Sunday, December 28, 2014

Questionable Rookies of the Year: 1980s

Gordon, shown here with the Yankees, was robbed in '89 (ESPN)
Lots of questionable calls in this decade. Let's get down to it.

1980 NL Steve Howe over Lonnie Smith
Howe had 0.5 bWAR, the second-lowest total of the nine vote-getters. How he won over third-place Smith, who batted .339/.397/.443 (130 OPS+) with 33 steals, is beyond me.

1983 AL Ron Kittle over Mike Boddicker
Kittle had big-time power numbers with 35 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .504 slugging percentage, but he also whiffed a major league-leading 150 times, batted just .254, and was a poor defensive outfielder. In short, he was a one-dimensional slugger. Boddicker, on the other hand, had an unequivocally excellent season for the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles, going 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA (143 ERA+), 1.08 WHIP, and the most shutouts in baseball (5). He also posted the lowest hit rate in the American League at 7.1/9. Boddicker's 4.2 bWAR were more than double Kittle's 1.8.

1985 AL Ozzie Guillen over Teddy Higuera
This one utterly baffles me. Guillen hit an empty .273 (just one home run) with no speed (seven steals) and only a dozen walks. I don't care if you play Ozzie Smith-like defense at short; a 74 OPS+ isn't going to cut it. Higuera, the runner-up, hurled 212 and 1/3 quality innings with a 107 ERA+, 3.77 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP. That's much more valuable than a shortstop who can't hit his way out of a paper bag.

1985 NL Vince Coleman over Tom Browning
Steals are overrated, and so was Coleman. Granted, he stole 110 of them, which is sensational, but he also caught 25 times and hit a lackluster .267/.320/.335 with just one home run. Had he been a shortstop, like Maury Wills, that would have been more tolerable, but a .655 OPS (84 OPS+) from a left fielder is simply unacceptable. Browning, who placed second, won 20 games with a 3.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 261 and 1/3 innings. That combination of quality and quantity made him nearly twice as valuable as Coleman, and thus the more deserving candidate.

1986 AL Jose Canseco over Mark Eichhorn
Once again, voters were swayed by Canseco's monster power numbers (33 bombs, 117 RBI) overlooked his 175 strikeouts, .240 batting average, and .318 on-base percentage. Runner-up Wally Joyner had a more productive offensive campaign, with his .805 OPS (119 OPS+) comfortably above Canseco's /775 (116). But third place Eichhorn, with his 7.4 bWAR, should have walked away with the award. Though he pitched exclusively in relief, his workload was more like a starter's as he delivered 157 innings. And let me tell you, he pitched like an ace with a 1.72 ERA (246 ERA+), 0.96 WHIP, 3.69 K/BB ratio, and 2.31 FIP.

1986 NL Todd Worrell over Robby Thompson
Everyday second baseman with league average bat trumps a good-not-great closer in my book.

1988 AL Walt Weiss over everyone else
Weiss was really mediocre, hitting just .250/.312/.321 (81 OPS+), which is pretty brutal even for a shortstop. He offered neither power nor speed, with only three home runs and four stolen bases. Runner-up Bryan Harvey had a strong season out of the Angels bullpen (2.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP). Third-place Jody Reed played the same position as Weiss--shortstop--but was a much better hitter with his .293/.380/.376 (110 OPS+) batting line. Don August (13-7, 3.09 ERA) also would have made a fine choice and probably would have been my pick.

1989 AL Gregg Olson over Tom Gordon
Olson's 1/69 ERA and 9.5 K/9 rate must have dazzled voters, because Gordon pitched almost twice as many innings and went 17-9. A true swingman, Gordon made 16 starts, finished 16 games, and made 17 relief appearances in between. He did a little bit of everything and performed well, which I value more than a one-inning closer. I also would have preferred third-place Ken Griffey Jr. (16 homers, 16 steals, center fielder) to Olson.

1989 NL Jerome Walton over Dwight Smith
The writers gave the award to the wrong Cub. Smith posted an OPS that was 154 points higher than Walton while playing only seven fewer games. Granted, Walton was a center fielder whereas Smith was a corner outfield, but at 150+ point differential in OPS is just too great to ignore.

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