Written by: Sam Minier
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Back in early September Jake Tweedie broke down the NL ROY Race and Connelly Doan broke down the AL ROY Race with about a month left in the season. Since then, some players have fallen off, but most of the guys they discussed are finalists here at the end of the season. Check out their articles before reading this one to see how September changed the Rookie of the Year race. Definitions for all metrics in this article can be found in the glossary at the end.
2020 American League ROY Candidates
|SEA — Kyle Lewis||242||37||11||28||5||.262||.364||.437||.801||.349||126||1.6|
|CHW — Luis Robert||227||33||11||31||9||.233||.302||.436||.738||.316||101||1.6|
|DET — Willi Castro||140||21||6||24||0||.349||.381||.550||.931||.393||151||0.9|
|BAL — Ryan Mountcastle||140||12||5||23||0||.333||.386||.492||.878||.377||139||0.6|
|LAA — Jared Walsh||108||19||9||26||0||.293||.324||.646||.970||.393||155||0.8|
Bold indicates a finalist, Italicized indicates an honorable mention
The American League Rookie of the Year race would have been exciting had we seen a full season. Two everyday players were good, and a few others were electric but only played half the season. Because of the 60-game schedule, it is difficult to justify giving the award to someone who only played about half the season.
Willi Castro (DET), Ryan Mountcastle (BAL), and Jared Walsh (LAA) each deserve an honorable mention for the Rookie of the Year but did not play enough in 2020 to merit consideration. Of the three, Castro made the best case, slashing .349/.381/.550 on the year. Castro’s 45 hits were fourth in the league among rookies, but he did not do enough in counting categories like runs, HR, RBI, or SB. Had he been given a full season to make his case perhaps he would have done enough to be the Rookie of the Year.
Kyle Lewis (SEA) and Luis Robert (CWS) are the clear finalists for the award. Each had over 225 plate appearances and appeared in over 55 games. Being an integral part of their team’s lineups, both players hit for power and ran. They were the top two in most counting categories among AL rookies and produced adequate slash lines. Lewis and Robert will be successful big leaguers going forward, but only one can be Rookie of the Year.
In his big-league debut on opening day, the Chicago White Sox Luis Robert went 2-4 with a double and never looked back. Among rookies in the AL, he led in RBI and SB. Robert also finished T-1 in HR, 2nd in runs, 3rd in hits, T-3 in doubles, and 4th in walks. Luis is a plus defender, finishing 2nd among AL center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). He trailed only three-time Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier and Robert’s 8 DRS were good for T-12th among all MLB position players.
Although Robert was at the top of most counting categories and played terrific defense, he struggled to reach base finishing with a .233/.302./.436 slash line. He slugged well but did not hit for average. His 32.2 K% with just an 8.8 BB% was also worse than Lewis’ ratios (29.3 K%, 14.0 BB%).
Overall, Kyle Lewis was more productive across the board slashing .262/.364/.437, hitting 11 homers, stealing 5 bases, scoring 37 runs, and driving in 28. He tied Robert in home runs, beat him in runs, and fell just short in SB and RBI. Lewis’ wOBA was almost 33 points higher than Robert’s and his wRC+ was 25 points higher. Both of those metrics consider every event for the hitter while at the plate, such as singles, XBH, walks, HBP, and outs.
Defensive metrics have become more helpful in evaluating a player’s defensive ability. Lewis was a far less efficient defender with -1 DRS, finishing the season 7th among AL CF with at least 300 innings played, and far below Robert’s 8 DRS. If you prefer to use UZR for evaluating a player’s defensive ability, Robert finished 3rd among all AL center fielders and Lewis came in 6th. Robert has a clear edge, but how important is his defensive edge when evaluating an award race?
It can be difficult to weigh the value of Robert’s defensive advantage against Lewis’s offensive advantage. However, offensive stats are much more reliable, and Lewis had a significant edge with both his slash numbers and his strikeout/walk rates. He was a more valuable part of his team’s lineup, and although Robert is a better defender, Lewis’s advantage in offensive production gives him the edge.
Kyle Lewis hit .368 in the first 29 games, but just .150 in the second half. Although he has the best Rookie of the Year resume through 60 games, larger sample size may have told a different story. Castro, Mountcastle, and Walsh would have had more than enough time to prove themselves with a full season and Robert could have picked up his production, but unfortunately, they will not have the opportunity. What if’s do not matter to the voters or to Kyle Lewis who will be the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year.
