Inside the ‘Zona is a member organization of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, and it’s award voting season. As one of just two sites in the Arizona Chapter, we get a vote on the full slate of NL awards. In the five categories, there are a total of 23 names on our ballots — but only one Diamondback. So let’s start with Rookie of the Year.

The narrative in the national media for the last few months has been whether Jacob deGrom‘s excellent work in the Mets rotation down the stretch would mean that he’d overtaken Billy Hamilton in the NL Rookie of the Year race. Why? Because for most of the season, it looked like the award was Hamilton’s to lose. In fact, Hamilton was 11th among all position players in fWAR at the All Star Break with 3.3, while deGrom was the top rookie pitcher, with just 1.0.

Among all pitchers, deGrom was 4th in the NL in WAR (2.1), and it’s easy to see how his candidacy gained so much steam. He really was fantastic. Meanwhile, Billy Hamilton fell off a cliff, totaling just 0.3 WAR in the last “half” of the season.

Ender Inciarte played in his first game on May 2, but he was largely a part-time player until the beginning of June. He was also ridiculously bad at the plate in his first month, with an offensive output a whopping 103% worse than league average (-3 wRC+). But he produced runs at a respectable clip in June and July (77 wRC+, 70 wRC+, respectively), and was actually solidly above average offensively in the second half (113 wRC+).

That was a backdrop for some spectacular defense. Looking at that on a rate basis, his 23.7 UZR/150 was second among all major league outfielders (behind Juan Lagares of the Mets). That’s really good! He also finishes second among all qualified outfielders in DRS, if you turn that into a rate stat.

Inciarte played just 118 games with 447 PA to Hamilton’s 152 games and 611 PA, but he looks good in the season’s final leaderboard for rookies. Which looks like this:


In the end, the voting comes down to what you value in a Rookie of the Year candidate. It’s mostly a measure of performance to me, which is fortunate because while we can’t predict with any kind of confidence that Inciarte will be the second-best fielder among all outfielders next year, that’s what he was this year. I’d put in a dash of “is this for real,” however.

Inciarte is thus my Rookie of the Year vote, and he was our site vote, too. He was a better fielder and a better hitter than Hamilton, and in both categories, he wasn’t particularly close. Hamilton’s superior WAR total comes from two things. One was baserunning; and while he stole a lot of bases, he wasn’t necessarily a good base stealer, with 23 caught stealings to his 56 successes (a mediocre 70.1% success rate). The other was just that Hamilton played more. He was the only NL rookie to get more than 500 PA, and he got 611. Turn WAR into a rate stat, and Inciarte was the better player by a significant margin.

The deGrom/Inciarte comparison is a much closer call, however. Their contributions were nearly identical, and they played about as much of the season. If I were looking at only fWAR, the choice would be a toss-up for me.

But fWAR is not the only way to compare the production of position players and pitchers. We normally use the FanGraphs version around here, but Baseball-Reference also has a version of WAR, which is frequently called bWAR. And bWAR makes the race look not particularly close.


I’m not saying you have to agree with me. I’m just saying that Ender Inciarte is the NL Rookie of the Year in my book. In the BBA, we call that the Willie Mays Award.

Our Inside the ‘Zona votes:

Connie Mack Award (Manager of the Year)

There are quite a few candidates that could make the 2nd or 3rd spots on this list, and we’ve gone with Bochy just based on how impressed we are that he kept the roster working and managed a not-particularly-great bullpen. The same goes for Matheny, to some degree. But Clint Hurdle is our clear favorite, for implementing large-scale philosophical challenges, for learning on the job, for having a ton of success as compared to preseason predictions, and for doing all that while in a monstrous amount of knee pain. We’re the Arizona Chapter. We’re not going to give Hurdle bonus points for grit?

Willie Mays Award (Rookie of the Year)

1. Ender Inciarte
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Billy Hamilton
Yeah, so, that whole thing above. Reasonable minds can differ on these votes, but after looking at both fWAR and bWAR, I think the onus is on folks who want to argue that Inciarte is not the Rookie of the Year.

