The NL Jackie Robinson rookie if the year award will likely belong to one of two players

Rookie of the Year Contenders

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Mid-year is a good time to look at rookie players and see whose nose is in front for Rookie of the Year. A blind evaluation helps keep things as unbiased as possible so that’s what we start with. These numbers reflect the first 200 or so plate appearances of each player.

Player G PA AB R BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip RE24 K% BB% K/BB
A 54 203 188 24 .255 .290 .340 .630 .315 -6.97 19.70% 4.43% 4.44
B 50 204 181 13 .282 .351 .354 .705 .321 4.66 11.27% 9.31% 1.21

Player A strikes out  more and walks less than player B and had at this point a less impact.  He needs to make more contact and get on base more frequently.

Player B gets on base well above the league average of .312 and looks like the area most in need of improvement is slugging as he is well below league average in strikeouts.

Player A is Billy Hamilton and player B is Tommy La Stella. Surprised?  Yes you are admit it.

Rookie of the Year

In a discussion prior to the All Star break on XM Radio’s Inside Pitch, Jim Bowden and Casey Stern opined that barring injury, Billy Hamilton had the NL Rookie of the Year sewed up; both said “there are no other real candidates.” I guess they never watch the Braves and so don’t recognize the impact TLS has had on the team.

A star is born

I know what Hamilton has done and he is certainly impressive. His speed led him to break the all time minor league stolen base record. That feat quiet rightly drew the media’s attention and they immediately pronounced him a star.

At the start of the season Hamilton was given the CF job and the leadoff spot for the Reds. Hamilton’s athleticism helped him make the transition from second base to center field and his speed helped him overcome some pretty bad routes as well as make some spectacular catches. His numbers prior to Sunday’s game 191 PA after the comparison point – a lot better.  He’s currently slashing .275/.306/.411/.717 in 367AB.  The big change is obviously his slugging percentage where, propelled by five homers and a speed assisted doubles (20) and triples (6), he’s now 62 points up in that area. His speed’s also allowed him to steal 38 bases while being caught just 15 times; a 72% steal rate.  Baseball-Reference shows Hamilton’s rWAR at  2.6 (fWAR 3.2.)  He has sufficient flash, dash and glamor to keep the media drooling. But saying no one else is close is just wrong.

The working man’s player

La Stella’s image is in many ways the antithesis of Hamilton’s. No flash or high visibility media crescendo preceded his call up to the majors – unless you consider the steady drumbeat here on the Take – to replace second base strikeouts with balls in play.

At the start of the season Tommy La Stella too was also given a job; second base for the Gwinnett Braves.  While Atlanta mixed, matched and generally stumbled at second base without success at second base, at Gwinnett TLS continued to do what he had always done; see a lot of pitches every at bat, get on base 38% of the time and walk almost twice as often as he struck out. Published scouting reports said his glove wasn’t good enough and the front office talked about the need for him to continue to grow but on May 28th the Braves finally made the decision to call him up.

Into the fire

His first game was a home game for the kid from Westwood, New Jersey; Braves vs Red Sox at Fenway with the whole family looking on amid stands full of vociferous Red Sox fans. He was understandably a bit nervous – 24 hours before he was headed to Pawtucket to play the Paw Sox instead here he was at Fenway – and made a couple of errors.  At the plate however he was exactly as advertised, going two for four and putting the ball in play every at bat.

Since that time he’s gone from strength to strength.  Having good at bats – he sees just over four pitches per PA – and putting the ball in play – is what he does. He’s struck out just 23 times in 217 PA (10.5%) and  first major league strikeout came in second at bat of his sixth game; MLB PA 20.  A gap to gap line drive hitter, doubles not home runs are his calling card. So far he’s delivered 11 of those and a triple while scoring 13 runs and providing 24 RBI mostly from the eight hole but recently batting second.  He’s currently slashing .288/.363/.356/.719.  He’s been clutch as well; yes it does exist, no I won’t argue about it thank you.

Thirteen of La Stella’s RBI came from bases loaded at bats where he’s six for seven including three doubles and a triple. That translates to an .857/.857/1.571/2.429 line; with two out and the bases loaded he’s two for two with six RBI.  That stretch of 13 RBI in first seven bases loaded ABs is 13th highest since 1914 and just two off the major league record.

His glove is much better than advertised. The two errors in his first game are the only ones he’s made and he’s turned in some pretty nifty glove work around the bag as well. While UZR has him at just 3.0 underrating his performance as part of the infield team. He’s brought sure hands and an accurate arm to what has been a black hole and provided the best glove the Braves have seen at second base in a long while.

That same UZR statistic says the Braves at 5.5 have the number two infield defense in the NL. Last year with Andrelton Simmons winning a platinum glove at shortstop and setting a record for defensive runs saved, the Braves infield defense was sixth with a UZR of 1.0. The only change this yea is the insertion of Tommy La Stella. UZR is supposed to be relative to the rest of the league so in this case every other team went down the drain OR the Braves defense improved; you decide.

A numbers game

Rookie of the year usually comes down to statistics and Hamilton seems to have the edge in some of those. Baseball-Reference shows that in Hamilton’s 99 games he’s accumulated 47 runs created (RC) while in La Stella’s 53 games (just over half as many) he’s accumulated 26RC (just over half as many). That puts them about equal and the runs created per game RC/G shows that; Hamilton has 4.3 RC/G and TLS a 4.9. Yet the Reds center fielder shows a big lead in both versions of WAR; Hamilton has an rWAR 2.5 (fWAR of 3.0)  vs TLS 0.5 rWAR (1.0 fWAR). Why? It’s really down to speed.

Hamilton’s speed allows him to make up for mistakes in the field giving him high DRS (defensive runs saved) numbers. It also allows him to stretch singles to doubles and doubles to triples giving him higher Rbr (base running runs) scores. Since those numbers are part of both WAR calculations and the other numbers are almost equal, Hamilton’s speed puts him ahead in WAR.

(Note for those interested in minutia, others should skip to the next paragraph. BBR uses  Rbat, Rbr, Rdp, Rdef and Rpos – positional adjustment – runs as well as average and replacement player runs to calculate rWAR.  Fangraphs calculates fWAR by using wRAA, UBR & wSB, UZR and positional value. The differences between the two are in the way they calculate the individual criteria and that FG relies on UZR while  BBR uses TZR. For details check the links. )

A moving target

Since I began writing this four days ago Hamilton’s component numbers have dropped off and La Stella’s have continued to climb. All that indicates is that the individual numbers are fluid enough at this stage of the season to make change in them easily identifiable. The WAR numbers don’t move as noticeably but they too have been moving toward each other; TLS up a tiny bit BH down a tiny bit.  In other words it’s early days yet. So while Hamilton is still the favorite, a prolonged slump or  series of fielding mistakes could make this race a lot tighter than kit appears now.

That’s A Wrap

Rookie of the Year will be an uphill climb for La Stella who isn’t a media darling generating alerts form the four letter network because he stole a base. But this race is a marathon and not a sprint (my worn out cliché of the day.)  Like the fairy tale hare, Hamilton jumped off to a huge lead aided by a 40 game or so head start in the majors. Like the tortoise La Stella started late but keeps doing what he does games after game, never too high or low just consistently producing.  If Hamilton stumbles be could see look up and find La Stella on the other side of the finish line holding the Rookie of the Year trophy everyone said he had sewn up at the All Star Break.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Rookie Of The Year

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