The selection of Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez was a layup, and the voters didn’t miss it.
In his debut, Rodriguez batted .284 with a .509 slugging average, an .853 OPS, 28 home runs, 25 steals and a 6.2 WAR. That worked out to a 147 OPS+, meaning Rodriguez was worth nearly 1.5 times the value of the average MLB player. He was seventh in WAR, eighth in slugging and first among rookies in both.
As a result, he got all but one of the first place votes and deservedly lapped the field.
The contest between Baltimore catcher Adley Rutschman and Cleveland outfield Steven Kwan for spear-carrier to Rodriguez was a narrow one that ultimately went to Rutschman.
By the objective numbers, Kwan probably deserved to finish second, but since Rutschman plays the more critical defensive position his elevation above Kwan by AL voters is at least defensible.
Looking purely at WAR, Kwan finished at 5.5 to Rutschman’s 5.2. That’s not a definitive margin of superiority. Personally, I would have ranked Kwan’s season ahead of Rutschman’s due to the role he played as the instigator of Cleveland’s revolutionary small-ball offensive style. Kwan batted .298, he had a .772 OPS and either walked or put the ball in play an extraordinary 90.5 percent of the time.
Rutschman’s comparables were .254, .806, and 81.7 percent, so he beat Kwan at the power game but lagged in average and contact. Defensively, both were good; Rutschman piled up 18 defensive runs saved at catcher, Kwan got to 15 DRS playing the easier position of left field.
There was really only one other legitimate candidate, Houston shortstop Jeremy Pena, who the voters pegged a distant fifth (Royals infielder Bobby Witt picked up enough sympathy votes to come in fourth.)
At 4.8, Pena trailed both Kwan and Rutschman in WAR. He also trailed them in average (.253) and OPS (715) and he struck out 135 times, a little more than twice as frequently as Kwan in 80 fewer plate appearances.