Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rookie of the Year Voting Troubles

If you've paid attention to baseball news this week, you saw that Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Cubs catcher Geovany Soto picked up the Rookie of the Year awards in their respective leagues. Their selections were unsurprising, but the full voting results for the NL award have caused a stir.

From mlb.com:
2008 NL Rookie of the Year Voting
Player, Club 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Geovany Soto, CHC 31 1
Joey Votto, CIN 1 21 8 76
Jair Jurrjens, ATL
6 16 34
Edinson Volquez, CIN*
Jay Bruce, CIN

7 7
Kosuke Fukudome, CHC
1 1 4
* Volquez received votes despite being ineligible as a rookie.

Yes, Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez got votes despite not being a rookie. The crazy thing about it is that the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), the group that votes for the award, set the criteria. I'm hardly alone in shaking my head at how knowledgable baseball writers could screw up the rules for their own award.

I realize that Volquez was called a rookie in a lot of places all through the season, but I would think there'd be some double- or triple-checking when it comes to voting for such a prestigious award. Imagine if the vote had been closer, say, within nine points. Those three second-place votes going to Volquez would have meant a lot then. Luckily for everyone involved, the race wasn't close.

For a refresher, here is the current definition of rookie status on mlb.com:
A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).
I'll grant the 45 days' service time part is pretty confusing. But the first part of the definition can be checked by looking at the back of a given player's baseball card! The backs of baseball cards still have at bats and innings pitched listed, right? They even total them up at the bottom for you.

Edinson Volquez came into 2008 with a total of 80 career innings pitched. This made him just as ineligible for the Rookie of the Year award as Rick Vanden Hurk, Philip Hughes, Joakim Soria, and Brian Wilson. But you know what? It didn't change anything in the voting, the writers who voted for Volquez are probably feeling pretty down right about now, and this'll all blow over soon.

Here's the thing, though. This isn't the first time an ineligible player got a vote for this award. The current definition of rookie status dates back to 1971. Going through the Rookie of the Year voting totals at baseball-reference.com turns up at least four other times since then that this sort of thing happened.
  • 2004: Nate Robertson, Tigers
    Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby easily won the award, getting 27 of 28 first place votes and 138 points to Shingo Takatsu's 44. Tied for eighth in the voting with a single third-place vote was Tigers lefty Nate Robertson, who came into the season having pitched 53 mostly ineffective innings in 2002 and 2003.

  • 1994: Bobby Jones, Mets
    Raul Mondesi of the Dodgers swept all the first place votes, beating runner-up John Hudek 140 to 27. One second-place vote went to Bobby Jones, who had thrown 61 2/3 innings over nine starts in 1993. He finished tied with Hector Carrasco and ahead of Javy Lopez and Shane Reynolds.

  • 1987: Greg Mathews, Cardinals
    This one is just bizarre. Despite going 11-8 in 145 1/3 innings over 22 starts in 1986, Greg Mathews picked up a third-place vote in the 1987 NL voting. Yes, that's pretty much a full season's worth of pitching the year before he got his third-place vote. Benito Santiago of the Padres swept all the 1987 first place votes, so once again the mix-up didn't matter. For what it's worth, both the 1986 and 1987 voting had the correct number of points (216 = 24 ballots * 9 points per ballot) listed among the finalists on B-R.com.

  • 1985: Tom Henke, Blue Jays
    Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox got 16 first place votes versus runner-up Teddy Higuera's nine. Two other first place votes went to Oddie McDowell and Stew Cliburn. This accounts for 27 of the 28 votes cast for first place. Who got the other? None other than Blue Jays closer Tom Henke...who entered the season having pitched 60 innings for the Rangers over the prior three years. I wonder if the person who cast a vote for Henke simply made an adding mistake and thought he was right on fifty innings. Either way, this vote is the most similar to the 2008 one: Henke became ineligible over the course of three seasons, just like Volquez.
Finally, a look at another interesting vote. This wasn't an error, but in 1997 Scott Rolen won the NL Rookie of the Year award after totaling 130 at bats during the 1996 season. He had 13 walks, 1 hit by pitch, and two sacrifice flies to go with those 130 at bats. If any of those had gone another way and become a normal at bat, he obviously would have exceeded 130 at bats and become ineligible. Sometimes it pays to be willing to take a pitch for the team, huh?

Maybe the three voters who screwed up this year will help BBWAA members in the future to check the eligibility of those placed on Rookie of the Year ballots. I certainly hope so. Unfortunately, history is not encouraging.


Anonymous said...

One would think that before voting, they'd AT LEAST take another good hard look at the players stats (season & career) and see Edison wasn't eligible. That doesn't even take any research. You can just look at his Baseball-Reference.com page LOL

David Schultz said...

More sensible would be a printed ballot with the eligible players. Theron, this was an excellent post, calling out the "knowledgeable" beat writers. I wonder how the person we call Retardo voted.