If you asked a casual baseball fan at the All-Star break to predict the AL Rookie of the Year, most may have chosen Julio Rodríguez. After all, the Seattle Mariners center fielder’s dynamic performance at the Home Run derby brought him to national prominence. More importantly, the 21-year-old has been one of Seattle’s most valuable players. Still, it’s not a foregone conclusion Rodríguez wins the award.

Not yet, at least.

Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan and Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña are bound to receive attention from Rookie of the Year voters. Same with Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. But the biggest challenger to Rodríguez’s chances of earning top rookie honors could be a player who didn’t debut until late May – Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman.

Just to be clear, Rodríguez remains the leading rookie in the consciousness of the national media and fans without a horse in the race. But the fan bases of Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and Baltimore could turn to statistics to rationalize how their young star could overtake Seattle’s best rookie since Ken Griffey Jr.

Yes, I went there with the Junior reference.

Numbers Game

Using stats when discussing annual awards is a tricky proposition. It’s tough to know the favorite figures of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America filling out ballots. It’s plausible younger writers place more value on advanced metrics, while old-schoolers may prefer conventional measurements. With this in mind, let’s look at samples from both schools of thought.

Conventional Stats Of Top AL Rookies
2B
HR
R
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
Rodríguez
19
19
62
63
23
.274
.332
.474
.806
Rutschman
24
8
48
25
2
.259
.366
.455
.821
Kwan
19
3
62
32
12
.301
.373
.396
.769
Peña
15
16
52
44
7
.246
.287
.418
.705
Witt Jr.
21
16
59
60
23
.250
.292
.433
.725
Miranda
15
13
31
53
1
.284
.331
.474
.805
Leader in RED

My takeaway is there currently isn’t a clear-cut frontrunner based on old school numbers. Kwan is the runaway leader in AVG and also sits atop the rookie class in OBP. Rodríguez shares the lead with Kwan in runs scored; stolen bases with Witt; SLG with Minnesota Twins corner infielder José Miranda. Rodríguez is also pacing the group in home runs, RBI, and SLG, while Rutschman has the most doubles and highest OPS.

When we turn our attention to the advanced metrics I’ve selected, Rutschman and Rodríguez appear at the top of most categories. Witt holds the top spot in the FanGraphs base running metric (BsR). Miranda makes his presence felt finishing top-three in wOBA and wRC+, which are closely related to one another. That said, the 24-year-old trails the field by a considerable margin in FanGraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) for two reasons. The first being defense.

Nerd Numbers Of Top AL Rookies
wOBA
xwOBA
wRC+
BsR
DRS
fWAR
Rodríguez
.347
.334
134
3.4
2
3.5
Rutschman
.359
.350
139
3.6
9
3.5
Kwan
.341
.305
124
1.3
16
2.9
Peña
.305
.299
99
1.5
12
2.3
Witt Jr.
.312
.310
101
4.8
-20
1.7
Miranda
.350
.312
132
-1.6
-2
1.5
Leader in RED

Miranda’s combined -2 DRS (defensive runs saved) at first base and third base rates as slightly below league-average, which is always zero. That’s not terrible by any measure. But it’s one reason he’s lagging behind more defensively polished counterparts, who also possess productive bats. Specifically, Kwan (16 DRS), Rutschman (9 DRS), and to a lesser degree, Rodríguez (2 DRS).

The second issue affecting Miranda’s fWAR could become a key factor in this year’s voting for several candidates – games played.

Remember, fWAR is essentially a counting stat. Therefore, increased playing time leads to more opportunities to deliver value in terms of wins above replacement. It also adds credibility to many conventional and advanced measurements we’ve discussed. To date, Miranda has appeared in 82 games. Just over a half season’s worth and we’re in late August.

Games played by leading rookies
Bobby Witt Jr. – 112
Steven Kwan – 107
Julio Rodríguez – 105
Jeremy Peña – 99
José Miranda – 82
Adley Rutschman – 73

Ironically, the player on the preceding list with the fewest games played – Rutschman – is tied for the lead in fWAR. This speaks to the tremendous value the 24-year-old has provided to the Orioles in a relatively small amount of time. Still, it’s tough to know whether the Oregon State alum’s playing time works in his favor or hurts his cause with voters.

On one hand, Rutschman has been extremely valuable in a brief period. More so than all but one Rookie of the Year candidate for the entire season. This will appeal to the nerd caucus. Then again, members of the electorate placing a higher premium on conventional numbers could frown upon his relatively low MLB experience.

What about the guys on the mound?

Although there’s a nice class of rookie pitchers in the AL this season, none of these fine young arms possess the conventional or advanced numbers to justify taking home the Rookie of the Year award. Still, we should at least note the best of the group since it’s plausible they end up with better careers than this year’s top freshman position players.

Top AL Rookie Starting Pitchers
W-L
IP
AVG
ERA
xERA
fWAR
Kirby
5-3
90.2
.264
3.47
3.41
1.7
Detmers
4-4
98.1
.214
3.66
4.15
1.2
Ryan
9-6
107.1
.222
3.86
3.58
1.2

Leading the pack in fWAR is Mariners starting pitcher George Kirby despite the fact he ranks fourth in starts and innings pitched among rookies. Kirby also leads freshman starters in ERA and xERA. Although it’s not listed above, the 24-year-old’s 3.4% walk rate leads all MLB starters with 90-plus innings this season.

Other starters making an impact with their respective clubs in 2022 include Reid Detmers of the Los Angeles Angels and Joe Ryan of the Twins. Earlier this season, Detmers became the 25th rookie to throw a no-hitter. Ryan is leading rookies in starts and innings pitched and has been the most consistent performer among baseball’s fresh young arms.

Although it’s highly unlikely a reliever garners a significant number of Rookie of the Year votes, there are a few who’ve been outstanding this season. Most noteworthy are Brock Burke of the Texas Rangers, Twins right-hander Jhoan Durán, and Félix Bautista of the Orioles.

So, what’s it gonna be?

At the moment, I give the edge to Rodríguez. Although he’s not leading rookies in categories that matter to this nerd, the total package is impressive. And while it’s not quantifiable, there’s no denying Julio’s charisma and youthful exuberance. These traits are likely to subtly influence some voters.

My AL ROY voting prediction
Julio Rodríguez
Adley Rutschman
Steven Kwan
Joe Ryan
Jeremy Peña
Bobby Witt Jr.
George Kirby
Reid Detmers
José Miranda

Still, Rodríguez winning AL Rookie of the Year isn’t the foregone conclusion some Mariners fans would like to believe it is. He does have competition.

Realistically, the winner of the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year is likely determined over the next six weeks – as it should be. Six of the names listed above plays for a contender needing a good final month to reach the postseason. A rookie spearheading his team’s playoff push could sway voters sitting on the fence.

That’s why Julio helping end Seattle’s decades-long postseason drought would cinch the award he seems destined to win.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins