Friday, January 2, 2015

Questionable Rookies of the Year: 1960s

Joe Morgan should have taken the NL honors in 1965 (The Score)
1962 NL Ken Hubbs over everyone else
Hubbs had strong counting numbers because he played a full season--160 games--such as 90 runs and 172 hits. His rate stats, however, were horrible; .260/.299/.346 (70 OPS+). He also led the league in strikeouts and was thrown out in seven of his 10 steal attempts. Even for a Gold Glove-winning second baseman, those numbers are brutal, and he was worth exactly 0.0 bWAR that year. Don Clendenon, the runner-up and only other player to receive votes, was more valuable despite playing half as many games as Hubbs. The Pirates first baseman batted a robust .302/.376/.477 (127 OPS+) with 16 steals in 20 attempts, good for 1.6 bWAR. The best choice--Giants catcher Tom Haller--didn't receive a single vote despite hitting .261/.384/.515 with 18 home runs, 3.5 bWAR, and nearly as many walks (51) as strikeouts (55). Haller had the misfortune of playing in an era that underappreciated high OBPs, and like Clendenon was probably hurt by the fact that he appeared in fewer than 100 games.

1965 NL Jim Lefebvre over Joe Morgan
Lefebvre and Morgan make for an easy comparison, as they were both second basemen and played the same number of games (157). Morgan outproduced his Dodger counterpart in virtually every meaningful offensive statistic except RBI, but he toiled for the lowly Colt .45s while Lefebvre starred for the World Series champs (even though their success had more to do with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale). Morgan was robbed, plain and simple

1966 NL Tommy Helms over Sonny Jackson
For the second straight year, a deserving Houston player finished second. Helms had more home runs and RBI as well as a superior slugging percentage, but Jackson hit for a higher average and had a higher OBP. Jackson was also an elite table-setter, hitting second and swiping 49 bases in 63 tries. He also paced the major leagues in sacrifice hits. What makes the final results even more inexplicable is that Jackson manned a tougher position, as he was a shortstop while Helms handle second base.

1967 NL Tom Seaver over Gary Nolan
Seaver started two more games and won two more starts, but the numbers say Nolan was better. He had a lower ERA, WHIP, and 36 more strikeouts in 24 and 1/3 fewer innings. Seaver face about 100 more batters than Nolan, but Nolan's innings were clearly better quality and that's why I would have voted for him.

1968 NL Johnny Bench over Jerry Koosman
Bench had a good season (116 OPS+ and Gold Glove), but Koosman had a great one (145 ERA+). In addition to nearly winning 20 games (he went 19-12), Koosman compiled a sparkling 2.08 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 263 and 2/3 innings. The BBWAA correctly recognized Koosman as more valuable, for he finished higher in the MVP vote than Bench, but for some reason flip-flopped in the Rookie of the Year race.

1969 AL Lou Piniella over everyone else
Piniella, who had debuted five years previously, hit a mediocre (for an outfielder) .282/.325/.416 (107 OPS+) with 11 home runs in 135 games. Runner-up Mike Nagy, who posted a 3.11 ERA (124 ERA+) in nearly 200 innings despite calling Fenway Park home, was more worthy. So was third-place Carlos May, an outfielder like Piniella but with much better offensive numbers. May mashed 18 home runs and hit .281/.385/.488 (137 OPS+), giving him a 132 point advantage in OPS over Piniella. Lastly, Ken Tatum shined as a reliever with a 4.8 bWAR thanks to his ridiculous 1.36 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 86 and 1/3 innings.

1969 NL Ted Sizemore over everyone else
Sizemore hit a weak .271/.328/.342 with little power (four home runs) and speed (five steals). That's tolerable for an everyday second baseman (he had a 94 OPS+ and walked more than he struck out), but hardly award-worthy. Runner-ups Coco Laboy (18 homers, 83 RBI, everyday third baseman) and Al Oliver (118 OPS+ at three different positions) were more deserving, as was fourth-place Larry Hisle (20 homers and 124 OPS+). The most deserving was Oliver's teammate Richie Hebner, who was overlooked completely despite batting .301/.380/.420 (127 OPS+) while manning the hot corner.

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