On Awards and Voting

Dejan Kovacevic, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s beat writer for the Pirates, caused a ruckus earlier today when it was revealed that his National League Rookie of the Year ballot diverged from the consensus with a Buster Posey, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata lineup, omitting Jason Heyward.

Prior to today, the ROY debate came down to the first place finisher — Posey or Heyward? It was unanimously believed that those two players made up the top two in either order. Walker or Tabata never entered the discussion.

Kovacevic’s voting resulted in lots of debates, and lots of baseless accusations and fallacious argumentation. FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron does a good job of defending Kovacevic but I would like to take it a bit further. As far as I can tell, there are two groups of people: the reactionary and the logical.

Imagine that we’re back on October 31 and you’re at a Halloween party. You, a liberal, strike up a conversation with someone who reveals himself to be a Tea Party supporter who plans to cast all his votes for people like Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Upon learning this, you can either be aghast that he’s a Teabagger (reactionary) or inquire more about his positions and then make a judgment (logical). It would be disingenuous to discredit him simply because he’s a Teabagger. After learning about his positions, you can legitimately discredit him after he says that he wants to see the deficit lowered but does not want to raise taxes or cut defense spending.

Similarly, many baseball fans and writers reacted as disingenuously to Kovacevic without ever hearing his justification, which can be found on his Twitter feed. When he justifies his voting with…

Re: ROY voting. Felt very firmly about Posey, thus chose him 1st. Felt Walker/Tabata had strong years, comparable to rest of class.

Neither Walker nor Tabata is off-the-board choice, as seen from list of NL rookies with 400 PA, ranked by OPS. tinyurl.com/3x9aghm

Obviously saw way more of Walker/Tabata than others, but that also gave perspective on them performing at high level in poor lineup/setting.

Feeling always has been with voting that broadest variety of perspectives bring best results. Few can argue final overall tally, I’d think.

…then you can go ahead and argue against him. Kovacevic could have had some legitimate justification but now that we see his reasoning is flimsy at best. Have at it!

The thing with these awards is that the criteria is so vague and amorphous that you can’t begrudge someone for the way they vote unless they have a completely objectively-reached ballot. Otherwise, their positions are unfalsifiable. “He’s a good clubhouse guy” or “he’s a leader” can’t be argued against by outsiders and that’s why a lot of voters resort to those defenses, as bland as they are.

Questionable ballots have been a part of awards voting for a while now — a product of a flawed system. Either you can have an automated system (based on pure objectivity; statistics) or you don’t. With the latter, you can’t fault the writers when their votes don’t line up with yours. You can argue against their reasoning, but not against their credibility to have the privilege of voting.

Awards are fun to discuss and debate, but in the end they’re mostly meaningless and will never mean much until they are turned over to an objective system. It is likely better for baseball to have this flawed system anyway, since we spend so much time talking about it — free publicity! In two weeks we’ll have forgotten that Kovacevic voted for Walker and Tabata over Heyward, turning our attention to the coming winter meetings.

In the event that Roy Halladay does not win the Cy Young award or receives fewer than all of the first-place votes, criticize the system and not the voters — until you hear their justification. Said differently, “don’t hate the player; hate the game.”

Should the Phillies Extend Rollins?

Is it possible that Jimmy Rollins is underrated? Following two consecutive sub-par years — by his standards — the contract extension that seemed to be guaranteed is anything but now. The Phillies picked up his $8.5 million option for the 2011 season, meaning that barring an extension, the organization’s long-time shortstop will be a free agent for the first time in his career in less than one year.

It isn’t quite a Derek Jeter-type situation, but both the Phillies and Rollins need each other. Rollins has been the face of the franchise as the opening day shortstop every year since 2001. There are no shortstops in the Minor League system ready to take the reins from Rollins, and the free agent market for shortstops isn’t exactly booming. With few shortstops available, that implies few openings for jobs — fewer teams will be available and willing to engage in a bidding for for the 32-year-0ld’s services. Rollins has been insistent on being a lead-off hitter with the Phillies to which manager Charlie Manuel has conceded. The shortstop is highly unlikely to receive that treatment elsewhere.

A contract extension behooves both sides, and better for that business to be completed now rather than during or after the season, when a renaissance season could increase the interest on the potential free agent.

Rollins’ last extension, a five-year, $40 million deal, was signed in June of 2005 when Rollins was 26 years old. Soon to be 32 years old, coming off of an injury-plagued 2010 season and two consecutive years of below-average offensive output, Rollins could be had for another team-friendly deal.

The question is — is he worth it?

A comment by Kevin H on Thursday’s article inspired this look at Rollins because it was very critical of the shortstop. Kevin wrote:

But why, oh why, would the Phillies want to extend Rollins? In 2010 the only regular players with lower OPS in the NL were: Bourn, Y. Molina, M. Cabrera, Schumaker, O. Cabrera, Theriot, Morgan & Escobar. In 2009 the only regular players in the NL with a lower OBP were: Clint Barmes and Benji Molina. So, for the last 2 years he has been one of the worst, non-pitcher, batters in the NL and he isn’t getting any younger or better. You can get a lot of guys who can field and be one of the worst hitters for minimum salary. If they actually work with the hitting coach and improve its a big bonus. Rollins says he doesn’t need a hitting coach despite his horrible hitting.

As mentioned above, it’s true — Rollins has been below-average offensively over the last two years. But he’s never really been anything more than an average hitter, his 2007 MVP season notwithstanding. His career .336 wOBA is within about 10 points of the league average, not all that much higher than his .316 and .317 marks the past two seasons. Overall, Rollins was debited 10.6 batting runs in 2009-10, but was credited 10.8 for playing a premium position — essentially a wash.

Where Rollins still provides tremendous value is on defense and on the bases. Since 2003, Rollins never finished a season with a negative UZR/150. With a career 5.3 mark, his grades the last three seasons have been incredible: 15.2, 5.0, and 12.3. In aggregate over the past three years among shortstops with at least 1,000 defensive innings, Rollins has the fourth-highest mark at 10.5.

Despite calf and thigh injuries that forced him to miss about half of the 2010 season, Rollins still finished as the team’s second-best base runner behind Shane Victorino. Using Equivalent Base Running Runs (EQBRR), Rollins added 2.7 runs on the bases. Although his base running has declined along with his offense — partly a function of not having those additional opportunities presented by better offense — he still provides value as the following chart displays.

Under the tutelage of Davey Lopes, Rollins became not only an aggressive base-stealer, but an extremely efficient base-stealer. He was a big part of the Phillies’ consistently MLB-best running game that eventually led to a World Series title in 2008. With limited opportunities last year, Rollins stole 31 bases in 39 attempts — an 80 percent success rate that is well above the break-even point of 70 percent.

Overall, since 2008, Rollins ranks fourth among all MLB shortstops in WAR at 10.3. Why? What he lacks in offense he makes up for with defense, base running, and playing a premium position. The 2012 free agent class for shortstops is underwhelming. Jose Reyes may be the best option available but it is likely that the New York Mets hand him a contract before that ever becomes an issue. The Phillies should do the same for Rollins. Although aging and injury prone, Rollins still ranks among the best shortstops in baseball. His value has nonetheless depreciated, making now a prime opportunity to secure themselves a productive shortstop for three more years while they try to groom a replacement.