Several O’s Among Top AL Rookies

Matt Wieters was a very popular Rookie of the Year pick before the season started – maybe even the consensus pick. So far he’s being upstaged though, by several rookies on his own team and a few others from around the league. [I had the idea to write about this last week (and was planning to follow through later this week) but Dan Connolly beat me to the punch.] Top AL Rookies ranked by Wins Above Replacement Notable omissions (and Orioles):

  • Rick Porcello (SP, DET) – 0.8 WAR, 8-4, 3.55 ERA (4.82 FIP, 5.48 tRA), 5.03 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9, and a 56.9% groundball rate
  • Brett Anderson (SP, OAK) – 0.4 WAR, 3-7, 5.74 ERA (5.11 FIP, 5.10 tRA), 5.87 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 1.70 HR/9, and a 50% groundball rate
  • Trevor Cahill (SP, OAK) – 0.2 WAR, 5-6, 4.23 ERA (5.48 FIP, 6.33 tRA), 4.33 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 1.51 HR/9, but has a nasty sinker
  • David Price (SP, TBR) – 0.2 WAR, 2-2, 3.93 ERA (5.21 FIP, 6.37 tRA), 8.70 K/9, 5.15 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, still has (only) two great pitches
  • Gordon Beckham (SS, CHW) – (-0.2 WAR), 78 PA, .206/.299/.294, 1 HR, .261 wOBA, -0.1 UZR
  • Travis Snider (LF, TOR) – (-0.3) WAR, 108 PA, .242/.292/394, 3 HR, .300 wOBA, -1.8 UZR in the outfield corners
  • Matt Wieters (C, BAL) – 0.2 WAR, 83 PA, .234/.289/.390, 2 HR, .298 wOBA, getting better and I’m still not worried at all
  • Jason Berken (SP, BAL) – 0.6 WAR, 1-4, 6.32 ERA (4.01 FIP, 4.99 tRA), 5.46 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 0.57 HR/9, looks like a #5 starter
  • David Hernandez (SP, BAL) – 0.3 WAR, 1-2, 4.19 ERA (3.72 FIP, 4.46 tRA), 5.59 K/9, 3.72 BB/9, 0.47 HR/9, HR & K’s should both go up

On to the top 10:

10. Nolan Reimold (LF, BAL) – 0.8 WAR Nolan is hitting a tidy .286/.371/.540 with 9 HR and an excellent .393 wOBA (FanGraphs version taking into account stolen bases). Playing time (only 40 games so far) and defense (a -2.4 UZR so far) bring him down, but it’s fairly likely that if Reimold finishes that year with an OPS above .900 and 25 HR, he’ll be going home with some hardware (even if he doesn’t quite deserve it). It’s doubtful that Nolan will continue hitting home runs at this clip given his 25% HR/FB ratio and how many groundballs he hits (51% GB rate), but his plate discipline has been very good. He always showed that ability in the minors, but he’s already walking more than the average major leaguer (11.9% of PA to 9.4%), striking out less (17.5% of AB to 20%), and chasing pitches out of the strike-zone less often (17.6% of the time to 24.9%). By cutting down on the K’s, he’s been able to keep his batting average higher than I would have expected – especially given his .284 BABIP. I thought there would be more adjustment time required, but Reimold has finally been given a shot at the age of 25 and he’s establishing himself as an average major league player at the very least. As an aside, I just want to say that Reimold’s precence on the roster shows that Andy MacPhail understands what a sunk cost is (in this case, Felix Pie) and doesn’t let that stop him from making moves to improve the team (like releasing Jay Gibbons and Jamie Walker). I would have been OK with Nolan starting 2008 in the majors after he hit .306/.361/.546 in Double-A the previous season, but he was hurt for a large part of 2007. In any case, I’ve been a fan of his for a while and it’s nice to see that faith being rewarded in the majors.

9. Josh Outman (SP, OAK) – 1.0 WAR The first of three A’s pitchers in the top ten, to go along with the more ballyhooed guys that didn’t make it. When you take a risk on a ton of young arms there is always the possibility that things won’t work out and you’ll start the season 31-45. Outman’s a respectable pitcher with a great pitcher’s name. He’s gone 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA (4.33 FIP, 4.68 tRA) in 67.1 IP this year, with an above average strike-out rate (7.08 K/9) making up for only OK control (3.34 BB/9) and a tendency to give up some homers (1.20 HR/9). He’s a lefty with a good fastball (around 93 mph), a sharp slider, a decent change-up, and an occasional curve. He came over to Oakland from Philly in the Joe Blanton trade, and may have already over-taken Cupcakes (4.86 FIP) as a pitcher. He might get some bonus points in the voting for his name, but I think he’s more of a #4 starter than a top pitcher (even among the rookies). [Edit: Looks like Outman may be out for the year with an arm injury. He's going to see Dr. James Andrews, which virtually always means bad news.]

8. Ricky Romero (SP, TOR) – 1.1 WAR The first of back-to-back Toronto pitchers on the list, Romero is the one with the better pedigree as a former first-round pick. He’s gone 5-2 this year, with a 3.20 ERA (4.21 FIP, 4.28 tRA) in 64.2 IP, with a 7.52 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, and a 1.25 HR/9. His ERA is so low due to a very high strand rate, but as a four-pitch lefty with pretty good stuff he should be one of the higher-ceiling pitchers in the top 10. Still don’t think the Jays are happy about passing on Troy Tulowitzki though.