2020 AL ROY Winner: SEA CF Kyle Lewis
2020 National League ROY Candidates
There was a crowd of rookies in the National League that made their presence known this season. It was difficult to draw the line for players deserving consideration, and this list of six finalists still excludes the NL rookie leader in aWAR, Ke’Bryan Hayes. He slashed .376/.442/.682 this year in just 24 games. Unfortunately for Hayes, that is too few to warrant consideration my consideration, but it will be exciting to see what he does next season as he retains his rookie eligibility. That will also be true for many other rookies as long as they stayed under 50 IP, 130 at-bats, and spent fewer than 45 days on the MLB roster.
Another player left off this list is St. Louis Cardinal SP Kwang Hyun Kim, who has already played twelve seasons professionally in the KBO. Although in the past players have won the Rookie of the Year award after coming to the MLB from international leagues (most recently Shohei Ohtani in 2018 and Jose Abreu in 2014), his low innings total combined with his pro ball experience are reason enough to excuse him from consideration.
|PHI — Alec Bohm||180||24||4||23||1||.338||.400||.481||.881||.381||138||1.0|
|SDP — Jake Cronenworth||192||26||4||20||3||.285||.354||.477||.831||.356||125||1.5|
Let’s start by comparing hitters Alec Bohm and Jake Cronenworth. Through August it was Jake Cronenworth’s award to lose after hitting .356 with 4 homers, 3 triples, and 9 doubles that month. He may have done exactly that by hitting just .183 in September. He scored 18 runs in August compared to just 6 the following month. It was a dramatic slump that dropped his average 71 points and opened the door for the ROY award race.
Meanwhile, Alec Bohm entered the chat mashing the ball in September with a slash line of .367/.421/.514. Bohm drove in 16 runs and scored 17 to go with 10 extra-base hits during the month. He also led the NL rookies with 54 hits over the entire season. His final slash line, wOBA, and wRC+ were better than Cronenworth’s, challenging the Padre rookie’s seemingly solidified ROY bid.
In the end, they still had similar totals in the counting categories, but Bohm struck out more and walked less. The other problem with Bohm’s case is his below-average defense. Cronenworth played an outstanding second base and made more plays giving him a significant edge in WAR. Among NL second baseman with 100+ innings he was 4th in UZR, while Bohm was 22nd among third basemen. Despite a shaky September, Cronenworth’s first half and strong defense propelled him towards the ROY award and he is deserving of votes.
|LAD — Dustin May (3-1)||56.0||2.57||1.09||7.1||2.6||1.4||4.62||0.9|
|MIL — Devin Williams (4-1)||27.0||0.33||0.63||17.7||3.0||0.3||0.86||1.3|
|LAD — Tony Gonsolin (2-2)||46.2||2.31||0.84||8.9||1.4||0.4||2.29||1.6|
|ATL — Ian Anderson (3-2)||32.1||1.95||1.08||11.4||3.9||0.3||2.54||1.2|
An important note to start is that Anderson and Gonsolin and will both be eligible for this award again in 2021. Also, a notable snub from the list is Marlins starter, Sixto Sanchez. The budding superstar was lights out through his first five starts going 32 innings and posting a 1.69 ERA. However, his final two starts of the season spoiled his chances, surrendering 9 runs in just 7 innings, and allowing 12 hits to go with 6 walks. Sixto is will also retain his rookie status and compete for this award next year when he has a full season to state his case.
The Brewers Devin Williams was the best reliever in baseball this season. He posted a 0.33 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, 0.86 FIP, and a 1.3 aWAR from the bullpen. Williams was dominant because he had the single best pitch in baseball this season, his changeup. The rookie surrendered just two singles in 67 plate appearances and generated a whiff% of 61.1%. The changeup dropped 40.9 inches and moves horizontally 18.1 inches, which is why it was virtually unhittable. Both of those are well above the league average for movement.
Many will consider him despite his position because he was so incredibly lights out with 53 strikeouts and only 8 hits surrendered. The Brewers rookie sensation is in a unique position to compete for this award as a relief pitcher because of the shortened season. His remarkable season is supported by stats as he led major league baseball in almost every advanced metric. The image below shows how he stacked up against the rest of the league in those pitching metrics. If he can repeat his success in 2021 with a larger sample size, Williams will be competing for the Cy Young out of the bullpen.
Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson was dominant in his six starts finishing with a 1.96 ERA and 11.4 K/9. He played a huge role in securing the NL East for a Braves club that has struggled to find production from their rotation. Had he been given two or three more starts he would certainly deserve consideration, but his 32.1 IP are not quite enough for a starting pitcher.
