With about a month and a half of the 2020 season in the books, there is now enough data to start getting an idea of how season awards may play out. One of the more exciting awards this season is the Rookie of the Year; the shortened season has given baseball fans the opportunity to see many prospects in big-league action who may not have been called up had the Minor League season not been cancelled.
I will be taking a close look at a few frontrunners for the AL ROY candidates. There is still a month left in the regular season, plenty of time for these players to continue succeeding or potentially regress. I will take a look at these players’ underlying metrics to determine whether or not they have a good chance to finish strong or peter out.
Tier One: Young Outfielders
Kyle Lewis: SEA
This former first-round pick got a taste of the big leagues in 2019 and has continued to run with it in 2020. Kyle Lewis currently has the highest batting average among qualified rookies (.328), the second-highest OPS (.945), the second-most home runs (eight), and the second-most RBI (21). Combine that with his 75th-percentile outs above average and you have an All-Star, let alone a potential ROY.
Let’s take a look at some of Lewis’ underlying metrics to see if he can keep this up. Up first, his batted-ball profile. Lewis’ average exit velocity of 87.4 MPH and his hard-hit rate of 33.0% are in the bottom 26 and 23 percent of baseball, respectively. Further, he has a 25% HR/FB ratio but just an 9.3-degree average launch angle. This suggests to me that his HR numbers and .527 slugging percentage may not continue for the final month of the regular season.
Turning to his plate discipline, Lewis has done a nice job of getting on base (.418), thanks in part to a 13.7% walk rate and an only slightly subpar strikeout rate (24.8% in 39th percentile of baseball). Given the nature of the game today, the strikeout rate is not alarming and the walk rate is encouraging. Lewis also has above-average speed (78th percentile) to help him out. However, speed alone cannot justify a .407 BABIP. Lewis has gotten lucky on balls in play, which likely has contributed to his OBP.
Overall, Lewis has done very well this season to this point and could continue to do so for the final month of the season. However, he has been outperforming in a number of ways and I would not be surprised to see that catch up to him.
Luis Robert: CHW
It is not surprising that Luis Robert is right in the thick of the ROY running, as he has been widely considered one of baseball’s top prospects for some time. He currently has the third-highest batting average among qualified rookies (.290), the third-highest OPS (.938), the most HR (10), the second-most RBI (24), and the second-most stolen bases (four). He is also in the top one-percent of OOA. Essentially, he’s done everything this season, but can he continue through the final month?
Unlike Lewis, Robert has compiled a stellar batted-ball profile to this point; his 91-MPH average exit velocity and 48.1% hard-hit rate are in the top 21 and 13 percent of baseball, respectively. His 30.3% HR/FB ratio is a bit high, but this could be relatively sustainable given how hard he hits the ball and his 12.8-degree average launch angle.
Robert has walked less than Lewis (7.5%) and strikes out way too often (30.8%), but has managed to get on base thanks in part to balls in play (.348 OBP). His .366 BABIP is also inflated, but also seems relatively sustainable given how hard he hits the ball and how fast he is (97th percentile sprint speed). His 66.7% steal success rate isn’t the best, but he should continue to steal bases successfully with his raw speed.
Robert has a couple small issues with his game that he can work on over time, but has a lot of great aspects already in place. I think he has what it takes to continue to succeed for the final month of the season. He is my AL ROY pick.
Tier Two: 28-Year-Old Rookie Success
Ryan McBroom: KC
This guy does not carry the prospect pedigree of Lewis or Robert, but Ryan McBroom has been making his mark this season. He currently has the second-highest batting average among qualified rookies (.305), the highest OPS (.949), and the third-most HR (five) over 59 at-bats. He has also added value by playing first base and all three outfield positions, but does he have the skills to catch up to Lewis and Robert?
The main impediment to McBroom’s ROY aspirations is the lack of everyday playing time. He has done an excellent job hitting off the bench but has not been able to crack the everyday lineup due to teammate Ryan O’Hearn’s hitting success this season.
Looking into his batted-ball profile, McBroom has hit the ball hard (90.7-MPH average exit velocity), but has a huge uppercut swing (21.2-degree launch angle). He has a 51.4% FB rate and a 27.8% HR/FB ratio, but I fear that, even with that power, the uppercut swing could turn some of those HR into long flyball outs.
McBroom has greatly benefited from a .433 BABIP despite having a sprint speed in the bottom 31 percent of baseball and an ugly 36.7% strikeout rate. His .350 OBP is mostly from his batting average (5.0% walk rate). All in all, McBroom has been a nice story so far this season, but simply does not profile as a player who can maintain the kind of success of the previous two players.
Tier Three: A Couple Starters Just To Include Pitchers
There really haven’t been any pitchers that stand out as strong ROY candidates at this point in the season. To be considered a ROY as a pitcher you either need to be a strong starter or rack up a bunch of saves. There aren’t any closer types to consider at this point, and there are only a few starters who have found relative success.
Randy Dobnak: MIN
The Twins Randy Dobnak has been an exciting pitcher to watch this season, going 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA and great facial hair. However, Dobnak is a sinker-ball, contact pitcher so he hardly strikes anyone out (4.41 K/9 rate, 11.9% strikeout rate), which hurts him as a ROY candidate. Further, while he does keep the ball on the ground (2.6-degree average launch angle), his 4.64 SIERA suggests that he has gotten lucky overall given his batted-ball profile.
The next closest starters are the A’s Jesus Luzardo. Luzardo has certainly pitched well this season with a 2-1 record and a 3.74 ERA. However, his 24.1% strikeout rate, while good, is not extremely impressive, and his 9.2% walk rate could use some improving. Right behind him is Astros Cristian Javier, who has almost the exact same profile as Luzardo (3-1 record, 3.77 ERA, 25.6% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate).
While there are some rookie starters who have pitched well this season, they haven’t been as outstanding as the top rookie hitters. I think either Luzardo or Javier have a better shot at winning the award than Dobnak, but I don’t think that either’s underlying metrics suggest a significant improvement over their current stats during the final month of the season.
Bonus Call-out: James Karinchak: CLE
As I mentioned before, you likely will not win ROY as a pitcher unless you are getting saves or pitching extremely well in the rotation. That being said, I feel that James Karinchak deserves a callout given how well he has pitched out of the bullpen for the Indians this season. While he may be their closer of the future, Brand Hand has that position locked down for now. As such, Karinchak only has one save and three save opportunities this season.
However, the rest of his statistics are quite impressive. Karinchak has a 2.00 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 18 innings pitched with 35 strikeouts. This translates to a ridiculous 50% strikeout rate. He can thank his 95.5-MPH fastball (87th percentile velocity, 70th percentile spin rate) and diving curveball, along with his unusual mechanics.
Again, I don’t think he’ll be considered for AL ROY, but he definitely should be. I will leave you with a nice 2-for-1 overlay of his fastball and curveball.
Check out the NL ROY Candidates article by @MLBUKAnalysis1