After two straight years of getting all my award predictions correct, I’m going to handicap myself a bit (read: start the predictions a little earlier). With over three weeks of baseball left, there are still a bunch of extremely tight races. In those that are seemingly decided, there’s (mostly) still time left and, in the tight ones, it’s a hot mess.
Before we get down to business (as always), I’m leaving out legitimate discussion of the Manager of the Year awards. The award is a relative crapshoot. Does Twins manager Rocco Baldelli take it home because of how much Minnesota has outperformed expectations? Or does it go to Yankees skipper Aaron Boone for guiding his team through one of the most ridiculous years of injuries ever? No idea, and things could change abruptly in the last few weeks. (But if you actually were to put a gun to my head, I guess I’d go with Baldelli and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts). 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.
NL Rookie of the Year
On this, September 5, Pete Alonso has 45 home runs through 138 games. There are only two rookies who’ve done better in the history of the sport, Aaron Judge (52) and Mark McGwire (49). If Alonso remains healthy and continues to dinger at his season-long rate of once per 11.3 at-bats and gets around 90 ABs, he would lead all rookies in the history of the sport. It now seems all but impossible that, short of an injury, he won’t at least pass McGwire.
The reigning Home Run Derby champ has continued to launch dinger after dinger since the All Star Break, and while the frequency may have gone down a bit in the second half (note: despite that, there is no Home Run Derby Curse), he’s still launching bombs with aplomb. His overall slashline (.267/.367/.593) shows that, yes, he strikes out often (in almost exactly a quarter of his PAs), but it doesn’t matter, thanks to all that power. He leads all NL rookie position players by bWAR (4.6) and fWAR (4.4), and is in second place by wRC+ (147).
The only position players who have been providing any competition for Alonso this season are the Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr. (84 games, .317/.379/.590, 148 wRC+, 4.1 bWAR/3.6 fWAR) and the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds (116 games, .332/.398/.525, 140 wRC+, 3.1fWAR). Tatís hit the IL a few weeks ago with a back injury and it’s unlikely he’ll return, effectively taking him out of the runnings, even if he’s the player I would bet the most on going forward. Reynolds’ ability to avoid the K and reach base more frequently may have made him a more valuable player on a per-PA basis, but Alonso has the edge thanks to both the aforementioned taters and the fact that he plays in New York.
All of this is to say that Alonso’s only legitimate threat, in this writer’s opinion, comes from Braves pitcher Mike Soroka (2.53 ERA, 3.33 FIP). In this, the year of our dinger-lord 2019, Soroka has come up with the lowest HR/9 (0.59) rate among all qualified pitchers. His 5.3 bWAR season not only bests Alonso’s 4.6 bWAR, but it ties him for third in the NL with Patrick Corbin (who’s pitched 25 more innings). Soroka’s fWAR (3.8) might give Alonso an edge in that department, but that’s not the thing that’s going to break an Alonso-Soroka stalemate amongst voters.
Since 2012, position players have won 10 out of the 13 available Rookie of the Year Awards. (Note: I’m excluding the two-way unicorn that is Shohei Ohtani from the total available.) It seems that a rookie pitcher has to either have an absolutely bonkers season (ala José Fernández) or some really muddy waters (a la Michael Fulmer) if he wants to take home the honors. My personal opinion is that the potentially record-breaking home run numbers are going to seal the deal for Alonso. There will be plenty of time over the offseason to analyze all the home run records that have been broken this year and talk about what it all means, but for now, the MLB Rookie Dingerer of the Year looks like a lock to take home the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Winner: Pete Alonso
AL Rookie of the Year
It wasn’t too long ago that I was praising Yordan Álvarez and his historic rookie season. In the two weeks since, he’s regressed. But that’s all relative, because that regression comes in the form of him hitting .257/.395/.600 for a 158 wRC+. He has dropped down the all-time rookie wRC+ leaderboard thanks to his “tepid” couple of weeks, falling into a lowly fourth-place, just behind Willie McCovey. Even the new, much more strikeout-prone version of Álvarez would still lead all MLB rookies by wRC+.
The Rays’ Brandon Lowe (119 games, .276/.339/.523, 128 wRC+, 3.6bWAR/2.5 fWAR) provided perhaps the strongest competition for Álvarez, especially in light of his contributions in the field and on the bases. But he’s likely done for the season, giving Álvarez a chance to tack on another few weeks’ worth of WAR.
If you’re looking for pitcher competition, you won’t find much of it. With all due respect to the Orioles’ John Means (124 IP, 3.55 ERA/4.40 FIP, 3.6 bWAR/2.4 fWAR) and the Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull (125 IP, 4.45 ERA/4.27 FIP, 1.9 bWAR/2.1 fWAR), the likeliest candidates in that department and thankful bright spots for their fans in otherwise dark times, there’s just no way to compete with what Álvarez has been doing at the plate. Plus, they’re pitchers for bad teams and, honestly, they kind of cancel each other out in terms of actually getting votes.
The presumed preseason frontrunners for the award, like Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Eloy Jiménez, haven’t performed as hoped and left the door wide open for Álvarez. Thanks to the fact that he plays for the Astros, he even leads the way in ye olde traditional RBIs (63), despite playing in a third less games than the spring favorites. Even the folks who don’t appreciate wRC+ or WAR should get behind the ribeyes.
While Álvarez isn’t going to break any counting-stats awards for his rookie season, that’s due only to the fact that he’s only played 66 games. If he’d played in as many games as Alonso while knocking it out of the park as often as he has, he’d be neck-and-neck with Alonso right now, all while sporting much more attractive slashline overall. No rookie has shone as brightly as Álvarez in 2019 and, even if he was less expected and has less major-league time under his belt, he’s pretty much a shoo-in for the AL award this season. And, on that note, see you at the next awards preview article, where I promise things will be far more difficult to parse out.
Winner: Yordan Álvarez