Now that the regular season's over, it's time to decide who should win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Jason Bay of the Pirates or Khalil Greene of the San Diego Padres. Rather than conduct an analysis on my own, I contacted Geoff Young of the excellent Padres blog Ducksnorts, and we talked about both players.
Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: I like the idea of an e-mail conversation about Jason Bay versus Khalil Greene. I'll begin by pointing out that Greene (as you've mentioned in your blog) has had the best offensive season of all NL shortstops in a tough park for hitters. He plays a demanding position and has been spectacular on defense. But I honestly think a real compelling case could be made for either of our guys.
Charlie Wilmoth, VORB: I agree that the race for the Rookie of the Year is a close one, and that this isn’t a Pirates fan arguing for Bay versus a Padres fan backing Greene. I want to give readers a clear picture of what the issues in this debate should be, and you certainly know more than I do about Greene and the factors that might affect his performance, whereas maybe I know some things about Bay and the Pirates that you might not. I agree that a compelling case can be made for either player.
Here are the raw numbers:
Bay 116/410 41 BB 24 2B 4 3B 26 HR 4 SB 6 CS .283/.355/.551/.910
Greene 132/484 53 BB 31 2B 4 3B 15 HR 4 SB 2 CS .273/.349/.446/.795
These numbers, especially the power numbers, seem to favor Bay. But Greene plays shortstop, which is much more demanding than Bay’s position, left field (even though left field is huge at PNC Park). Also, Petco is a tough park for hitters. It seems to have been especially tough on Greene: he has posted a .683 OPS at home versus an impressive .895 OPS on the road. (It should also be noted that PNC is reputed to be a tough park for right-handed power hitters, although Bay has hit 15 homers and had a .952 OPS there this year.)
What can you tell me about the hitting environment at Petco? Are you aware of any reason why Greene seems to be affected more by Petco than most other Padres, or do you think it’s just a sample size issue? Also, can you comment more specifically on Greene’s defense? His Zone Rating is impressive but his Range Factor is rather low; I think we can agree, however, that he looks very good out there and that those stats don’t always tell the whole story.
Ducksnorts: A few thoughts... First, in addition the raw numbers you cited, I'll add Win Shares. Thanks to this great site that I found via David Pinto's Baseball Musings.
We can see the following:
Greene - Bat: 15.0 Fld: 5.5 WS: 20
Bay - Bat: 14.3 Fld: 1.8 WS: 16
This is through 9/23, and Bay probably has bumped up his hitting portion a bit, but Win Shares gives Greene pretty significant extra credit for his defense. Win Shares also gives Jay Payton more credit for his defense than Steve Finley, so who knows how reliable that measure is. I'm pretty comfortable in saying that Greene's defense has been more important to the Padres than Bay's has been to the Pirates, but I'm not at all comfortable in attempting to quantify the difference.
As for park factors, ESPN has Petco as the second most difficult place in the big leagues to score runs (just ahead of Safeco). Here are ESPN's numbers for Petco and PNC (where 1.000 represents average, above is more favorable to hitters, below more favorable to pitchers):
Petco - Runs: 0.834 (29) HR: 0.694 (30) H: 0.892 (29)
PNC - Runs: 0.898 (26) HR: 0.883 (23) H: 0.977 (20)
Numbers in parentheses are MLB rank.
Obviously neither park benefits hitters, but Petco Park was arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB this year. Anecdotally, I can tell you that Greene hit a lot of balls to the warning track in the power alleys that probably would have been homers in most parks. By the way, this is the first time I've really looked at PNC's factors, and they certainly do make Bay's already impressive numbers look that much better.
As for Greene's home/road splits, wow! I hadn't realized they were so extreme. I'm not sure why this is the case. The best I can do is the anectodal evidence above. Only Brian Giles and Phil Nevin hit more homers than Greene on the road this year, and if you double Greene's road output he ends up with 24 bombs. Again, going back to my own observations, I think he would have hit 20-25 homers in a neutral park this year. We're dealing in pretty speculative areas here, I realize, but there you go.
