The Rookie of the Year awards will be announced Monday. Who should win?
There are three finalists in each league: The AL Rookie of the Year finalists are Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco, both from Tampa Bay, and Luis Garcia of the Houston Astros.
The National League Rookie of the Year finalists are Dylan Carlson of the St. Louis Cardinals, Jonathan India of the Cincinnati Reds and Trevor Rogers of the Miami Marlins.
The players that deserve the Rookie of the Year awards
Because voters apply their own individual criteria, the award is subjective. That means the most deserving candidate doesn’t always emerge on top. For that same reason, it’s not even a certainty that the most deserving candidates reached the finalist stage.
But it is possible to construct an objective system for rating each of the candidates. Because there are different expectations for different positions, such a system should analyze players in groups according to the positions they played. For non-pitchers, the fundamental yardsticks are OPS+ — a rate stat — and WAR – a cumulative stat – both of them widely recognized measures of value.
Pitchers are rated in four categories – ERA, workload, ERA+ and WAR — on the same basis.
Within each positional grouping, each rookie’s performance is measured against both his own salary and the average salary of group members. That underscores the valuable nature of how the market views each position.
The first finding is that the three top Rookie of the Year vote-getters in each league were NOT necessarily the three most deserving candidates. In fact, both league’s voters failed to nominate one of their three most deserving candidates.
Whether voters ultimately settled on the proper winner – their only true responsibility – must of course await Monday’s announcement.
Pending that announcement, here’s the dollar-value ranking of the three identified finalists along with two other rookies were should have gotten stronger voter consideration than they did. The first player listed in each league is the deserving winner. An asterisk indicates players who did not receive finalist status.
AL Rookie Of The Year
Player, team 2021 value
1 Randy Arozarena, TB $11.374 million
2 Wander Franco, TB $8.823 million
3 Emmanuel Clase,* Cle $8.194 million
4 Adolis Garcia,* Tex $6.681 million
5 Luis Garcia, Hou $6.645 million
NL Rookie of the Year
Player, team 2021 value
1 Dylan Carlson, Stl $10.284 million
2 Ke’Bryan* Hayes, Pit $7.68 million
3 Trevor Rogers, Mia $7.252 million
4 Ian Anderson,* Atl $6.631 million
5 Jonathan India, Cin $4.193 million
Arozarena’s 2021 numbers – 20 home runs, 69 RBIs, a .274 average and .815 OPS – are good, but not especially exceptional. But he was the third most valuable starting left fielder in all of MLB in 2021, trailing only Tyler O’Neill in St. Louis and Joey Gallo of Texas/New York. For that reason, he emerges ahead of his teammate as the deserving winner.
Franco’s numbers are in some respects better than Arozarena’s. His .288/.347/.463 slash line is competitive with Arozarena’s .274/.356/.459. In terms of raw value, the big difference probably lies in the fact that Arozarena was around all season, while Franco was a mid-year callup.
In fact, Arozarena had nearly twice as many plate appearances as Franco. In awards, showing up counts.
The slighting of Clase is one of those mysteries that voters ought to have to answer for. His 1.29 ERA and 24 saves in 71 appearances stand up nicely against Luis Garcia’s 11-8 record and 3.48 ERA. One cannot help but wonder whether Garcia out-polled Clase because Houston made the playoffs and Cleveland did not come close.
Carlson’s status as the deserving National League winner stems in part from the fact that he excelled in right field, one of the most valued positions on the field. The average MLB right field starter pulled down $7.863 million in 2021; only third basemen and DHs were more highly thought of as a group.
Hayes was slighted for precisely the same reason. The average positional value exceeded $8 million, so even though he had a slightly sub-par season by the standards of his peers, he still valued out in excess of $7.5 million.
The dynamics of modern baseball are such that the value of starting pitching is diminishing. In 2021, the average 20-game starter earned only $6.26 million. That’s a large part of the explanation for why Trevor Rogers rates below Hayes: the game’s marketplace is simply becoming less interested in what he does.
As for India, well his .376 on base average as Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter was impressive. But the game has for decades viewed second basemen as interchangeable pieces. For that reason, although India was the seventh most valuable second baseman in 2021, that only translates to a fraction more than $4 million in on-field value.
Put him at a more highly valued position and his personal value would certainly increase significantly.