Brains vs. Braun
September 28, 2007 7 Comments
Fellow MVNer Daniel Rathman, who writes the outstanding Baseballistic column, today asks the question of who will win the NL Rookie of the Year Award; Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies or Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. Daniel picks Braun:
Who is more worthy of the award, a superior defensive shortstop with passable offensive numbers and plus power, or an absolute offensive juggernaut with a wooden glove?
Since defense tends to be overlooked in favor of offense, the choice will likely be Braun.
Though Tulowitzki’s season has been excellent in its own right, I think that Braun’s ridiculous offensive performance simply dwarfs it, in spite of his shoddy defense.
I beg to differ. I agree that Braun will win, but I say that Tulowitzki should win.
I can’t argue with two things. Ryan Braun has looked like the second coming of Albert Pujols offensively and Troy Tulowitzki enjoys the cool mountain air of Coors Field 81 days per year. The assumption is that Tulowitzki’s numbers (.292/.362/.475, 23 HR), which are nice for a shortstop, wouldn’t be so nice if it weren’t for that Colorado air. Indeed, as Daniel points out, Tulowitzki’s home/road splits show him to be a mere mortal on the road. Before blaming the Colorado air, let’s look at a couple things:
Baseball-Reference lists Coors Field’s park effect rating for 2007 as 107. (Braun’s Miller Park rates at 100, which is perfectly neutral.) That does mean that Coors tilts toward hitters, but this isn’t your father’s Coors Field. Most folks still have dreams of the old (pre-humidifier) Coors Field, which had park effects from 1999-2002 of 129, 131, 122, and 121. Tulowitzki got some bounce, but let’s not overstate it. Still, Braun is still (clearly) the better hitter by a lot. Baseball Prospectus‘s VORP for Rookies (which really only looks at hitting, if I’m not mistaken), rates Braun in 1st place among rookies and Tulowitzki in third (Hunter Pence… remember him?… is in second place). Voters (and fans) are impressed by offense because there are really good statistics to measure offensive contributions (not that those are the ones that are used… but those stats do exist.)
But can the effect of fielding be measured in the same way as batting? Can a team really be better off with an all-field, no-hit player rather than a monster hitting masher with a hole in his glove? In a word: yes. In two words: Adam Everett. It’s hard to tell what Braun would have looked like playing short (OK, it’s obscenely easy to tell what would have happened in that case) or what Tulowitzki would have done playing third, but it’s pretty clear that Tulowitzki is the better fielder. In fact, take a look at Tulowitzki’s Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR) over at Baseball Prospectus. The shortstop tends to be the best defender on a team and Tulowitzki is 44 runs(!) better than a scrapheap shortstop (and 22 more than an average one). That’s amazing, outstanding, demanding, and commanding. Tulowitzki is also adds 9 runs above replacement with his hitting. Braun is a better hitter, 48 runs better than a scrapheap third baseman, but 8 runs worse than that scrapheap third baseman when it comes to matters of the glove.
Overall net effect of playing Tulowitzki rather than a AAA callup, marginal utility infielder type, or waiver wire pickup shortstop: 72 runs. Net effect of playing Ryan Braun over a replacement third baseman: 40 runs.
Another way to look at it is this: had Tulowitzki stayed the same on defense, but had the offensive output of Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks (.233/.310/.361), he would have still been more valuable of a player than Braun.
Yeah, Ryan Braun will win the trophy and he really is an outstanding hitter. But Tulowitzki will win you more ballgames and I nominate him as the thinking man’s pick for NL ROY. Baseball is a game played in half-innings and a player can make a contribution in both halves. It’s just that very few folks recognize one of those halves.