Regarding Greene's defense, I touched on range factor a little bit in the last month at Ducksnorts.
In a nutshell, I suspect there are park effects at work here as well. Anyone who has watched the Padres for any appreciable stretch of time this season will tell you that their strength on defense has been the infield. Or they might tell you that the outfield defense has stunk. Both are true, at least to the human eye. But if you check range factors at ESPN, the Padres have the best CF range factor in the NL and fourth best overall OF range factor. Conversely, only the Astros and Cubs have lower team range factors on the infield. I know we're talking about Greene and Bay here, but just to use Payton again as an example, his range factor in CF is 3.01, tops in the NL. The difference between him and the #2 guy (Mike Cameron at 2.77) is greater than that between Cameron and the #6 guy (Tike Redman at 2.56). Steve Finley, Jim Edmonds? Not even on the map. Again, without having done any real research on the subject, my guess is that Payton's range factor is more a reflection of (a) the hugeness of Petco's outfield, (b) the fact that he is flanked by Giles and Ryan Klesko out there, and (c) the fact that many of the Padres pitchers serve up a fair amount of fly balls. And to bring this back (finally) to Greene, I suspect the opposite is true with infielders and that their range numbers are abnormally skewed in the other direction due to those same reasons.
Bottom line: Range factor will tell you that Payton is one of the best CFers in all of baseball and Greene one of the worst shortstops. My own eyes tell me the opposite is true, which leads my mind to believe that maybe range factor isn't the best determinant of defensive value. And my answer to the inevitable follow-up question is, I don't know what is.
To conclude (for now), although it's tough to say for sure based on one season's worth of data, I believe that Greene's offensive and defensive numbers are both negatively impacted by his home park.
What about Bay? Other than how he managed to stay in a Lloyd McClendon lineup despite the high strikeout totals, what can you tell me about one of the guys we gave up to get Brian Giles? As an outsider, one of the things that jumps out at me is his remarkable consistency. His OPS ranged from 866 to 1000 in any given month. That tells me he's making the adjustments, a very good quality in a young player. Also, regardless of whether or not it is a "skill", you've got to respect his numbers with RISP: .323/.415/.677. Very nice. Okay, those are some numbers. What more can you tell me about the guy?
VORB: It seems like we agree that it’s difficult to evaluate defense with confidence. It takes more than a good Range Factor, or even Zone Rating, to convince me that someone is a good defender. The fact that Tike Redman, who is as hard to watch on defense as any Pirate in recent memory, is ranked in the middle of the pack in range factor among NL center fielders tells me there’s something weird going on there. UZR is the defensive statistic I trust the most, but 2004 UZRs have not been published, so we can't see how Bay or Greene rates there.
As far as defense is concerned, then, the best we can do is agree that they’re both good at their positions but that we don’t know how good, and that Greene deserves pretty substantial extra credit for playing shortstop. One interesting thing about Bay, though, is that left field is tough to play in PNC because it’s so large, so defensive statistics probably don’t do Bay any favors. I can say for sure that Bay looks very good in the field – he runs well, gets good reads on balls and catches most of the ones he gets to.
Also, I’m not sure anyone should give Bay credit for this as far as the ROY debate is concerned, but the Pirates' organization is apparently very confident in Bay’s abilities in center field – in fact, Lloyd McClendon has said that center may be Bay’s best position! If he really can play there and the Pirates had let him play there, his case would be even stronger (and the Pirates might have had another ROY candidate in J.J. Davis), but instead they let Redman play there the entire season.
In any case, I suspect that Bay’s defense is more valuable than his Win Shares totals gives him credit for, but I doubt it would be enough to make up the rest of the difference.
