Looking Back on the Last 10 ROY Winners: NL Edition

Last November, Craig Kimbrel became the 1st reliever to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award since Scott Williamson in 1999.

Young prospects and rookies are often amongst the most talked about players in baseball, despite their minimal track record. Everyone is searching for the next big thing. The Rookie of the Year award is often seen by the casual fan as an insight on potential future major league stars. But the award is not based on potential (although in some cases, it sure is a nice glimpse), it’s an award that goes to a player that had the best season who is simply rookie eligible. This often means a reliever or an older player coming in from overseas, wins the award over a younger, less advanced potential star. For most Rookie of the Year winners, that season ultimately ends up being their best. This is such the case for players like Angel Berroa, Chris Coghlan, and Bobby Crosby. In other cases, the player continues to develop and becomes an All-Star caliber player. In this piece, I’d like to review each of the last 10 Rookie of the Year winners and how their careers turned out. For some, it is too soon to properly evaluate, but others have had plenty of time to pave their career path. I’ll start with the National League in this post, and cover the American League in another post.

2001: Albert Pujols, 1B St. Louis Cardinals – Received all 32 1st place votes

WAR: 6.3

Notes: Albert Pujols is the definition of the perfect rookie of the year winner, a future star who has an all-star caliber season in their 1st year in the majors. Albert was the undeniable rookie of the year, despite a rookie class that featured 3 future stars in Adam Dunn, Roy Oswalt, and Jimmy Rollins. He hit .329/.403/.610 with solid defense, and finished 4th in NL MVP voting. There’s not much for me to really say about Pujols, as we all know how great he is. And if you don’t, then I have no clue why you are reading this blog.

2002: Jason Jennings, SP Colorado Rockies – Received 27/32 1st place votes

WAR: 1.9

Notes: In 6 seasons with the Rockies, Jason Jennings was worth roughly 9 wins above replacement and had a 4.74 ERA. He is essentially in the top 5 of almost every statistical category in Rockies pitching history, which doesn’t say much considering Ubaldo Jiminez is the best pitcher to ever don a Rockies uniform. Using WAR, Jennings was the 3rd best NL rookie in 2002, behind Austin Kearns and Mark Prior. Jennings won the award thanks to a 16-8 win-loss record and a rather weak rookie class. Other than a strong 2006 season, Jennings never really did much after his rookie campaign. He last pitched for Texas in 2006, finishing with a career 98 ERA+.

2003: Dontrelle Willis, SP Florida Marlins – Received 17/32 1st place votes

WAR: 4.2

Notes: Everyone remembers Dontrelle Willis for his gaudy numbers and over the top delivery. Willis was a baseball spectacle for 4 years from 2003-2006. He was a solid Rookie of the Year candidate. Although he may not have deserved it over Brandon Webb, who was worth 1.5 more wins, Willis did have the narrative going for him, and that always helps. By all accounts, Willis did have an excellent rookie season. He went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA, 127 ERA+, and 142 strikeouts in just over 160 innings, all at the tender age of 21. Plus, he was a key part of the Marlins World Series run. Luckily for the Marlins, Willis continued to grow. He had a slight sophomore slump in 2004, but rebounded in 2005 to post one of the best seasons in Marlins franchise history. He lost out in Cy Young balloting to Chris Carpenter, but he still went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA, 152 ERA+, and he led the league with 5 shutouts. Unfortunately, that was the best it got for the 23-year-old Willis. He posted a decent year in 2006 (112 ERA+), before spiraling into one of the worst pitchers in baseball. It was truly unfortunate to see a player that was so talented and fun to watch, fall into baseball’s abyss.

2004: Jason Bay, OF Pittsburgh Pirates – Received 25/32 1st place votes

WAR: 2.0

Notes: Bay’s rookie season was nothing really special. He did hit 26 home runs, and did have a .907 OPS, but he was only worth 2 wins, which was 3rd among NL rookies. If you go by WAR (which is a good starting point, but not the end all, be all), Khalil Greene or Akinori Otsuka (remember him?) should have won the award. Bay’s defense likely cost him an extra half a win or so, as he was a negative defensive player in 2004, while Greene had an elite glove at shortstop.

