Monday, November 22, 2010


The Best Damn Rookie, Period

It's been a strange couple of weeks with no baseball. Suddenly I come home and instead, of a ball game to turn on I now have this strange thing known as free time. Scary, I know, but with the baseball season ended and with the Giants no longer torturing us, I'm once again free to pursue my other hobbies, like reading, watching Netflix movies, and reenacting I Am Legend with hobos.

The major Giants news of the offseason, of course, was that Buster Posey, the kid from Georgia who was drawing comparisons to Johnny freaking Bench by the end of the postseason, won the National League Rookie of the Year. He beat Jason Heyward in a surprising landslide, and became the first Giant to win the award since John Montefusco in 1975. Even though he was (controversially) kept in the minors until late May, he raked his way to the award with a .305/.357/.505 batting line and a Random-like throwing arm behind the plate (score one for the nerdy X-Factor reference). There's a debate somewhere that Heyward may have deserved it more, but damned if you're going to suck me into it.

The shocking thing about Posey wasn't that he'd be so good so fast, but that he was kind of the opposite of what fans had been expecting. The projections for Posey, based on the scouting reports from college and the minors, were that he'd be a sort of a line-drive, high-average type, a guy who would hit .300 annually, walk a ton, but also be lucky to top out at 15 homers in any given season. Even with the mediocre power numbers, the thinking went, he'd still be immensely valuable as a catcher due to his on-base skills. All hail the second coming of Darrell Porter, or something.

So, naturally, upon reaching the big leagues, Posey stopped drawing walks and started hitting the ball over the fence. He smashed 18 home runs in four months, while his walk rate sank fairly drastically from the solid minor league rates he had demonstrated (6.8% in the majors, down from 13.5% at AAA in 2010, and 11.3% in 2009). So, aside from the high average, were the scouts completely wrong? Was Posey just awesome in ways we never expected, like Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog?

Actually, there's a lot to get excited about from Posey's rookie season, aside from the obvious. Despite the decrease in total walks, he still saw 3.86 pitches per plate appearance, which is above the league average, pretty solid for a green rookie. His eye was still there, so you can imagine the walk totals will rise as pitchers start to approach him with more caution. Also, perhaps pitchers were more apt to challenge him early on because the scouting reports stated he wouldn't hit the ball over the fence.

The new power potential is drool-inducing, though, and since nearly half of his home runs were hit to right field or right-center, it's almost certainly legit. It's a far cry from the slappy line-drive hitter a lot of us thought we were getting. Plus, if he's belting home runs at this rate as a 23-year-old rook, it stands to reason that he could even add a little more. Add all this to his All-Star-caliber glove and suddenly you've got what could be a perennial MVP candidate (he even finished 11th in this year's voting) and face of the franchise for a decade. What a beautiful way to cap a magical year.

--You could forgive Giants fans for forgetting that the Rookie of the Year Award even existed, seeing as how the Giants hadn't put forth a legitimately good rookie position player since the mid-80's. Posey is the fifth Giant to win the award, but the first since way back in 1975. As a fun time-waster, I thought it'd be cool to check out how he rated when compared to the other guys to win the hardware in the Orange and Black. Here is a list of the five Giant ROYs, ranked by their Wins Above Replacement totals from that year (I'm using Baseball Reference's WAR calculations...non-dorks go here).

Buster Posey, 2010  (3.0)
Willie McCovey, 1959 (3.0)
Gary Matthews, 1973 (2.7)
Orlando Cepeda, 1958 (2.5)

John Montefusco, 1975 (6.8)

Cepeda and McCovey, of course, went on to have Hall of Fame careers. McCovey notoriously played in only 52 games in his rookie year, but he was so good in that limited timespan that he won the award anyway. Cepeda has the lowest WAR here because he played first base (the position with the least defensive value) and because of his relatively mediocre .342 OBP.

Matthews would go on to more fame with the Phillies (bonus points for destroying the Dodgers in the 1983 NLCS), but he was a very good player as a Giant, much better than I ever realized. He played a very good left field while drawing a good amount of walks and hitting for power. He's probably one of those guys who was underrated back in those days, especially since he was on some really bad Giants teams. For what it's worth, Bill James ranked him as the 46th-best left fielder in baseball history, and Ted Turner allegedly signed him to an extravagant contract while completely wasted.

I separated Montefusco from the others because it's clear WAR totals skew more toward pitchers, but Montefusco had one hell of a rookie season, striking out 215 batters and posting a 133 ERA+. Unfortunately, The Count threw nearly 500 innings in his first two seasons and quickly developed arm troubles. He was pretty mediocre for the entirety of his 13-year career, but he always had nasty things to say about the Dodgers, so he's okay in my book.

--Remember back in the 2007 draft, when a lot Giants fans were screaming for the team to draft Beau Mills, the power-hitting lefty out of Fresno State, to fill the drastic need for any kind of hitting talent in the farm system? Remember the outrage when the team took Madison Bumgarner instead? Yeah, flash forward three years. Bumgarner has just thrown a near-shutout in a pivotal World Series game, helping the Giants to their first ever championship in San Fran. Meanwhile, Mills has been nothing but awful in the minor leagues and the Indians have pretty much given up on him. Yes, I was one of those people hollering for the Giants to select Mills, and I think it's fair to say I didn't know more than the Giants' scouting department at the time. Yes, fueled by 20/20 hindsight, you can safely say that there's a word for people like me.

Anyway, good news! Mills is now eligible for the Rule V draft this offseason. So yeah, if the Giants are looking to bring in a AA washout who can't play any position on the field to placate us jerks who wanted him so badly three years ago, they're in luck.

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