Going forward, the one area Anderson should aim to improve is his command. He walked nearly four batters per nine innings, but still managed to post a 1.08 WHIP. If he brings down the walks, he will be a dominant pitcher in 2021 and will contend for this award again.
Dodger pitchers Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin worked similar roles, both starting at least eight games and even contributing out of the pen a combined three times. May had a terrific rookie year and got the ball on opening day for a Dodger team that came into the season with a banged-up rotation. His 2.57 ERA and 1.09 WHIP were outstanding for his first year and his 56.0 IP was the most among NL rookie pitchers.
May’s issues in 2020 came with the long ball, surrendering 1.4 HR/9. Those home runs contributed to his inflated FIP of 4.62, far worse than his ERA. It also impacted May’s aWAR, which was just 0.9 despite a solid ERA and WHIP. His teammate, Tony Gonsolin made a stronger case for the award.
Among NL rookies with 40+ IP, Tony Gonsolin finished with the lowest ERA (2.31), lowest opponent batting average (.193), and lowest WHIP (0.84). He also allowed the fewest home runs (2), fewest walks (7), fewest hits (32), and he was T-2nd in strikeouts (46). He found his success by throwing strikes with the fastball and generating swings and misses with off-speed pitches outside the zone as seen below on his pitch charts. Gonsolin’s 1.6 aWAR was slightly better than other finalists, but in a short season there is little time for anyone to separate themselves in aWAR, so we see a very small margin between all of these pitchers.
It comes down to Tony Gonsolin v. Devin Williams for the best NL rookie pitcher. Gonsolin pitched nearly twice as many innings, walked fewer hitters, and put together a complete resume in 2020. As a starting pitcher, he deserves extra credit for facing lineups multiple times in his outings and eating more innings for the pitching staff. Gonsolin was an excellent starter for the Dodgers and had an efficient year.
However, Devin Williams was more than just efficient, he was electric. Williams struck out 2 or more batters in 17 of 19 appearances after July, allowing zero earned runs. He faced 84 batters over that span and struck out 48 of them, good for a K% of 57.1%, and in 14 of those 19 appearances he did not surrender a hit. While Gonsolin and others were productive, Williams was lights out and good for three to six outs every outing without any damage. He was the best pitcher in the NL and will certainly receive votes for the award.
Cronenworth v Williams
It can be challenging to compare a relief pitcher to a second baseman, especially when each guy had such terrific seasons like Cronenworth and Williams. Both players serve significant roles for their squads and made huge contributions this season to warrant their consideration. Cronenworth was a reliable everyday second basemen, while Williams appeared in 37% of Brewer games from the bullpen. The two players are neck and neck in aWAR, which would be the ideal stat for comparison.
Cronenworth had a great first half but struggled in September as mentioned earlier, hitting just .183 for a full month of the abbreviated season. Williams was dominant all season and finished with a ridiculous 17.7 K/9. He managed to tally 4 wins from the bullpen to go with 9 holds, tied for 12th in all of baseball. Among relievers with at least 15 innings pitched, William’s finished 1st in ERA, 1st in strikeouts, 2nd in opponent AVG, and 3rd in WHIP. No pitcher in baseball was more effective this season.
I expect a few of these guys will receive votes for the award. Ke’Bryan Hayes, Devin Williams, Cronenworth, and potentially others are all legitimately in the mix. All of them have valid cases and had excellent seasons. However, Williams’s overall body of work speaks for itself and he is the lone rookie to dominate from July through October. The only argument against him is that in the history of this award just eleven relief pitchers have won it and all but one were closers.
Williams got some help from the abbreviated season, which did not give time for any batters or starters to separate themselves, but he earned this award by dominating batters all year long. Also, he would be a closer for many teams, but on Milwaukee, he is stuck setting up closer Josh Hader. He should not be punished for joining a bullpen with an elite closer and it does not take away from his numbers. For all of the reasons above it is clear Williams did enough in comparison to the other finalists to be awarded the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year. But we will have to wait until November to see who the voters think is most deserving.
2020 NL ROY Winner: MIL RP Devin Williams
Pitch data and images collected on baseballsavant.mlb.com, WAR collected from Fangraphs.com and Baseball Reference.com. All other data collected on Fangraphs.com
wOBA: linear stat on the same scale as OBP that attempts to capture every event for a hitter while at the plate
wRC+: adjusts wOBA for the ballpark and compares to the league average
aWAR: An average of Baseball-Reference.com WAR and Fangraphs.com WAR. (bWAR+fWAR)/2
UZR: an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year.
DRS: rates individual players as above or below average on defense. Much like UZR, players are measured in “runs” above or below average.
READ HERE: 2020 CY Young Award Race