I looked at the ESPN park factors you linked and was amazed at how low PNC was ranked. The number listed there (a Park Factor of .898, which would make it the fifth-most pitcher-friendly park in baseball) is way out of line with what I see with my eyes and with previous park factors I’ve seen for PNC. (Baseball Prospectus 2004, for example, rates PNC as a neutral park, although I believe BP’s park factors are based on the total hitting environment the Pirates play in, whereas ESPN’s numbers are just based on games at PNC.) There may be some weather-related reason so few runs have been scored at PNC this year, but I suspect this is just a sample-size issue, and PNC is actually just a neutral park.
I’ve watched ten or so games played at Petco this year, though, and it’s very obviously an extreme pitchers park: very hard-hit balls frequently turn into flyouts there. Park factors are subject to so many variations in weather and sample-size problems that it’s impossible to rate them precisely. Still, there is a class of hitting environments that are obviously extreme in one direction or another – Colorado, Los Angeles, Texas, Seattle – and Petco is one of those. I think it’s very likely that Greene would have hit twenty jacks or more in a more normal hitting environment.
One other problem with park factors is that parks aren’t one-size-fits-all – they may affect different types of players differently, particularly players of different handedness. The conventional wisdom regarding PNC is that it’s much harder on right-handed power hitters than on lefties, since the wall in left is much deeper than the wall in right (although the wall in left is much lower). So I checked the home-road splits of every Pirate power hitter for each full year played since 2002. There haven’t been many, so it didn’t take long. In short, though, the lefties I checked (Brian Giles, Matt Stairs, Rob Mackowiak and Daryle Ward) did tend to get a bigger boost from PNC than the righties (Craig Wilson, Reggie Sanders, and Bay). That isn’t a lot of players, but the numbers do suggest that the conventional wisdom is right. So I think that while PNC is basically a neutral park, it’s harder on righty power hitters. I’m not sure whether Bay deserves some extra credit for that or not.
Whew! What was I talking about? Ah yes: Jason Bay and Khalil Greene. I do think, again, that this is a case where Bay’s play has been a bit better than his Win Shares totals suggest, since I’m sure Win Shares applies a one-size-fits-all park factor rather than one that’s tailored more specifically to the tendencies of the park.
So where does that leave us? I really have no idea, and I think Greene and Bay are so close in value and such different kinds of players that we’re not going to get a definitive answer here. It is fun to try, though.
While I’ve got your attention, though, I would be remiss not to ask for your opinions about Aki Otsuka, another very good Padres rookie who might deserve some consideration. You seem to like him, too. He lags far behind Bay and Greene in cumulative stats like Value Over Replacement Player, but as some folks at Baseball Primer have pointed out, he usually pitches very high-leverage innings, which makes him much more valuable than such statistics suggest. Do you think he should be a real contender here?
Ducksnorts: Regarding Bay's ability to play center field, that's where he was playing for the Padres before he broke his wrist last year. My recollection of him in his brief stint in San Diego is that he looked like a pretty good athlete.
I agree that this is going to be a very close call. In most years, either of those guys would win easily. Bay's production despite missing the a good chunk of the season has been amazing. And Greene has been the best offensive shortstop, qualitatively, in the National League despite playing in the toughest park for hitters.
One other thing we haven't mentioned is that Bay and Greene were actually roommates at Triple-A. This doesn't mean anything in terms of analysis but it's kind of cool. And whoever ends up winning the award, it's pretty clear that both clubs have a special player on their hands. This isn't a case of Todd Hollandsworth vs Edgar Renteria, or Pat Listach vs Kenny Lofton. These guys are legit and should be around for a long time to come.
As for Otsuka, I wrote about his chances the other day. Basically, Kaz Sasaki won the AL ROY in 2000 pitching fewer innings than Otsuka has this year and posting inferior qualitative numbers. I'm convinced that the only thing keeping Otsuka from being a serious contender in the race is the presence of Trevor Hoffman. There's also no doubt in my mind that Otsuka could close games on this side of the Pacific. But he works the eighth rather than the ninth, and nobody really cares if a guy finishes with 34 holds. So I guess my answer is that if Sasaki deserved consideration in 2000, then Otsuka deserves it now. But I seriously doubt he'll get more than a token vote.