7. Scott Richmond (SP, TOR) – 1.2 WAR Not your typical rookie, Richmond is 29 year old and was plucked by the Jays out of a Canadian independant league team in 2008. Richmond’s been good – a slightly above average starter, which is certianly valuable if you can pitch a good deal of innings – but not particularly outstanding. He’s 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA (4.37 FIP, 4.87 tRA) in 78.1 IP this year, with an above average K-rate (7.35 K/9), good control (2.87 BB/9), and a propensity to give up the longball (1.38 HR/9). He probably won’t finish with numbers that look good to the RotY voters, but it’s annoying to me as an O’s fan that Toronto can pick-up decent pitchers like this for virtually nothing and Baltimore gave a bunch of starts to Adam Eaton.

6. Vince Mazzaro (SP, OAK) – 1.2 WAR Mazzaro has only made 6 starts for the A’s, but he’s been very effective. A 2.95 ERA (2.86 FIP, 3.47 tRA) in 36.2 IP with a 6.87 K/9, a 2.95 BB/9, and a 0.25 HR/9. That last figure won’t last – he’s giving up home runs on only 2.6% of flyballs – and so neither will his ERA/FIP. He does look like a solid pitcher, though not one likely to win out as the top rookie unless he gets a lucky stretch of decisions (ie, he has an inflated win total).

5. Andrew Bailey (RP, OAK) – 1.3 WAR I had only vaguely heard of Bailey, so his appearance on this list was a big surprise. He has a 4-1 record and 8 saves out of the pen, with a 2.41 ERA (2.73 FIP, 1.90 tRA). He throws both a fastball averaging about 93.5 mph and a cutter at around 91 mph, with a big curveball mixed in. Bailey’s control is just OK with a 3.5 BB/9, but he’s made up for it with a 10.49 K/9 and only 0.58 HR/9 allowed. That home run number is lower than it should be – even for a guy pitching in Oakland – and he’s stranding a lot of runners. With the A’s out of contention, Bailey would likely need to continue his current level of success and put up some gaudy save totals to get any serious consideration for RotY. He is having a very fine season though.

4. Brad Bergesen (SP, BAL) – 1.3 WAR He works fast, he throws strikes, and he gets groundballs. In 83.2 IP this year, Bergesen is 5-2 with a 3.76 ERA (4.32 FIP, 4.85 tRA). The strike-outs might be lower than some expected (4.30 K/9) given his 7.36 K/9 in Triple-A, but he’s keeping the walks down (2.04 BB/9) and inducing a lot of grounders (54%) which keeps the ball in the yard (0.97 HR/9, which has really improved recently). If he continues to pitch a lot of innings, Bergesen should end up ranking pretty high in value just for being out there so much. I don’t think he’ll get enough wins to make up for the lack of flashiness though, and so I doubt he’ll be in the conversation any more than some of the pitchers above him.

3. Elvis Andrus (SS, TEX) – 1.3 WAR The 20 year-old hasn’t been impressive with the bat (.264/.324/.378, .322 wOBA), but his glove has been as advertised with an UZR of 5.3 already and an UZR/150 games of 11.7. The fielding and the position more than make up for the below average offense, and Andrus is on pace to be an above average player already. With Texas making a run a the AL West title largely on the strength of an improved defense, I think Andrus has a decent shot at the award.

2. Koji Uehara (SP, BAL) – 1.7 WAR With a 2-4 record and a second trip to the DL, it’s very unlikely that people would expect the O’s best pitcher to be so high on this list. Well, Koji was been very good for Baltimore this season, with a 4.05 ERA being higher than his peripherals would indicate. Uehara is known for his great control, and he hasn’t disappointed with a 1.62 BB/9. He’s used his fastball-splitter combo to ggod effect, striking out 6.48 batters per nine innings for a K/BB ratio of 4 even. The 1.7 WAR is based on his 3.52 FIP, but his tRA has been even better at 3.05. He’s already been worth his contract for this year, and if he can stay mostly healthy for the rest of the year he should earn both years worth of salary in 2009 alone.

1. Brett Gardner (CF, NYY) – 2.1 WAR It kills me that Gardner is easilly at the top of the list so far, but he’s deserved it. He’s hit better than expected, with a .289/.371/.421 line and a .367 wOBA, and has played a great center-field (8.5 UZR for an outstanding 19.3 UZR/150). Neither of those things is likely to continue at this high of a level, but as long as Gardner keeps getting at bats there’s a very distinct possibility that he’ll finish the year as the most valuable rookie in the AL. Hard to see the voters getting over their pre-concieved notions about him enough to give him the award though.

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 Now, several of the above players do have notes like “he’s playing well, but probably won’t keep it up at this level – or won’t be appreciated for his value – and thus won’t win the Rookie of the Year award”. The thing about these awards is that they’re often given to guys that do get lucky for a full season – even if it’s only a little – so if Gardner does happen to keep hitting above his head then he may win it. Or if Mazzaro does only give up a homer every five games then he may win it. That’s just how things go. It’s also interesting that the pitchers – excluding the 34 year-old Uehara and the reliever Bailey – are all pretty similar (though Bergesen trades K’s for groundballs). Decent overall, but more #3/4 starters than potential top-of-the-rotation guys. It’s the Porcello/Anderson/Cahill/Price group at the top that is likely to win some other hardware town the line (Cy Young awards), but this season – so far – it’s been the more unheralded pitchers getting the job done. If I had to make a guess, I’d say that Porcello wins the Rookie of the Year award based on his win totals, top prospect billing, and being an important contributor to a contending team. Pitchers sometimes have a tougher go of it though, in which case Reimold is the position player who can really to benefit there. I’d also guess that Matt Wieters is still the guy who has the best career, with Elvis Andrus coming in second (since he’s so young, plays a good SS, and can already hit at least a little – plus, it’s always risky to bet pitchers). It’s just nice to see so many Birds represented here, even if none of them brings home the gold.