The Baseball Writers Association of America released the results of its Rookie of the Year award vote Monday, and it was bad news for Cleveland fans: in addition to their picking the wrong player for the American League’s top rookie (Jeremy Hellickson), the writers didn’t name a single Indians player in any of their combined 84 available ballot spaces.
They didn’t deserve to win, but two Tribe players deserved to at least be in consideration for second- or third-place votes. The higher-profile of the two is Jason Kipnis. The 24-year-old hit .272/.333/.507 (good for a 135 wRC+) with 7 homers, 19 RBI, 24 runs scored, and 1.0 rWAR (0.8 fWAR) in just 36 games while playing a position from which most teams don’t get much in the way of offensive production.
I don’t think of the Rookie of the Year in the same way I do the other major awards; I weigh how well a rookie plays much more heavily than how much he plays, and the only AL gumshoe who unambiguously played better and more than Kipnis was Brett Lawrie (who, inexplicably, didn’t get named on a single ballot either). But I’m not too torn up about Kipnis being snubbed—great as it would be if everyone thought like I did, I realize my preference in that respect is completely subjective, and given that the BBWAA voters seem to disagree it wasn’t a surprise that he didn’t get any votes.
But there’s another Tribe rookie whose absence from the balloting is far more difficult to rationalize: Vinnie Pestano. The 26-year-old right-hander threw 62 phenomenal innings for Cleveland this year, posting a 2.32 ERA (and an even better 2.23 SIERA) to go along with a 1.05 WHIP, a 3.5 K/BB ratio, and an incredible 12.2 K/9 rate. He accumulated 2.2 rWAR, an outstanding mark for a reliever.
Those last three words—”for a reliever”—would be the most viable argument against his recognition, but that doesn’t hold water here given that Craig Kimbrel was unanimously voted the top rookie in the National League. Last year the AL’s top newbie was Neftali Feliz, and the year before that was Andrew Bailey—both relievers. They’re held to a higher standard than their counterparts in the rotation in these kinds of awards (as well they should be), but there’s a strong precedent for relief pitchers to win the Rookie of the Year.
But what really makes Pestano’s complete snubbing crazy is the fact that someone voted for a worse relief pitcher: Jordan Walden. Walden had a great year for the Angels, going 60.1 strong innings with a 2.98 ERA (3.01 SIERA), a 1.24 WHIP, a 2.6 K/BB ratio, a 10.0 K/9 rate, and 1.2 rWAR. Fantastic numbers all around, to be sure. But compare his stats with Pestano’s, and with the exception of fWAR (in which Walden holds a probably insignificant 1.7 to 1.5 lead due to FIP underrating the impact of Pestano’s tremendous bat-missing skills), Walden clearly falls short across the board.
So how did Walden get a vote when Pestano did not? Playing for a bigger-market team couldn’t have hurt, but the real problem is that Walden is inherently overrated by virtue of being a closer. The save is quite possibly the single worst commonly used statistic for evaluating, yet like the RBI and the win-loss record it has managed to stick around as a primary tool of analysis in the public discourse. So because Walden had 32 saves and Pestano had only two, all of Pestano’s other advantages get thrown out the window.
Never mind that, when a team has three-run lead in the ninth inning, it often isn’t the highest-leverage point in the game. Put aside the fact that the reliever who shuts down the opposition with the bases loaded in a tie game gets no such credit for “saving” the game from being potentially put out of reach. Forget that Texas reliever Wes Littleton got a save when the Rangers beat the Orioles 30-3 in 2007. Pestano earned 1.93 WPA this year compared to Walden’s 0.53, so even within the context of the games they pitched Pestano did more to put his team in position to win, regardless of what the save totals say.
Walden isn’t the only player with whom Pestano can be favorable compared. For what it’s worth, Pestano’s 1.5 fWAR actually put him ahead of Hellickson (1.4). It’s an insignificant lead, but the fact that they’re even in the same ballpark despite Hellickson’s having pitched more than three times as many innings should have at least gotten Pestano a place in the conversation for Rookie of the Year (or, alternatively, it should have closed the book on Hellickson’s candidacy). Plus, given that FIP was the friendliest ERA estimator to Hellickson this year and that it underrates pitchers who get as many strikeouts as Pestano does, Pestano probably deserves an even bigger lead.
I’m not saying Pestano should have been the Rookie of the Year (I picked Dustin Ackley in the mock votes I participated in, though if I could do it again today I’d go with Brett Lawrie). But the voters ought to have at least given him serious consideration for the bottoms of their ballots, and that Walden got support and Hellickson won while Pestano didn’t even get a single vote is ridiculous. Ultimately the only name that really matters is the one at the top, but I’m not sure why no one voted for Pestano.