Goose Gossage Award (Reliever of the Year)

This one was interesting. Kimbrel was dominant all year and pitched the most innings of this group of three. Ken Giles was otherworldly, but only pitched 45.2 innings; there’s a good chance he’d have been #2 if he had pitched all season. But Chapman was fucking stupid, throwing 105mph from the left side with a 17.67 K/9 ratio and a FIP that I’ve just never seen before (0.89). There’s even evidence in there that Chapman had bad luck on balls in play. That’s just wrong. This was not a close call for us.

Walter Johnson Award (Pitcher of the Year)

These are the top starters by fWAR in the NL this season, with two tweaks. Innings pitched has a cascading effect on the rest of the pitching staff, and although that’s partly captured by having more opportunities to accumulate the stats that go into WAR, it may not be captured completely. Johnny Cueto pitched an obscene number of innings this season (243.2), and finished sixth in fWAR. Wainwright pitched to a 4th-best WAR, but also had almost 30 more innings than the non-Cueto guys in contention. That matters, so they got bumps.
The other thing that matters: performance. More so than on the position player side, pitching WAR is inferential. It’s based on FIP, which is an estimate of how well a pitcher should have done based on the things he controls. That’s still important in this context, but so is the pitcher’s actual ERA. Cueto and his sterling 2.25 ERA get another bump for that reason, and the same goes for Wainwright and his 2.38 ERA. Maybe it’s just that I watched a lot of D-backs games this season, but I don’t know how some pitchers can be this damned good, and so much better than the rest.

Stan Musial Award (MVP)

1. Clayton Kershaw
Notice how I didn’t even address Clayton Kershaw above? It took some discussion, but in the end, the Inside the ‘Zona team is voting for Kershaw as MVP. Last year, I ran a little study on pitchers-as-MVP-candidates that would point in a different direction, but Kershaw is just too damned good. It helps his candidacy that the identity of the top position player isn’t clear; McCutchen arguably has a better bid than last year, but if you give Lucroy the full measure of credit for his pitch framing, he’s top dog. Remember, the postseason doesn’t matter. We’d give the trophy to Kershaw.


Tagged with:

6 Responses to The Case for Ender Inciarte as Rookie of the Year

  1. Anonymous says:

    wish we’d get rid of pitchers from mvp, and give 3 mvps, and two Cy’s, also.And the 3 mvp’s are;

    1. Posey
    2. Mccutch
    3. Molina
    Molina is the most amazing handler, I have ever seen. there is a huge chasm between him and the rest of mlb catchers. I argue he’s the best of all time.

  2. BobJ says:

    Ender had a really nice year, but…. Here is one question to settle the issue. Would you trade Ender even up for Jacob deGrom? Of course you would!! deGrom looks like a stud in the Mets rotation. Ender will probably be a fourth outfielder for us next year unless we can unload Trumbo’s questionable defense back to the AL so he can DH.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Once again with a great point, Bob, and I definitely agree — the D-backs would do that in a heartbeat.

      With these award debates, it really comes down not to the players, but to the criteria. If a rookie had an amazing season that everyone thought was a fluke, could he be ROY? In other words, is it a recognition about what the player actually did on the field, is it a question of value, or is it kind of a combination of both? With respect to ROY specifically, is it a question of recognizing the “best” player to burst on the season, or should a player who is not as good win out because he had twice as much playing time, and had more counting stats?

      On the value or on-the-field production thing, I tend to think ROY slants a lot more toward the latter, hence the analysis above. But until they write the criteria down, it’s going to be a matter of peoples’ own philosophies on the award.

  3. Anonymous says:

    yeah the met pitching evaluators are hot right now.

  4. […] League Inside the ‘Zona Cincinnati Reds Blog The Flagrant Fan Misc. Baseball Dodger Blue Heaven Lasorda’s Lair Subway […]

  5. […] the results are not a huge surprise. You’ll recall that I thought Ender Inciarte had a strong bid for first, but he finishes a lowly fifth. We knew Jacob deGrom was likely to win, and the voters seemed to […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.