Monday, November 15, 2010

Buster Posey Wins NL Rookie of the Year award

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) has spoken, and Buster Posey is National League Rookie of the Year. Posey is the first Giant to win the award since John “The Count” Montefusco took the honors in 1975.

I would first off like to say that Jason Heyward was as deserving as Buster for the NL Rookie of the Year award. He had an absolutely phenomenal season at age 21, and had he not injured himself midseason which 1) made him lose time and thus reduced his overall counting stats and 2) pulled down his peripherals such as slugging percentage and on-base percentage when he was playing hurt, he likely would have won the award.

I’d also like to congratulate Yasushki Kikuchi of Kyodo News in Los Angeles for leaving Posey off of the ballot completely – he voted 1) Gaby Sanchez, 2) Jason Heyward and 3) Jaime Garcia. I’m not sure if it was a Dodgers bias or pure lack of imagination, but either way this is pretty ludicrous, Of course, the fact that Posey missed a lot of time due to “seasoning” in the minors is defensible. It won’t win you the case, but the jury might at least order lunch while deliberating.

Along the same twisted lines, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette left off Jason Heyward when he voted 1) Buster Posey, 2) Neil Walker and 3) Jose Tabata – the latter two both Pirates. It’s not a terrible thing, in theory, to show the players you cover a little bit of love by giving them some votes in the award balloting. For example, Andy Baggarly gave a tenth place vote to Jeremy Affeldt in 2009 in the MVP balloting after his ERA, holds and the like seemed to indicate Affeldt had had an excellent season. As it turns out, Affeldt was exceedingly lucky but you can see why Baggs threw him a bone. But, in the RoY balloting you can only vote three times, and so the second and third place votes definitely count and do add up to the point that they can impact the result of the voting. I think Dejan was a little overzealous here, to put it mildly. There’s nothing defensible here.

And as long as the writers are making the call on the awards, we’ll continue to see perplexing votes such as abovementioned examples. Luckily, the end result was sound in this case.

What most likely brought Posey the hardware over Heyward were the usual subjects (read statistics). Voters tend to focus on batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Posey tied Heyward with 18 home runs, his RBI total of 67 trailed Heyward by just 5 and he handedly bested Heyward’s average by hitting .305 while Heyward finished at .277. What’s more, Posey certainly got some extra points for being a catcher*. This is the “traditional” statistics argument for Posey.

*Buster only caught about 75% of the games he played, because he was splitting time with Molina (at best) until Bengie was traded away to Texas on July 1st.

A lot of the sabermetric community preferred Heyward over Posey, but ultimately agreed neither would be a bad choice. My personal opinion was pretty much split. I wouldn’t have been bothered so long as either Heyward or Posey won, though I was certainly pulling for Posey.

Jason Heyward had an outstanding season. Most impressive was his walk rate of 14.6% and .393 OBP, which are truly great for any player let alone a rookie. His .456 slugging percentage wasn’t terrific but was plenty good enough when coupled with his on-base percentage, making his OPS .849 and propelling his weighted on-base average to a stellar .376. But as is often the case with a very high walk rate – not including freaks like Bonds, Pujols and Mauer – along with it came a lot of punch outs. Heyward struck out nearly 25% of the time, but I fully expect him to improve in this category as he learns each pitcher’s out pitch and specifically how they are trying to put him away.

On top of his top-notch offensive debut, Heyward played quality defense in right field as measured by most advanced statistics. Fangraphs had his UZR decently above average at 4.8, bringing his total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to 5.0. That’s enough to make him a great choice for RoY as one of the better all around players in the league, already, but in 2010’s crowded voting it wasn’t enough to earn him the award.

Buster Posey showed up on May 29th, started hitting immediately and never really stopped. In July, he completed a 21-game hitting streak and won Player of the Month honors. This explosion came on the heels of Giants’ GM, Brian Sabean, unloading the San Francisco’s catcher of the past few years, Bengie Molina, and paving the way for the Giants’ run for the postseason – and how can we forget, an eventual World Series Championship – with Buster as the fulltime backstop.

When all was said and done, Posey hit .305 with a .357 OBP and .505 SLG (.862 OPS). He trailed Heyward in on-base percentage pretty considerably, so his wOBA – which attempts to properly weight each hitting outcome and weights on-base percentage higher than slugging – was lower at .368. Posey played the much more difficult position of catcher and gets credit for that too. He threw out 37% of would-be base stealers, a very solid percentage and light years better than Molina. Overall, Fangraphs considered Posey to be 3.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a very strong number considering his almost June promotion.

Though the writers couldn’t have known what Posey or the Giants would do in October – and one unforgettable, glorious day in November – it seems a fitting end to the Giants’ (and Posey’s) season.

On May 29, 2010, the Giants finally brought up Gerald “Buster” Dempsey Posey. Bay Area fans believed (and hoped) Posey would be the savior for an offense that wasn’t doing much, and he wouldn’t disappoint – though he’d have some help along the way. Thanks Pat “the Bat” Burrell. Posey was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 draft coming out as a Golden Spikes award winner from Florida State. He was also given a huge $6.2 mil bonus. Since his professional debut, he’d been steeping in the minors – with the exception of a regrettable 2009 call-up that included rotting on the bench – to the tune of: .333 AVG, .427 OBP, .542 SLG and .995 OPS. He’d walked 98 times to just 102 strikeouts and thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers.

In his 2010 debut, he went 3 for 4 and drove in 3 runs. He played a pretty good first base – making more than one great play with his arm – and a little catcher until, on July 1, the Giants shipped Molina to Texas. Posey responded by ripping off a hard 21-game hit streak, blistering balls all over the diamond and hitting .417 with a .466 OBP, .699 SLG, .1.165 OPS, and 7 home runs. He suddenly wasn’t just a compliment to the lineup; he was literally the heart of it and batting cleanup

In September, Posey caught the hottest staff in baseball. In fact, the Giants’ pitchers weren’t just hot, they were historic. In 232.1 innings, they had a 1.78 ERA, a 4.03 strikeout to walk ratio, and held opponents to a minute .524 OPS. Remarkably, they went just 18-8. Also in September, they went 23 straight games giving up 4 runs or fewer, tying the second longest streak since 1920. Posey also hit 8 home runs between September and the 3 games in October. The eighth was a solo shot in the eighth inning of the final game of the season, extending the Giants lead to three runs and all but finishing off the Padres with Wilson warming. Soon after, he caught the final strike as Will Venable couldn’t connect and charged the mound to jump into Wilson’s arms. I believe that moment was a lasting image for Rookie of the Year voters.

Eight days later, October 11th, he ran towards Wilson as they beat the Braves to move on to the NLCS. Twelve days later he ran towards Wilson once more as Ryan Howard stood looking – pun very much intended – and the Giants won the pennant. In that series, he had an epic 4-hit, 2 double night capped by an opposite-field double off of Roy Oswalt after going down 0 and 2. And finally on November 1st, Posey ran towards Wilson one last time in the 2010 season as the Giants clinched their first World Series title in San Francisco history by taking down the AL favorites, the Rangers, an image that was beautifully captured for the cover of Sports Illustrated. One night earlier, he back-spun an outside pitch off of O’Day that, like Giants fans had witnessed a few times before, went and went until it cleared the center field fence.

The Giants have taken home a lot of hardware in San Francisco but never a ring. This year they grabbed a ring and now Posey winning Rookie of the Year honors is simply the cherry on top.

All stats grabbed from

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