I like Beyond the Box Score's Tommy Bennett's take on the Rookie of the Year Award and the sophomore slump. His big finish:
- Because rookies are often unknown to the voters, they will select whichever one had the best performance in that one year. That is, their choice is unanchored by past performance, as it surely is in MVP consideration. So they are perhaps more likely to incorporate those contingent factors outside a player's control (team strength, for example, when looking at RBI, or defense, when looking at ERA) when determining whom to select.
I'm not suggesting the voters do a great job with the MVP or even that they do a particularly terrible job with the Rookie of the Year. But if Elvis Andrus collects his Rookie of the Year on the strength of his excellent defense and his .267/.329/.373 batting line with 33 SB, remember this. If we take away one hit a month and instead make it a walk, his line becomes .254/.329/.360 and he probably doesn't win the award.
This phenomenon is compounded by the path dependency of expectations. A player who was a Rookie of the Year will be given repeated chances to prove himself. (What, you don't believe me?) By contrast, a player who underperforms in his first shot may not get another fair shot for many years.
We've been spoiled by good Rookies of the Year in recent memory: Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, and Hanley Ramirez are all poised to remain stars for several years. But the structure of the award still produces some bizarre results: Bob Hamelin? Marty Cordova? (On second thought, Hamelin's '94 might have been the last time a Royal slugged .599).
If you're searching for an explanation for why Angel Berroa won the award in 2003, remember that he was rewarded for contingent success as much as for inherent skill. And when this year's Rookie of the Year winners come back down to earth next season, remember that the only reason you thought they were breakout rookies was in part because they had good luck their rookie seasons.
I hope everyone who saw "Unbreakable" knows what I'm talking about.
First, I think "Unbreakable" is pretty good (if obviously flawed). Second, it all depends on what you mean by "come back down to earth." I think a number of the American League candidates are genuinely good players, and they're all young; no Bob Hamelins in this group. Same thing in the National League. Bennett's main point is true, though: the voters tend to choose the rookie with the best numbers, rather than choosing the best player or even the rookie who fundamentally played the best. And even if the voters did one of those latter two things, they still would often wind up missing the player who winds up with the best career.
I think of the Rookie of the Year Award as a bauble, somewhere between an MVP plaque and those little trophies that kids get these days simply for participating in soccer or t-ball. Where, exactly, the Rookie of the Year fits on that continuum is a question for another day.