Now, let’s take a moment and forget the Jason Bay of 2010-present, and remember the Jason Bay of 2004-2009. That Jason Bay was arguably one of the best outfielders in baseball for a period of time. During that 6 season stretch, Bay accrued about 20 wins above replacement and had an OPS+ of 131. He was essentially the face of a dismal Pirates team.

Here are Bay’s stats from 2004 to 2009, via Baseball Reference:

Jason Bay Batting Stats for Years 2004 to 2009

per 162 games
2005: Ryan Howard, 1B Philadelphia Phillies – Received 19/32 1st place votes

WAR: 2.9

Notes: Howard wasn’t exactly the prototypical Rookie of the Year, as he played in just 88 games, where as most winners play at least two-thirds of the season. In those 88 games, Howard put up an OPS of .924, slugged .567 to go with his 22 home runs, and was worth more wins than all but 2 other NL rookies (Zach Duke and Jeff Francoeur) despite his limited playing time. Howard’s power displays are likely what won him the award, in what was a thin rookie class.

The following season, Howard went on a rampage on his way to being named the league MVP, and his legacy was firmly established. Since that outstanding 2006 campaign (167 OPS+, 5.8 WAR), Howard has never been worth more than 3.5 wins. He has displayed the gaudy home run totals (295 career home runs) that won him his early career hardware, but his batting average, defense, and on base skills have all decreased significantly since then. With injuries having cost him a majority of the 2012 season, Howard’s days as the premier slugger in baseball may be over.

2006: Hanley Ramirez, SS Florida Marlins – Received 14/32 1st place votes

WAR: 4.6

Notes: Before the earth shattered beneath him in 2011, Hanley Ramirez was possibly the best player on the planet, accruing a 25.0 WAR from 2006 to 2010. Hanley had an outstanding rookie campaign, hitting .292/.343/.480 with 46 doubles, 11 triples, 17 home runs, 51 steals, and strong defense at shortstop, good for a 4.6 WAR. Despite his outstanding season, Ramirez narrowly edged out Ryan Zimmerman for the award. Ramirez, Zimmerman, Dan Uggla, and Josh Johnson all received first place votes, and that’s not even to mention Matt Cain, Anibal Sanchez, Josh Willingham, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, and Prince Fielder, each of whom received 2nd or 3rd place votes. 2006 was arguably one of the best rookie classes of the past decade, as 9 of the 12 players who received a vote went on to make an All Star team, and all but Scott Olson established themselves as above average big league regulars. Ramirez could still turn his career around as a member of the Dodgers, but time is running out.

2007: Ryan Braun, 3B Milwaukee Brewers – Received 17/32 1st place votes

WAR: 1.8

Notes: This is one case where wins above replacement (WAR) doesn’t give a player as much credit as he deserves. Despite his 1.8 WAR, Ryan Braun was actually a very solid player in 2007. Offensively he posted a 5.0 WAR, but that is negated by the negative 3 wins he cost the Brewers on defense. In 113 games, Braun hit .324/.370/.634 with 34 home runs and 97 runs batted in. Despite Braun’s obviously fine season, he may not have been the best rookie in the NL that season, as Troy Tulowitzki enjoyed an excellent year. Tulo’s 6.5 WAR (he had a very good defensive season) was the highest WAR posted by any NL rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001. Tulowitzki hit .291/.359/.479 in 2006 with 24 home runs, 104 runs scored, and 99 runs batted in. His value was also aided by the fact that he played in 42 more games than Braun (155 to 113). Either way, you really couldn’t go wrong with either one as both developed into superstars, with Braun capturing the 2011 NL MVP. Aside from Tulowitzki and Braun, the rest of the 2007 NL rookie class was quite dismal, as Hunter Pence and Chris Young were the only other players of note to emerge, but overall, it’s not every year you find two superstars in the same rookie class.

