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Rookie Of The Year: Not Wade Miley

It probably didn't come as much of a surprise, but Wade Miley was indeed overlooked for National League Rookie of the Year, the award going to the Nationals' Bryce Hyper, sorry, Harper.

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Name, Team 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Bryce Harper, Nationals 16 8 8 112
Wade Miley, Diamondbacks 12 13 6 105
Todd Frazier, Reds 3 7 9 45
Wilin Rosario, Rockies 1 2 1 12
Norichika Aoki, Brewers 2 5 11
Yonder Alonso, Padres 1 1
Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 1 1
Jordan Pacheco, Rockies 1 1

The final poll was rather closer than I expected, with Harper edging first-place votes only by a margin of 16-12; a s noted subsequently in the comments, one voter, Bill Center, managed to leave Miley off the ballot entirely, opting for Harper, Frazier and...Yonder Alonso?. WTF? Still, even a first-place selection would not have made any difference to the overall result. Miley said, "It would have been a great honor, but either way I'm just glad it's over with and I can go back to my normal life. I was ready to get it over with and go back to being a good ole country boy, hanging out and doing some hunting." I suggest he start with getting his quota of Centers. :)

I had pretty much braced myself for this outcome after ESPN's straw poll of 30 votes gave it to Bryce Harper over Wade Miley, by a margin of 17-8. A lot of pieces kept mentioning Harper's age - for instance, this piece, which uses "as a teenager" four times in less than five hundred words. Funny how no-one really mentioned Ichiro's age, when he won Rookie of the Year at the grand old age of 28. There's no denying Harper had the benefit of hype, his every move being drooled over by the media in a way that Miley never received - and had the benefit of playing on the East coast, which was warming up its cocoa when Wade was taking the mound for most of his games.

It's also pretty hard for a starting pitcher to win the award - perhaps for the same reasons that it's hard for one to win Most Valuable Player honors, because they only appear in a small fraction of the team's games. Over the past nine years, the National League award has gone to eight position players and reliever Craig Kimbrel last season. Things are little better in the American League: while Justin Verlander and Jeremy Hellickson prevailed in recent year, they are the only two starting pitchers to have been triumphant since Dave Righetti won it all the way back in 1981. There's a good argument that the award should be split in two, one for pitchers, the other for hitters.

It is certainly very difficult to decide whether a pitcher or hitter is the "better" player - it's truly a case of comparing apples and oranges. There's no way to do so using traditional metrics, and it's only numbers like WAR that provide any kind of measure. What you see depends to a significant degree on which system you use - Fangraphs or Baseball Reference - and even there, it gets tricky, because each has its strengths and weaknesses. Generally, I prefer fWAR for hitters (because it goes deeper than just OPS) but bWAR for pitchers (it uses ERA as the basis, not an artificial value like FIP, great for future production...but less good at "valuing" a player's actual contribution).

But for what it's worth, here's what both systems have to say about the three finalists, along with where they rank among all position players or pitchers, as appropriate.

bWAR (rank)
fWAR (rank)
Bryce Harper 5.0 (#19) 4.9 (#16)
Wade Miley 3.2 (#17) 4.8 (#4)
Todd Frazier 1.9 (#68) 2.8 (#51)

There's a couple of things that stand out. Firstly, we can cross Frazier out of the conversation entirely, according to both WARs. Indeed, you could argue that Norichika Aoki (bWAR 3.3, fWAR 2.9) was a more deserving candidate than Frazier - though, of course, at age 30, Aoki deserves the "rookie" tag even less than his countryman. The huge gap between Frazier and Harper is interesting, because offensively, there's a lot less to choose between them. In wRC+, Harper is on top by a single point, 121-120, and the gap is not much wider in OPS+, Harper taking it 119-115. It's Harper's defense which really gives him the edge.

In bWAR, Miley certainly lags Harper by some way, although there's hardly anything to separate them in fWAR. But when you look at where each man ranks among their colleagues, Miley fares a lot better. Even in the weaker category, Wade is higher among all pitchers, than Harper is among all hitters, though obviously, there are more everyday hitters than starting pitchers. But Miley's rank among all pitchers in fWAR is striking: Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Gonzalez and Cliff Lee are the only ones, of any age, with a higher fWAR. To provide a yardstick, Dontrelle Willis, the last NL Rookie of the Year starter, came 20th overall by fWAR in 2003. [Brandon Webb was #7. Grrrr...]

I think performance down the stretch is a significant factor that worked against Miley. As noted earlier, he had a 5.40 ERA over his final six starts. On the other hand, Harper had one his best spells of the season, putting up a line of .330/.400/.643, for a 1.043 OPS after the end of August - just when the members of the BBWAA were filling in their ballots. His performance could also be seen as a factor in Washington enjoying playoff baseball for the first time in most residents' lifetimes, while Miley's 16 wins maybe helped the Diamondbacks stay out of fourth place in the National League West.

Still, finishing in second is absolutely no disaster - losing to a #1 overall pick is hardly an embarrassment and nor is the highest position ever obtained by a Diamondback player - in case you'd forgotten, Webb was beaten not just by Willis in 2003, but actually came third, behind Scott Podsednik. And it hardly means Miley's career is doomed to fail. The list of players who have been runner-up in Rookie of the Year ballot since Arizona came into existence, includes the like of Roy Oswalt, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, C.C. Sabathia and Robinson Cano. If Miley proves to be as productive as any of them, I think we'll all be perfectly happy!

So, huge congratulations to Miley for his runners-up spot. It puts a fitting full stop on a marvelous season, which surpassed absolutely everyone's expectations - including, I suspect Wade's own! Here's a toast to him continuing to find success for Arizona in 2013.