Should Tanaka And Abreu Be Candidates For The ROY Award?
This season, in the American League, the two obvious front-runners for the Rookie of the Year (ROY) Award, are ace Masahiro Tanaka and slugging first baseman Jose Abreu. Both players are of advanced age (Abreu, 27 and Tanaka, 25) and have played professional baseball outside of the MLB previous to joining their respective MLB clubs.
As these ‘rookies’ have played professional baseball in other leagues, should they be eligible for the ROY Award? According to MLB.Com, they currently meet the qualifications to be considered a rookie.
‘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).’
While they may meet these qualifications, that is not to say that the league shouldn’t amend the rules. Letting these more experienced and polished professional* players enter the league and battle for the ROY Award is unfair to players that are still amateurs.
Since 1995, the MLB has awarded the ROY Award to professional, international players three times. The first instance was Hideo Nomo who made his MLB debut with the LA Dodgers in 1995 after five years of playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB). Then in 2000, Kazuhiro Sasaki won the award while playing for the Seattle Mariners. He played in the NPB for 10 years before transferring to the MLB. The following season (2001), another Seattle Mariner and nine-year NPB veteran won the ROY Award. This player was Ichiro Suzuki.
While these players did perform well enough to earn the award (Ichiro, in fact, was so good that he won the ROY Award and the league MVP Award), they prevented deserving amateur rookies the ability to do the same.
I am not saying that international players should not have the opportunity to win the award, but those that have professional baseball experience should not be considered. As an example, the NCAA does not allow anybody to compete in their ranks if they have played professionally as it removes their amateur player status.
To better establish a system where eligible rookies will enter the league on a level playing field, I am recommending this simple solution. Should an international player play more than three years for his international team, he will lose his right to compete for the ROY Award. I have allowed three years of play for an international professional league because they are generally viewed as the same level of competition to the minor leagues. Similarly, many players spend atleast three years in the minors before being promoted to the MLB.
This solution is overly simplified and I am sure that there are other functions that could be used to help determine a better way to classify rookies. For now, however, this solution would prevent actual rookies from losing out on the award from players with many more years of experience.
At their current pace, Abreu and Tanaka will not only be competing for the ROY Award, but also for many other awards such as the Silver Slugger, MVP, and Cy Young Awards.
*Note: For the purpose of this article, I am not considering the Minor Leagues as a professional league.