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Chasing the Jackie Robinson Award

Hosmer has his sights on the JR Award. (Gage Matthews)

As fans of a team that has been bringing up new players throughout the 2011 season, our sights focus on different awards than they might have previously. Instead of the Cy Young, we see the Fireman of the Year. Rather than Silver Sluggers, we’re content with All-Stars. And rather than the MVP, we look at the Rookie of the Year, or, as it’s actually named, the Jackie Robinson Award.

The Royals have a plethora of rookies to offer for this award, though they admittedly aren’t all deserving. Here’s the list of those that would qualify (correct me if I’m wrong):

Nathan Adcock
Louis Coleman
Tim Collins
Aaron Crow
Danny Duffy
Jarrod Dyson
Johnny Giavotella
Eric Hosmer
Jeremy Jeffress
Mike Moustakas
Yamaico Navarro
Salvador Perez
Manny Pina
Everett Teaford

That’s a lot of rookies (14) over the course of the season. In trying to narrow them down, four have been sent back to the minors. Five are relievers, which makes their chances of winning much more difficult. And two others have played only 30 games and 21 games, so they’re unlikely candidates. That leaves us with these folks:

Duffy
Hosmer
Moustakas

With all due respect to Moustakas and Duffy, Hosmer is the clear candidate for award consideration. Moustakas’ line of .228/.279/.283 won’t stand up in competition and Duffy’s 5.73 ERA and 1.646 WHIP don’t inspire much confidence in his chances.

So, then, what are Hosmer’s chances? Who are his competitors? And what does he have to do down the stretch to make sure he brings home the trophy?

First, let’s define what the qualifications are for a rookie. Batters have to have fewer than 130 at bats, pitchers have to have fewer than 50 innings pitched, and no players can be on the major league roster for more than 45 days prior to the season. By my calculations, the batters that qualify and stand a chance are:

Eric Hosmer – .287/.337/.456 with 23 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 8 SB, 34 BB, and 68 K (475 PA)
Mark Trumbo – .258/.297/.486 with 28 2B, 1 3B, 26 HR, 80 RBI, 8 SB, 24 BB, and 101 K (505 PA)
Jemile Weeks – .291/.331/.401 with 20 2B, 3 3B, 0 HR, 25 RBI, 21 SB, 18 BB, and 47 K (355 PA)

You can make cases for guys like J.P. Arencibia, Brent Morel, and Eduardo Nunez, but I found the work of the above three to be more substantial than those three. Had Desmond Jennings played more than 42 games to this point, he would definitely be a front-runner. Anyway, the pitcher candidates are:

Jeremy Hellickson – 2.90 ERA with 107 K, 56 BB, 18 HR, and 130 hits allowed in 164.1 innings (25 starts, 2 complete games, 1 shutout)
Ivan Nova – 3.89 ERA with 85 K, 47 BB, 12 HR, and 139 hits allowed in 138.2 innings (23 starts, 1 relief)
Vinnie Pestano – 2.32 ERA with 74 K, 18 BB, 4 HR, and 38 hits allowed in 54.1 innings (59 appearances, 2 saves)
Michael Pineda – 3.74 ERA with 163 K, 52 BB, 17 HR, and 122 hits allowed in 159 innings (26 starts)
Jordan Walden – 2.60 ERA with 58 K, 22 BB, 1 HR, and 41 hits allowed in 52 innings (54 appearances, 28 saves)

And, heck, let’s throw in Coleman, just for fun:

Coleman – 2.67 ERA with 57 K, 25 BB, 7 HR, and 39 hits allowed in 54 innings (44 appearances)

There are a couple standouts, but I want to make one point first. Various people have been supporting Mark Trumbo based on his number of home runs. That’s great and good for him. But several folks have also pointed out that his OBP isn’t above .300, which means that he’s far below where you want such a power hitter to be. At the same time, Hosmer maintains a lower slugging percentage (.456) than Trumbo, but posts an OBP 40 points higher and a batting average 29 points higher. Let’s just let that home run fascination die and eliminate Trumbo from the consideration list. That’s without even noting his ratio of walks to strikeouts.

