As part of SB Nation United, you're going to be seeing some new voices at Purple Row, SBN featured site contributors writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community. We're beginning this week with Bill Parker, better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage.
Jerry Crasnick had a very flattering profile of Wilin Rosario over on ESPN on Tuesday. Crasnick focuses mostly on the catcher's power, including especially his Rockies-rookie-record 26 home runs, and states that Rosario "has worked his way back into the conversation" for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Has he, though? You know what he's got to offer (and Jeff Aberle and the commenters touched on it again Wednesday, as well as Rox Girl yesterday). He's got a ton of power, a strong arm, well below average on-base skills, and defense that's...a work in progress; he's allowed both the most passed balls and wild pitches in baseball, and more of the two combined than any other entire NL team aside from the Astros. Add it all up, and over his 396 PA through Tuesday, he's been worth 1.9 wins by Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement, 2.3 by FanGraphs', and 1.9 by Baseball Prospectus' (from now on, I'll just be averaging the three numbers and calling the result WAR; Rosario's is 2.0). I should note that I suspect this gives Rosario a bit too much credit; catcher defense metrics are still pretty primitive, and Rosario's seem a bit too friendly to me (see Matt Klassen's more comprehensive system for an alternate perspective). But for these purposes, let's say he's been about a two-win player.
Here's a look at how he compares to the other top ROY candidates:
Wade Miley: Crasnick tabs Miley as the "front-runner," which surprises me, but Crasnick is no doubt closer to the voters' pulses than I am. Miley's had a surprisingly strong season, posting a 3.25 ERA (supported by a 3.19 FIP) in 183 innings entering last night's start, and will win some votes by racking up 16 wins for a mediocre Diamondbacks team.
It's pretty hard to compare a catcher apples-to-apples with a starting pitcher without just lining up the WARs (which isn't kind to Rosario; before yesterday, Miley's WAR was 3.4), but consider: Miley has made 30 appearances (27 starts) and thrown over 185 innings, while Rosario has played just 111 games and managed around 400 plate appearances. I think you have to give a substantial edge to Miley there.
Bryce Harper: Harper is the big name of the group, but it seems that most of the publicity he's gotten lately has dealt with his bat tailing off. But he hit his 20th home run last night, and still has a 114 wRC+ in 573 plate appearances (not bad for a 19-year-old). It's the same wRC+ as Rosario, and in 174 more trips to the plate. The same offensive production is worth more coming from a catcher than from a center/left fielder, of course, but then, the metrics agree that Harper has been very good in the field, and he's provided value on the basepaths, and all those extra plate appearances benefit Harper, too.
Harper gets 3.8 WAR, nearly twice Rosario's. I think you could make a good case that the gulf is a bit narrower than that, but not one that puts Rosario ahead of Harper.
Todd Frazier: The Reds third baseman has been the best-hitting rookie in the NL, with a 122 wRC+ (a slightly lower OPS than Rosario's, but without the Coors boost), though in only 450 plate appearances. General consensus holds that his defense is poor (backed up by the fact that he's spent significant time at first). Frazier gets 2.1 WAR, a tick ahead of Rosario. I argued elsewhere yesterday that catchers are a touch undervalued by the various WAR systems, and I certainly think you could argue Rosario belongs ahead of Frazier.
Crasnick lists others -- Zack Cozart, Norichika Aoki, Mike Fiers, Yonder Alonso, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter and Lucas Harrell -- but I don't think any of them will be seriously considered by the voters, and it's fairly easy to argue for Rosario over all of them (with the possible exception of Fiers).
It would be nice to see Rosario get a few third-place votes. Personally, I would probably vote for Harper followed by Miley and Rosario. I don't think it's possible, though, given his OBP and defensive shortcomings and lack of playing time, to make a coherent argument for ranking Rosario ahead of Miley and Harper.
So, no, Rosario's probably not a serious ROY candidate. He'll have to settle for an awfully encouraging season at age 23 that, if he can get the receiving thing worked out, could position him to be one of the elite catchers in the league for the next decade or so.