2012 midseason awards: NL Rookie of the Year

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If the NL is going to narrow the talent gap with the AL in the coming years, it doesn’t really show up here. Sure, there’s a likely superstar playing well in Bryce Harper, but the AL can seemingly cancel him out with Mike Trout, who is playing a whole lot better. Beyond Harper, it’s a weak class of rookies in the NL.

The candidates:

Zack Cozart (Cin): .250/.298/.403, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB in 308 AB
Yonder Alonso (SD): .257/.338/.355, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 2 SB in 276 AB
Kirk Nieuwenhuis (NYM): .275/.335/.414, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 3 SB in 244 AB
Bryce Harper (Was): .276/.349/.478, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 8 SB in 228 AB
Norichika Aoki (Mil): .292/.355/.440, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 10 SB in 209 AB
Todd Frazier (Cin): .273/.342/.552, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 1 SB in 165 AB
Wilin Rosario (Col): .247/.280/.533, 14 HR, 36 RBI, 3 SB in 182 AB
Andrelton Simmons (Atl): .323/.364/.495, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB in 99 AB

Lucas Harrell (Hou): 7-6, 4.56 ERA, 65/35 K/BB in 102 2/3 IP
Wade Miley (Ari): 9-4, 2.87 ERA, 66/19 K/BB in 94 IP
Randall Delgado (Atl): 4-8, 4.52 ERA, 64/39 K/BB in 79 2/3 IP
Michael Fiers (Mil): 3-2, 2.29 ERA, 41/8 K/BB in 39 1/3 IP
Jared Hughes (Pit): 2-0, 1 Sv, 2.20 ERA, 21/14 K/BB in 41 IP

And here’s how Baseball-reference WAR ranks them:

2.2 – Miley
2.2 – Simmons
1.6 – Cozart
1.5 – Harper
1.4 – Fiers
1.2 – Aoki
1.2 – Frazier
0.8 – Nieuwenhuis
0.7 – Rosario
0.4 – Hughes
0.3 – Harrell
-0.2 – Delgado
-0.4 – Alonso

Yeah, WAR is that wild about Simmons’ defense. Most seem in agreement that he’s already one of the game’s best glovemen at short, and he’s been surprisingly productive offensively. Still, he’s played in all of 28 games this season, so I don’t think he belongs on the Rookie of the Year ballot just yet.

Like WAR, I think it comes down to Miley, Cozart and Harper. Frazier and Rosario are putting up great power numbers, but they’ve received only limited action and both could be called defensive liabilities. While Rosario has been above average at throwing out basestealers, he’s committed a major league-high eight errors behind the dish.

Miley gave up eight runs last time out, but he’s allowed one or no runs in eight of 13 starts. The Diamondbacks have scored a total of five runs in his four losses.

Cozart is miscast as a top-of-the-order hitter, but he’s been solid enough offensively and defensively. I don’t think he has much of a ceiling, but just being an average regular is good enough to get him a spot on the ballot right now.

And then there’s Harper. He’s not a superstar yet, but he’s been a whole lot better than I figured he’d be as a 19-year-old. He’ll probably show a bit more power in the second half, and he has to be regarded as the favorite to win the hardware in the end-of-season balloting. Right now, though, he’s the runner-up.

My ballot
1. Miley
2. Harper
3. Cozart

2012 midseason awards: AL Rookie of the Year

Tony Clark thinks front offices have too much of an impact on baseball

AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post spoke to MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who said he feels that front offices have too much of an impact on the game of baseball. Clark said, “You hear players saying it’s even hard to recognize how the game is being played. If those on the field see it and experience it, then those who are watching it will notice, too. It’s not to suggest I don’t like home runs or strikeouts or walks. I like all those things. But I also like more of the strategy and the dynamics that have always determined the outcomes in our games.”

Clark continued, “The decisions that are being made are changing the game. When you’re in a climate where the decisions about how the game is being played are being made less by the players who are playing and the coaches and managers who are coaching and managing it, we find ourselves in a climate that seems to be focused in on what everybody’s calling the three true outcomes: the home run, the strikeout and the walk. I would argue that there are two true outcomes: whether you win or you lose. … I’m not saying data is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s morphed our game and its focus quite a bit.”

Clark also discussed tanking, saying, “This isn’t a player problem. It’s reflective, I believe, of very deliberate business decisions. Players as a whole compete on every pitch and every at-bat. Our industry is predicated on competition from the top down. … What it appears that we are seeing in that regard is teams withdrawing from that competition for seasons at a time. It becomes challenging when it’s more than a couple of teams that are going that route, whereby you have a considerable chasm between those that are competing at one level and those that are competing at another.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021, so the union and the owners will have three more years of talking about these issues before they are concretely addressed. The tanking issue seems like it will almost certainly be addressed.

Clark’s concern over the impact of front offices may not be misplaced, but it’s difficult to envision any kind of rule making a difference. Limit what data teams can access? Centralize the data? The “scienceification” of baseball, if you will, was an inevitability, an evolution. In order to go in a different direction, the game will need to evolve again. Trying to tamp down data usage in baseball is akin to playing whack-a-mole with various ways with which teams will find advantages over other teams.

Major League Baseball could try to cut into the ever-increasing three true outcomes rate by changing certain things about the game without touching the data. Back in 1969, the pitcher’s mound was lowered to encourage more offense. In a similar vein, to encourage more doubles and triples and fewer home runs, stadiums could be adjusted to have the fences back to a certain distance (e.g. at least 340 feet down the lines, 410 in center). The pitcher’s mound could be moved back a few inches, lessening the impact of higher velocity, which has been a big factor in the ever-increasing strikeout rate. There are surely other ideas that smart people can come up with to bring the game towards a more active, enjoyable experience. We still have three years to go so we’ll certainly be seeing some interesting suggestions.