If we want to clean up the pitchers, let’s say we use two starters and two relievers from the six listed. Even though I just added Coleman, he’s not quite at the point that Pestano and Walden are, so let’s stick with those two. Between Nova, Pineda, and Hellickson, I like what Hellickson and Pineda have done as pure starters, so I’ll use those two. That leaves us with six, who are listed here with their FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), Baseball-Reference WAR (bWAR), and WPA values over the season:

Hellickson – 1.7 fWAR, 3.3 bWAR, 1.49 WPA
Hosmer – 0.8 fWAR, 1.2 bWAR, 1.07 WPA
Pestano – 1.5 fWAR, 1.8 bWAR, 1.60 WPA
Pineda – 3.0 fWAR, 2.6 bWAR, 0.05 WPA
Walden – 1.9 fWAR, 2.0 bWAR, 1.17 WPA
Weeks – 1.3 fWAR, 1.0 bWAR, -0.26 WPA

Since we have three different varieties of players here, we have to use several statistical values to be able to understand the performance of each relative to one another. While, as has been noted today several times, there is no single definitive statistic to do this comparison, we can use the above three to get a grasp on them, if only a cursory one.

Given the hitters that we looked at, Hosmer compares well in WAR, being slightly lower than Weeks’ total, but has contributed more to his team than Weeks has based on his WPA value. Considering this and the fact that Hosmer seems to be a better all-around player than Weeks, I’ll give him the edge in the batter category.

Looking at the starters, I was surprised to find how little extra value Pineda contributed to the Mariners. Of course, that can always be debated in various ways (averaged over six innings per start, saving the bullpen, and struck out an insane amount of batters). Pineda strikes out more batters than Hellickson while walking roughly the same number. Both pitchers have an opposing BABIP of less than .260, which is wild, and allow about seven hits per nine innings. They’ve allowed almost the same number of home runs and have pitched within five innings of each other over the season. Separating these two is difficult to do.

Two things make a difference clearer. First, Hellickson has allowed fewer home runs per fly balls hit, suggesting that batters are most likely to pop out. Also, the FIP, or fielder-independent pitching, focuses more on the pitcher’s influence and sits on the same scale as ERA. Pineda has an FIP of 3.44, below his ERA. Hellickson, however, has an FIP of 4.24, well above his ERA of 2.90. So, Hellickson has likely gotten more help from his defense than Pineda, which lends to his better ERA. Anyway, let’s leave these two and come back later.

Looking to the relievers, Pestano and Walden, Walden has accumulated more WAR while racking up saves for the Angels. His WPA, however, is less than that of Pestano, who is more often used in earlier innings to shut down offenses for the Indians. They’re two different kinds of relievers. Since the voters tend to love saves, Walden has been getting a lot of attention. He didn’t allow a run through his first 10.1 innings of the season, striking out ten while allowing four hits and walking five. Since that time, he’s pitched 41.2 innings, striking out 48 and walking 17, only blowing six saves in 34 chances.

Pestano, however, has seen more even usage over the seventh through ninth innings, coming into the game when the team needs him to hold down the opposing offense. He’s accumulated 20 holds and two saves while blowing four saves for Cleveland. He has entered the game in tie situations 11 times to Walden’s 10 and twice with the bases loaded and less than two outs (got out of it once and let all three score once).

Walden has nine appearances with negative WPA, eight of which were between -.215 and -.820. Pestano has 11 such appearances, but only four were worse than -.200, and none worse than -.460. Pestano strikes out more and walks fewer per outing. Walden is younger than Pestano by three years. What do you do?

For now, it’s Walden for me.

