The essence of hometown reporting was the headline on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ fansite: Jake McCarthy finishes fourth in NL Rookie of the year voting.
That’s true…for what it’s worth. McCarthy got four points, which is nice except it’s only about one fifth the total of the third-place guy and about one-thirtieth the winner’s total.
NL voters turned this into an intramural battle between Braves teammates Michael Harris Jr. and Spencer Strider. They gave the trophy to Harris with 134 points, running Strider second with 103 and Cardinals infielder Brendan Donovan a distant third at 22 points. Then you got to McCarthy, the Pride of Arizona.
The question isn’t the selection of Harris, who was a deserving honoree. It’s the lopsided elevation of Strider and concurrent dismissal of Donovan as a legitimate contender for the award. Should have Donovan have finished that far behind Strider?
Start with the simplest of numbers. Among NL rookies, Harris accumulated a 5.3 WAR, Donovan was second at 4.1 and Strider third at 3.7. Then came Alexis Diaz (3.1), Nick Lodolo (2.8), the Pride of Arizona (2.4) and Oneil Cruz (2.3).
Comparing the contributions of pitchers and position players is always dicey, which is where WAR comes in especially handy. But we can do the comparison in other ways as well.
Let’s begin with Strider. His 31 appearances encompassed 528 batter-pitcher matchups; that’s 528 chances to influence the outcome of a Braves game. In those 528, he allowed an opponents batting average of .178, an opponents on base average of .254 and an opponents slugging average of .261.
Abstractly those figures don’t mean much until we compare them with league averages, which were respectively .243, .314 and .398. So Strider held opponents 65 percentage points below the league batting average, 60 points below the on base average and an imposing 137 points below the league slugging average.
We can test Donovan the same way. His rookie experience encompassed 468 batter-pitcher matchups, about 60 fewer than Strider. His slash line was .281/.394/.379, all superior to the league average .243/.314/.398 slash.
But relative to the league average Donovan only beat Strider in one of the three categories, on base. Strider’s performance in the average and slugging rubrics were both superior, the slugging rubric dominantly so.
The verdict: Strider deserved the runner-up position, although probably not by as lopsided a margin as the voters made it. As for Jake McCarthy’s fourth-place finish, not that it matters but both Alexis Diaz and Nick Lodolo should have beaten him out.