Using Analytics to Pick Who Should Have Won the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Award
The winner probably won't surprise you, but the rest of my ballot has a few names you might not expect to see.
As baseball fans, we’ve been spoiled by the level of talent of many recipients of the Rookie of the Year award in the past. In the 2010s, numerous stacked rookie classes emerged into the baseball world, and the quality of today’s young stars has only been trending upwards in recent years. I’m going to be taking a more statistical approach in deciding who I think should have won the 2019 AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards, using the help of my original baseball visuals and my original catch-all player value statistic, HBV (HB Analytics Value), and I’ll also be analyzing the debut campaigns of each of the top rookies to break into Major League Baseball this past season.
2019 AL Rookie of the Year: The Actual Voting Results
The 2019 AL Rookie Class was quite strong, featuring many good hitters and a crop of interesting young pitchers as well. There was a runaway winner, but the 7 runners-up, according to MLB.com’s official vote totals, weren’t separated by much. Here are the results of the vote in 2019, with players ranked via the total amount of points they received, which is dependent on how many top-3 votes they received, and of those votes, where in the top 3 they were voted:
Yordan Alvarez, HOU (150)
John Means, BAL (53)
Brandon Lowe, TB (27)
Eloy Jimenez, CHW (20)
Cavan Biggio, TOR (7)
Luis Arraez, MIN (5)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR (4)
Oscar Mercado, CLE (3)
Who’s Not on My Ballot
John Means, SP, BAL
Means had a sub-4 ERA and was a bright spot on a terrible Orioles team, which made him quite appealing to voters, but he doesn’t come close to my ballot. His ERA wasn’t a product of the Orioles’ defense, which is encouraging, but if we go further than that, we can see that he allowed lots of quality contact to go against him, judging by his xFIP- section. This metric isn’t kind to Means even after adjusting for the hitter-friendly field that is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which provides a cause for concern. His strikeout numbers were also very low in 2019, which throws up a ton of red flags. Pitchers who post a low ERA in a season where they don’t strike out a ton of hitters aren’t likely to repeat their success the season after, and by that logic, Means is due for quite the regression whenever baseball resumes again. The good news is, he didn’t walk many batters, and limited home runs against. However, when you couple the quality of contact Means allowed with his low strikeout rate, this looks a lot more like a pitcher who was lucky in his rookie season, as opposed to legit.
Eloy Jimenez, LF, CHW
There was a lot of hype surrounding Jimenez going into 2019, and I’ve got to think a large part of that is the overall strength of the White Sox prospect pool. Even so, Eloy was a fine hitter and flashed a ton of power, but is still a bit raw in other areas. Only Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario was a greater liability in left field last season, and while bad defense is a common thing we see from rookies, especially in 2019, I’ve got to wonder if he’d be better off as a DH a few years down the line. His walk/strikeout ratio wasn’t pretty, and while I expect the walks to go up in future campaigns, I don’t expect his strikeout totals to go down by much because he’s a part of a lineup that includes a lot of other free swingers and power bats. Jimenez was a good-but-not-great hitter in 2019, with power being his calling card, and while he was a plus on the basepaths, I’m not going to give him a spot on my ballot due to his defensive deficiencies.
Brandon Lowe, 2B, TB
Like Jimenez, Lowe provided most of his value offensively in 2019, and he would probably be on my ballot if he wasn’t such a liability on defense. Only 4 second basemen in 2019 recorded a lower OAA total than Lowe, and 1 of them was a fellow rookie: Brewers youngster Keston Hiura. Still, Lowe was a good baserunner and a great power hitter, but even offensively, there are a few things not to like. The fact that his wRC+ considerably exceeded his DRC+ in 2019 indicates signs of luck, but I wouldn’t worry about that too much considering how high his xISO was. Even so, it’s still a sign that Lowe may have been aided by a bit of good fortune at the plate. His strikeout rate was downright atrocious, as only 15 hitters with more than 100 plate appearances went down on strikes more in 2019. Again, bad plate discipline and bad defense aren’t uncommon traits in youngsters, and Lowe has time to figure both those things out, but despite the upside he shows with his power, it’s not enough to put him in my top 3. He was the closest of the group that missed out to being on my ballot.
3. Ty Buttrey, RP, LAA
It’s a well-known fact that the Angels are very weak in terms of pitching, and for that reason, I believe Ty Buttrey is too easily overlooked. He was rock-solid in his first full season in the Angels’ bullpen, requiring no help from his defense as shown in the FIP category, and not allowing high-quality contact against on a frequent basis, as shown in the xFIP- category. Generating strikeouts was where he was the weakest in 2019, but even then, he was still considerably above-average in that regard. He didn’t walk many batters, and didn’t allow many homers either. Like Means, he was older than most rookies are in their first MLB season, but at age 27, he could become a mainstay in the Halos’ bullpen for seasons to come if he keeps trending towards the standard he set for himself in 2019.
2. Cavan Biggio, 2B, TOR
Another youngster whose performance fell under the radar in 2019, Biggio had one of the stranger rookie seasons in recent memory. He excelled in all the statistical categories that most Major League rookies have struggled in. He walked a ton: Only 9 players with more than 100 plate appearances got the free pass to first more than he did in 2019, but strikeouts were an issue. He doesn’t fit the profile of a “True Three Outcomes” hitter either, as he was very pedestrian in the power department. When comparing him to the two hitters that I left off my ballot in Lowe and Jimenez, he’s only a slight downgrade, if at all, in terms of overall offensive ability, and a considerable downgrade in terms of power, but was right on par with the other them in terms of baserunning, and miles ahead defensively. Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier was the only second basemen to record a higher OAA than Biggio in 2019. To find a rookie who is a plus everywhere on the diamond isn’t all that common, but Biggio fits the bill. He’s already one of the best second basemen in the Majors, and if he can start to trim his strikeout rate, it would work wonders for his overall hitting profile.
The Winner: Yordan Alvarez, DH, HOU
Picking the runners-up for this award was an interesting process, but the winner wasn’t just the top offensive rookie in 2019, or even the best hitter on his team: Yordan Alvarez was one of the best hitters in baseball. It remains to be seen how much he benefited from the sign-stealing scandal, but statistically, I don’t see any signs of regression, which is a scary thought considering he’s only 22. Alvarez hardly played in the field in 2019, but he still had the highest HBV of any AL rookie and it wasn’t even close. He can hit for contact, he has plate discipline, and a ton of power; Alvarez is on track for a hall-of-fame career if he can keep this up. He was a slight negative on the basepaths, and the strikeout rate isn’t encouraging, but he is a marvel in every other area of his game. It’s hard to gage his potential because the results out of the gate were so strong for him, but Yordan Alvarez is a true superstar in almost every regard, and fully deserved to be the AL Rookie of the Year in 2019.