So, the final four are Hellickson, Hosmer, Pineda, and Walden. Coming down the home stretch, who wins this one? Both Seattle and Tampa Bay have 22 games remaining, so Hellickson and Pineda will each get about four starts. Walden could get another 15 or more appearances as the Angels chase the Rangers. And Hosmer could rack up roughly 85 more plate appearances before the season ends. Hosmer’s in the race, but can he close on Hellickson, who is considered the leader at this point?

I give the edge to Hellickson over Pineda, as Pineda has struggled to the tune of a 5.68 ERA and nine home runs over his last ten starts. Hellickson, however, has kept on his game, throwing a 2.51 ERA with a complete game and a .219 BA over his last ten. Hellickson’s also thrown 11 more innings than Pineda in that span, so that hot finish could open his gap.

As for Walden, he has a 0.93 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four saves in his last ten appearances (9.2 innings). He’s also blown two saves in that span, but allowed no home runs and held batters to a .193 BA and a .513 OPS. Walden also seems to be coming down the stretch hot.

Keep the faith, however. In his last 20 games, Hosmer has hit .342/.379/.608 with 10 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. He had his first multi-homer game and has hit more home runs (five) than doubles (four) in that span.

If Hosmer can keep his pace, he should get on base another 30-35 times, including four or five home runs and over 15 RBIs. As long as the Royals as a team can stay hot, he can stay in the spotlight. If he gets another 30 hits in 80 extra at bats, Hosmer will reach a .300 BA, making him a great candidate, and his hits plus walks would push his OBP toward .350. And if he keeps hitting extra-base hits, his slugging percentage could reach .480, closer to Trumbo’s exalted percentage and giving Hosmer a line of .300/.350/.480 on the season, plenty good enough for consideration.

Would that be enough? It’s hard to say. To really muscle into the conversation, Hosmer may have to hit an otherworldly line of .380/.400/.650 down the stretch. That’s just tossed off the top of my head, but the opinion on Hellickson seems to be fairly strong. Still, given what we’ve seen from Hosmer and the accolades other managers and players have sent his way, he’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. Don’t count him out.

What do you think? Does he stand a chance? Who should win the Jackie Robinson Award?

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Topics: AL Central, Baseball, Eric Hosmer, Jeremy Hellickson, Jordan Walden, Kansas City Royals, KC, Michael Pineda, MLB, Royals

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  • BillIvie

    Great article, Gage. I took a similar look (though not quite as far in depth) back on August 8th. I will admit, a month has changed my outlook on the players I discussed.

    Great read.

  • BillIvie

    Great article, Gage. I took a similar look (though not quite as far in depth) back on August 8th. I will admit, a month has changed my outlook on the players I discussed.

    Great read.

  • Gage Matthews

    Thanks, Bill! My perceptions have definitely changed since the last time I looked into it. I was a bit surprised by some of the stats and figures.

  • Gage Matthews

    Thanks, Bill! My perceptions have definitely changed since the last time I looked into it. I was a bit surprised by some of the stats and figures.

  • michael.allen.engel

    I both hate and love the JR/ROY award for these reasons. A rookie closer seems to have an edge because of the counting stats, because they’re used in situations that don’t expose them as much and they can go full effort. I think if I had to give a preference I’d lean towards a starter who shows full-season ability.

    The wrinkle with that is that Pineda or Hellickson could get shut down any time to limit their innings, while everyday hitters can keep doing their thing.

    As for hitters I definitely prefer someone who show’s an all-around game and has the scouting to go along with it – though I doubt that’s often in the minds of a lot of the voters. Then again, I may be biased as a Royals fan in saying that Hosmer – who leads AL rookies in hits – has had a more impressively productive year. Weeks has more steals, Trumbo more homers, but he has a shot at .300 at an age when many kids are still in college. Nevermind his contributions on defense.

    All that doesn’t matter, as I’m guessing it’ll be Hellickson and maybe even Jennings by the year he’s had, even in limited time.

    Just remember, Ken Griffey Jr didn’t win this award either in 1989.

