 FIP resulted in 3.2 WAR, a season that could stand up to Heyward's if you're a non-believer in the Brave's defense in right field, though it'd take losing about 3/4 of a win with the glove to make this a discussion. That's certainly reasonable in the range of fielding skill.