With just a little over two weeks left in the season, it seems as good a time as any to check in on the state of MLB’s individual awards and make some predictions. In last year’s edition, yours truly scored 100%. The only thing I can predict with near certainty in 2018 is this: that will not happen again, as this year is a much more muddled mess.
Before we begin, as usual, I’m leaving out legitimate discussion of the Manager of the Year awards (even if I somehow ended up being correct in my extremely brief hypothesizing last year). It’s always a relative crapshoot, and perhaps even more so this year. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who didn’t even take over until July but has helped steer his team back into a postseason spot (for now, at least), is a reasonable guess, so who knows? We’ll start our actual quest to determine who will lay hands on the hardware with a dive into the Rookie of the Year Awards in each league.
AL Rookie of the Year
The favorite before the season started was always going to be the Japanese Babe Ruth. Shohei Ohtani’s coming to MLB was the story of the offseason, and his overall numbers have been impressive, both as a pitcher (3.31 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 10.97 K/9) and a hitter (.291/.371/.589, 19 HR, 161 wRC+). But he hit the DL in June, and after a single start in September, we’ve unfortunately learned that he’s going to undergo Tommy John surgery. While he’s continuing to get at-bats at DH, the fact that he only started 10 games and pitched 51.2 innings looks like a potentially damning issue in terms of winning Rookie of the Year.
If Ohtani had been healthy all year (and, obviously, pitched like he did when he was), he would have won in a landslide. But now, thanks to the innings-pitched issue, we’re faced with voters having problems deciding how to allocate his value as a two-way player. On a pure WAR basis, his 3.7 fWAR (2.7 as a hitter, 1.0 as a pitcher) and 3.9 bWAR (2.7 as a hitter, 1.2 as a pitcher) both lead all AL rookies, but it’s not that simple.
So what about the other options? The Rays’ Joey Wendle has had an excellent season (2.9 fWAR, 3.5 bWAR), while the Yankees have two potential candidates in Miguel Andujar (2.3 fWAR, 1.8 bWAR) and Gleyber Torres (2.0 fWAR, 2.7 bWAR). Wendel (.293/.339/.424, 110 wRC+) is 28 years old and has earned a respectable chunk of his value from his defense, two potential knocks against him from the voters, whereas both Andujar (.299/.332/.518, 128 wRC+) and Torres (.275/.344/.495, 125 wRC+) have put up better offensive numbers.
In terms of pitchers, the Royals’ Brad Keller (2.1 fWAR, 3.4 bWAR) has been quite valuable in his 127.1 innings and his 3.04 ERA, but the facts (both due to no fault of his own) that he’s only got 8 wins and that he plays for the Royals, certainly aren’t going to help him garner up attention on a national level when facing up against a couple of Yankees and the most talked about player in baseball this year.
I’m still going with my gut here and predict that Ohtani is going to win, even if the odds-makers seem to think otherwise. Ohtani has dominated the baseball landscape for almost a year now, for reasons both narrative and on-the-field in nature. Andujar and Torres might serve to split some of the votes among those leaning towards a person in pinstripes, and I think Ohtani will end up right where we expected him to be when the season began, even if we’re going to have to wait until 2020 to have him back as a two-way player.
Prediction: Shohei Ohtani
NL Rookie of the Year
As with the AL, the NL also featured a clear favorite heading into the season. Ronald Acuña occupied the consensus top-prospect spot in MLB after Ohtani, and he hasn’t failed to deliver once he was called up in April. In 418 PAs over 95 games, he’s hit .290/.368/.575 (149 wRC+) with 25 home runs and leads all rookies (including Ohtani’s collective two-way stats) with 3.8 fWAR and 4.3 bWAR, making records along the way. You’d think that numbers like those would all but guarantee his ascendancy to NL Rookie of the Year, but we’ve got somebody else doing ridiculous things right now, too.
At the ripe young age of 19, the Nationals’ Juan Soto is a year younger than Acuña and wasn’t getting quite as many pings on the prospect radar heading into the season, but that’s largely because he started out the season in A-ball (unlike Acuña, who was already demolishing AAA pitching). But he quickly laid waste to A and AA-ball and was called up from there thanks to a plethora of injuries in the outfield, and he became the fastest player to reach the majors since A-Rod and he’s definitely on everyone’s radar now.
Soto, over 100 games and 425 PAs, has hit .305/.420/.534 with 19 HR for a 153 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR/3.4 bWAR. As I write this, the teenager is tied for third place in OBP in MLB with none other than OBP-god Joey Votto. It’s probably worth noting that the folks ahead of him are Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, so, yeah. The only rookie from either league with a better wRC+ is Ohtani. In a lost season with the loss of Bryce Harper looming, Washington at least has a viable Rookie of the Year candidate.
If we’re just talking about WAR, St. Louis outfielder Harrison Bader (368 PAs, .270/.341/.423, 10 HR, 107 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR, 3.7 bWAR) can’t be dismissed. He’s been about as valuable as Acuña or Soto. But a large portion of that value has derived from his defense and baserunning and we don’t really have much evidence as of yet that those factor into the voting. Miami’s Brian Anderson has also excelled in the value department (3.1 fWAR/3.4 bWAR), but he’s required quite a few more PAs (614) to get there, and has a less impressive slashline (.272/.357/.398). On the position player front, it more or less looks like a battle between Acuña and Soto.
There are some NL pitchers we shouldn’t neglect. The Giants’ Dereck Rodriguez (2.35 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 1.9 fWAR, 3.1 bWAR) has come out of nowhere and been a bright spot during an deflating season for San Francisco. He’ll get some votes, but not anywhere near enough. The same goes for the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty (2.92 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 2.2 fWAR, 2.9 fWAR). It almost certainly comes down to Acuña and Soto.
While playing for a playoff-bound team matters less here than in the MVP race, it’s also not a non-issue. Acuña has been one of the major reasons that Atlanta has caused Soto’s team to give up. That, along with a few (at least) more dingers before the season ends, should be enough to land the award squarely in Acuña’s hands. If Acuña hadn’t missed a month on the DL in June, we might even be discussing him when we get around to discussing the MVP situation in the near future.
Prediction: Ronald Acuña