This season's rookie crop in the National League included Bryce Harper, Wade Miley, Norichika Aoki, Todd Frazier, Willin Rosario, Yonder Alonso, and Matt Carpenter.
One of the Rookie of the Year Award voters apparently believed that Jordan Pacheco played better than all but two of those guys.
In case your memory needs refreshing, Pacheco plays for the Colorado Rockies. At Coors Field. He started 120 games this season, mostly at third base. Overall, he batted .309/.341/.421. At Coors Field, he hit the ball real well. Away from Coors Field, he batted .274/.300/.346. He played third base (and first base) about as well as you would expect an ex-catcher to play.
Without checking, we might postulate two reasons why a voter would list Pacheco third on his (or her) ballot.
One, the voter writes about the Rockies.
Or the voter was impressed by Pacheco's .309 batting average, which did lead all National League rookies.
This year, for the first time ever, the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) is actually publishing complete ballots for every award winner. This does present one problem, which I'll return to in a moment. But in the great majority of cases I applaud transparency, and this is one of those cases.
As it happens, that third-place vote for Pacheco was cast by Jack Etkin, a Denver writer. Many years ago, Jack and I were acquaintances and he once did me a huge favor. But we've not spoken in a long time. I'm not writing this piece to rip Jack or anyone else. But I will suggest that favoring Pacheco over, say Frazier or Aoki seems, for lack of a better word, idiosyncratic.
And the truth is that, year in and year out, a significant percentage of idiosyncratic choices can be explained by what looks like parochialism. Todd Frazier got three first-place votes; one of them came from one of the two Cincinnati writers. Wilin Rosario got two second-place votes; one of them came from one of the two Denver writers.*
* Bizarrely, Rosario actually got a first-place vote, from ESPNDeportes.com's Enrique Rojas. Well, maybe "bizarrely" seems like a loaded word. Instead we can call it "hyper-idiosyncratic".
Matt Carpenter's lone third-place vote came from one of the St. Louis writers. Yonder Alonso's lone third-place vote came from one of the San Diego voters.
These are not coincidences.
Now, everyone will argue they just know the guys they cover better than anyone else does. Which they do. It just seems like you would have to know Yonder Alonso really, really, really well to know he was the third-best rookie in the National League this year.
Of course, there's always been some suspicion that writers vote for the guys they cover because ... well, because it's easier to cover a guy who knows you voted for him. That's just human nature. Usually, it doesn't matter. For better or worse, this year's balloting was going to be a contest between Bryce Harper and Wade Miley, with the rest just details.
But sometimes these details do matter. In 1996, teammates Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey were clearly the two best players in the American League ... and so of course the voters gave the Most Valuable Player Award to Juan Gonzalez, who had the twin virtues of a) playing for a first-place team, and b) not being Albert Belle.
Still, Gonzalez beat out Rodriguez by just a whisker. Gonzalez got 11 first-place votes, Rodriguez 10, and Griffey four. And the scuttlebutt was that both of the Seattle voters listed Griffey first, because he was the veteran and could be really hard to get along with if you got on his bad side.
The ballots were secret in those days, of course. But if Griffey had gotten only two first-place votes and a couple of writers somewhere else published their ballots and said they voted for Griffey ... Well, Junior didn't go to college but he definitely could have figured that one out.
It's quite possible that the Seattle voters that year simply voted their conscience, and you could easily argue that Griffey actually played just as well as Rodriguez. My point is that these things do come up, and they can be tricky. A few newspapers simply don't allow their staffers to participate, and they've got a point.
Transparency in the voting is good for me, because there's more to write about. And it's probably good for the process, as the voters are perhaps more likely to take the process seriously when they know their decisions will be public. But that might be balanced by the impulse of voters to avoid angering the players they have to see every day in the clubhouse.
It's a good system. It's not a perfect system, and never will be.
P.S. My ballot would have read Harper-Miley-Aoki. Only two actual voters had it that way: Newsday's Ken Davidoff and ESPN.com's Keith Law.