  • michael.allen.engel

    I both hate and love the JR/ROY award for these reasons. A rookie closer seems to have an edge because of the counting stats, because they’re used in situations that don’t expose them as much and they can go full effort. I think if I had to give a preference I’d lean towards a starter who shows full-season ability.

    The wrinkle with that is that Pineda or Hellickson could get shut down any time to limit their innings, while everyday hitters can keep doing their thing.

    As for hitters I definitely prefer someone who show’s an all-around game and has the scouting to go along with it – though I doubt that’s often in the minds of a lot of the voters. Then again, I may be biased as a Royals fan in saying that Hosmer – who leads AL rookies in hits – has had a more impressively productive year. Weeks has more steals, Trumbo more homers, but he has a shot at .300 at an age when many kids are still in college. Nevermind his contributions on defense.

    All that doesn’t matter, as I’m guessing it’ll be Hellickson and maybe even Jennings by the year he’s had, even in limited time.

    Just remember, Ken Griffey Jr didn’t win this award either in 1989.

  • prezmike25

    @michaelengel thanks

  • prezmike25

    @michaelengel thanks

  • eliotrosewater

    Your dismissive comments about Trumbo are nonsense. Disregard home runs if you wish, but you cannot ignore RBI and be taken seriously. They are, more than anything else, what wins games.

  • eliotrosewater

    Your dismissive comments about Trumbo are nonsense. Disregard home runs if you wish, but you cannot ignore RBI and be taken seriously. They are, more than anything else, what wins games.

  • Gage Matthews

    Trumbo doesn’t hit for a good average. He doesn’t get on base with a high frequency. He strikes out more than four times for every walk. If he’s going to be a power hitter, he needs to at least get on base. Even Mark Reynolds, one of the most one-dimensional players ever, has gotten on base at a .332 clip over his career. For me, I take the batter that is more well-rounded and that can succeed at multiple areas of his game. And it may sound biased, but anyone will tell you that Hosmer is more well-rounded than Trumbo. Given that Hosmer has also hit pretty well this season, he stands above Trumbo with ease in this conversation.

    And if those RBIs mean so much to the Angels, Trumbo’s WPA over the full season would be much higher than the 0.99 he’s accumulated. At least, they should be much higher than Hosmer’s.

    But, I may be off-base.

  • Gage Matthews

    Trumbo doesn’t hit for a good average. He doesn’t get on base with a high frequency. He strikes out more than four times for every walk. If he’s going to be a power hitter, he needs to at least get on base. Even Mark Reynolds, one of the most one-dimensional players ever, has gotten on base at a .332 clip over his career. For me, I take the batter that is more well-rounded and that can succeed at multiple areas of his game. And it may sound biased, but anyone will tell you that Hosmer is more well-rounded than Trumbo. Given that Hosmer has also hit pretty well this season, he stands above Trumbo with ease in this conversation.

    And if those RBIs mean so much to the Angels, Trumbo’s WPA over the full season would be much higher than the 0.99 he’s accumulated. At least, they should be much higher than Hosmer’s.

    But, I may be off-base.

  • eric.akers

    The area where Hosmer would shine over the others is his defense. His play at first has transformed the Royals infield this year. But I don’t think that will be considered. Has any other rookie had such a large impact on their team? Have any of the others been intentionally walked?

    But then when I look at Angel Berroa’s rookie year, some of the numbers are similar, despite Angel getting way more playing time. So, maybe it is possible, but there seems to be a lot of popularity going Mark Trumbo’s direction.

  • eric.akers

    The area where Hosmer would shine over the others is his defense. His play at first has transformed the Royals infield this year. But I don’t think that will be considered. Has any other rookie had such a large impact on their team? Have any of the others been intentionally walked?

    But then when I look at Angel Berroa’s rookie year, some of the numbers are similar, despite Angel getting way more playing time. So, maybe it is possible, but there seems to be a lot of popularity going Mark Trumbo’s direction.

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