2008: Geovany Soto, C Chicago Cubs – Received 31/32 1st place votes

WAR: 3.1

Notes: Soto was one vote shy of being unanimously selected in 2008, as he enjoyed what has likely been the best season of his career thus far. His unique ability to reach base and hit for power from the catcher position propelled Soto into the spot as the starting catcher for the NL in the 2008 All Star game as a rookie. In ’08, Soto hit .285/.364/.504 with an impressive 35 doubles and 23 home runs. What’s odd about this year’s voting is that Joey Votto posted nearly identical numbers (.297/.368/.506, 24 homers) yet only received one first place vote. Out of that class, Votto and Jay Bruce turned out to be the best players, with Soto, Jair Jurrjens, and Kosuke Fukudome settling into the big leagues as well.

2009: Chris Coghlan, OF Florida Marlins – Received 17/32 1st place votes

WAR: 0.9

Notes: This is probably the worst NL ROY selection over the past decade. It’s not really Coghlan’s fault that he made his debut in a year that had a weak rookie class. Sans Andrew McCutchen and possibly Tommy Hanson, each of whom played much less than Coghlan due to later call-ups, nobody in that NL rookie class has really become an All-Star talent.

Not to say Coghlan didn’t have a fine season, he did, but he isn’t exactly on par with the level of potential impact talent as most ROY recipients. In 2009, Coghlan batted .321/.390/.460 for an OPS+ of 122. He didn’t provide much home run power (9 in 504 at bats), but he did show some knack for gap power as he hit 31 doubles and 6 triples in 128 games. But after 2009 most of his skills vanished and despite a mediocre 2010, Coghlan has yet to post an OPS+ above 100 (league average) since his rookie campaign.

2010: Buster Posey, C San Francisco Giants – Received 20/32 1st place votes

WAR: 3.7

Notes: Buster Posey wasn’t necessarily the wrong choice in 2010, but what astounds me is that Posey received 11 more votes (20-9) than runner-up Jason Heyward, who had an equally impressive season, if not better.  In 2010, Posey hit .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs and a 3.7 WAR whilst being the primary catcher for what was possibly the best rotation in baseball at the time. For the Braves that season, uberprospect Jason Heyward hit .277/.393/.456, matching Posey’s home run total, while having a commanding lead over Posey in WAR (6.3). You couldn’t go wrong with either choice here, but once you factor in position and games played (Posey played in 44 fewer games than Heyward in 2010), Posey seems to have produced more value in his limited time despite Heywards large lead in WAR.

2011: Craig Kimbrel, RP Atlanta Braves – Received all 32 1st place votes

WAR: 2.3

Notes: This really wasn’t much of a competition as Kimbrel was the unanimous winner, receiving all 32 first place votes. Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Freddie Freeman, and Vance Worley all had strong seasons, and you could’ve made the case for each one of them, but Kimbrel’s dominance in relief in 2011 was nothing short of outstanding. Last season, Kimbrel pitched in 79 games for the Braves, saving 46 of them and putting up a strong 2.10 ERA. But what amazes me the most is that Kimbrel struck out 127 batters in just 77 innings pitched for an impressive k/9 rate of 14.8. Kimbrel’s 2011 season was one of the more dominant relief seasons of the past decade, and that culminated in a rightfully deserved rookie of the year award.

The 2012 Outlook

In June it looked like Bryce Harper was going to run away with this award, but that’s no longer the case, as Wade Miley, Norichika Aoki , and Todd Frazier have entered the debate. Out of those 4, I think it will come down to Harper and Miley, with Harper winning. Harper finished the season strong with an outstanding September (.330/.400/.643) on his way to leading all NL rookies in WAR at the childlike age of 19. Miley was no slouch himself, as his 4.8 fWAR ranks 4th among all NL pitchers, and he is easily a part of the Cy Young conversation. If I had a vote, my ballot would probably look like this:

1. Bryce Harper, CF Nationals (4.9 WAR)

2. Wade Miley, SP Diamondbacks (4.8 WAR)

3. Norichika Aoki, RF Brewers (2.9 WAR)

4. Todd Frazier, 3B Reds (2.8 WAR)

5. Andrelton Simmons, SS Braves (2.2 WAR)

You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com. Comment below to join the discussion.

Posted on October 24, 2012, in featured. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very informative. I really liked the look back approach.

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