We already know that the three finalists for the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year Award are Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, and Yu Darvish. We basically already know that Mike Trout will be named the unanimous winner later on Monday by the BBWAA. There is no particularly convincing argument for any of the other guys over Trout, unless you pretend like pitcher wins are the only statistic that exists. You’ll know if Trout does not win unanimously because in that event Twitter would go down on account of all the Internet rage. It doesn’t take a lot to make the Internet rage.
The award itself is something that matters only sort of. It would probably matter a great deal to Trout and to Trout’s family. It’s something that would immediately go on Trout’s resume, and it’s something that would be brought up in any Mike Trout Hall-of-Fame discussions. The recognition would boost Trout’s self-esteem but it would not give him a new house, and it would not give the Angels more wins. It certainly means little to the fans. I don’t think fans care about the awards because of the winners; I think they care about the awards because of the arguments for which they allow. On the surface, there’s not much room for argument in the 2012 AL RoY. But what follows is an argument in favor of Oakland’s Jarrod Parker.
In case there’s any doubt, let it be known that I do not support the argument that follows. I’m all about Mike Trout, for everything — Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Cy Young probably, the whole enchilada. If you support Trout, and you should, there has probably never been a less competitive RoY race. Darvish was good and Cespedes was good, but Trout’s WAR was double Darvish’s, and Trout’s WAR was more than triple Cespedes’. Trout had one of the better seasons of all time, overall. This is just an argument that could conceivably be made, and it is not absolutely, hopelessly outlandish.
The key is not to try to establish that Jarrod Parker out-performed Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, or Yu Darvish. You could make an ERA-based argument for Parker over Darvish, and you could make a more reasonable argument for Parker over Cespedes, but Parker’s never getting close to Trout, no matter how much you try. The key is to throw the three finalists out of the picture. Those who are deemed ineligible by definition cannot win.
The BBWAA isn’t responsible for determining who is and isn’t eligible, but individual voters can have their own opinions, and indeed that’s sort of the whole point. A stubborn voter could throw out the three finalists. Darvish is the easiest of the three to throw out first. He’d be thrown out on the basis of his prior accomplishments in Japan. There’s been controversy around the Japanese candidates and winners in the past, since they’re coming from a competitive league in which they’ve achieved at a high level. This was Darvish’s first year in the major leagues, but last year in Japan he posted a sub-2 ERA. The year before that in Japan, he posted a sub-2 ERA. The year before that in Japan, he posted a sub-2 ERA. The year before that in Japan, he posted a sub-2 ERA. The year before that in Japan, he posted a sub-2 ERA. Some people say they don’t want to insult the Japanese leagues by considering their players big-league rookies. This is not an altogether indefensible stance. It rests comfortably in the sprawling gray area. Darvish was the best pitcher in a quality league for a number of years; therefore, in the stubborn voter’s mind, Darvish is not a true rookie.
The argument for throwing out Darvish is similar to the argument for throwing out Cespedes. Yes, 2012 was also Cespedes’ first year in the majors, and it was his first year in the United States, but Cespedes came over as a 26-year-old after dominating in Cuba. While high-level Cuban baseball doesn’t compare to high-level Japanese baseball, toward the upper end there are similar or equivalent talents, and we’re talking about a league of quality professionals. Cespedes resides in a gray area, too, in that he isn’t a traditional rookie, and where there is a gray area, there is room for user interpretation. A voter might vote only for those who have graduated through the usual system.
And this all brings us to Trout, the one guy Parker can’t in any way defeat with his statistics. To toss out Trout also requires that one question his rookie status. In 2011, Trout batted 135 times for the Angels, debuting on July 8. Last November, it looked like Trout would be ineligible for the 2012 AL RoY. That was according to a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the rules. Then Major League Baseball decided, hey, actually, he will be eligible after all. The key is a two-and-a-half-week optional assignment, lasting fewer than 20 days. According to MLB, those days count towards Trout’s big-league service time, but they don’t count as days on an active roster. So by that interpretation, 2012 Trout still counts as a rookie.
It’s questionable. It’s also somewhat arbitrary. At the very beginning, there were no specific rules for who was and was not a rookie. In 1957, thresholds were established. Then the thresholds were changed. Then the thresholds were changed again. The current rules were adopted in 1971, and they read:
The current standard of 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club (excluding time in military service or on the disabled list) before September 1 was adopted in 1971.
Not only are these rules old; they cite at-bats instead of plate appearances for some reason. At-bats should pretty much never be the denominator, and in this case they certainly aren’t sensible. Not that it really matters very much, but still, for the sake of argument in this instance, Trout finished 2011 with 135 plate appearances but 123 at-bats, because he walked nine times and did other things three times. It’s as if those 12 plate appearances didn’t happen. If this rule read plate appearances instead of at-bats, Trout would be ineligible, barely. Then you also have the service-time uncertainty. This smells like a gray area! Which means this smells like an opportunity to interpret. A stubborn and contrarian voter could toss out Trout on the basis that he sure doesn’t seem like he was a legitimate major-league rookie in 2012.
With Trout gone, Cespedes gone, and Darvish gone, there’s only so much left. There’s no shortage of rookies, but there’s more of a shortage of quality rookies. An option would be Will Middlebrooks, but he didn’t even bat 300 times. Nor did Josh Donaldson. Jesus Montero was a regular, but Jesus Montero was bad. It’s more competitive on the pitching side, but Jarrod Parker started 29 times and surpassed 180 innings. He led rookies in WAR and also in RA9-WAR. His ERA beat most, and his FIP was right in line. He was a starter, so he seems more deserving than any of the quality relievers. He did have more success than teammate Tommy Milone, over two fewer starts.
In this way, one arrives at Jarrod Parker as the true 2012 American League Rookie of the Year. Before 2012, Parker had just two games of big-league experience, and he came up through the minors, instead of coming over from a high-level league in another country. With Jarrod Parker, there’s no gray area. He was as much of a rookie as he was, and he was as successful as he was. What a changeup he throws!
Such a stubborn voter would not be completely, absolutely, indefensibly out of his mind. He’d still be wrong, though. You can be in your mind and still very wrong. It’s Trout. It’s obviously Trout. It should probably be Trout again next year just because. Just give all awards to Mike Trout.