Using Analytics to Pick Who Should Have Won the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year Award
Just like the AL, my winner probably isn't going to surprise you, but the runners-up are sure to stir up some controversy
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 NL Rookie of the Year: The Actual Voting Results
The 2019 NL Rookie Class, in my opinion, was stronger than the AL one: Multiple all-around stars, and a much deeper set of pitchers, some of whom can already consider themselves borderline aces. The winner, New York’s Pete Alonso, ended up being first on the official ballot by a landslide, and the runner-up, Atlanta’s Mike Soroka, was miles clear of the third-place finisher. Before getting into the analysis of my picks, I’m going to address a few things: First, Fernando Tatis Jr. does not qualify for my ballot, mostly because he only played just over half the season. Also, it’s been well-documented by the baseball analytics community as to how discouraging Dakota Hudson’s advanced metrics were, so you won’t be seeing him on here either. Here’s the real ballot (check my AL ROY article to see what the numbers in parentheses mean), then I’m going to get into my ballot, where I’m sure my ranking of every pick, except the winner, is going to surprise you.
Peter Alonso, NYM (148)
Mike Soroka, ATL (82)
Fernando Tatis Jr., SD (26)
Bryan Reynolds, PIT (9)
Dakota Hudson, STL (4)
Victor Robles, WSH (1)
Who’s Not on My Ballot
Bryan Reynolds, OF, PIT
Reynolds had a fine debut season, and he was above-average in just about any statistical category you can think of, but he hasn’t yet established himself as an elite player, or even a fringe elite player, in any facet yet, so for that reason, he won’t be on my ballot for this one. He’s one of the faces of the future for this franchise and is a good piece to build around, but has a ways to go yet in terms of power and defense. He profiles as above-average defensively on my visual, but recorded a -2 OAA in 2019, which is actually decent by left fielders’ standard. Still, not having a weakness makes Reynolds extremely valuable and I have no doubt he’s going to be an elite outfielder one day, but he misses out on my ROY ballot by a few spots.
Mike Soroka, SP, ATL
Soroka’s glossy sub-3 ERA had him in the conversation for the Cy Young for most of last season, but the more we delve into his 2019 season, the more we realize that he still has quite a few things to prove. His FIP was very good (3.45), but it was almost 80 points higher than his ERA (2.68), which indicates that he relied on his defense quite a bit to keep his ERA as low as it was in 2019. Only 6 qualified starting pitchers had a higher difference between their ERA and their FIP last season, which tells me that Mike Soroka is still going to be a great pitcher whenever baseball resumes again, just maybe not the elite one that emerged onto the scene in 2019. His strikeout rate is suspiciously low as well; I don’t think it indicates a dramatic regression is incoming just because he was so good at limiting walks and homers, but it did lower his HBV by quite a bit, and is the other major reason as to why I don’t have him in my top 3 for this award.
Chris Paddack, SP, SD
I’m shocked that Chris Paddack didn’t receive a single top-3 vote in 2019, mostly because he had an ERA under 3.50 and a WHIP under 1.00, which would be very appealing to the award voters. Nevertheless, he gets an honourable mention because he struck out a ton of hitters, and limited the walks to go with it; achieving the latter to a higher degree than Mike Soroka. Preventing home runs was his one weakness last year, and it isn’t hard to see why, judging by his slightly lower xFIP-, which indicates he gave up quality contact a little too much. Paddack is without question San Diego’s ace of the future, and if he can start inducing soft contact while maintaining his excellent K/BB ratio, I think he’ll be a Cy Young candidate in the not-too-distant future. As for Rookie of the Year, though, he’s the best of the of the players who missed my ballot.
3. Victor Robles, CF, WSH
What’s unfortunate is that Robles would 100% be my winner if he provided any sort of positive value with the bat. He hardly ever walks, and was barely above-average in terms of not striking out. He was a fairly pedestrian hitter, with power being the weakest aspect of his game. I don’t think he’ll ever be an elite hitter, but what there’s no denying is his defensive ability: Not only did he have the highest OAA among rookies in 2019, he had the highest in all of baseball - at any position. Very rarely do we see a 22-year-old become the best defender in the Major Leagues in just his first season. His lethal speed made him a serious threat on the basepaths as well, but because he was a net negative with the bat in his hands, he misses out on my top-2. I spent a long time constructing the order of my top 3 for this award, and a part of me feels like Robles being at 3 is almost an insult considering how good he is at defense. If he was baseball’s best defender at age 22, then imagine what he could be a few years down the line.
2. Christian Walker, 1B, AZ
The Diamondbacks have an arsenal of star position players that go overlooked for some reason, and Christian Walker is no exception. If you aren’t familiar with Walker’s game, he’s essentially what you get if Matt Olson and Joey Gallo had a brainchild that turned into a professional baseball player. He’s showing signs of becoming a three-true-outcomes hitter: Lots of walks, lots of strikeouts, and a ton of pop. His defensive excellence at first base is worthy of note as well. He’s quite old for a rookie, and 2020 would be his age 29 season, but first-basemen tend to last longer in the big leagues than most other players because there isn’t a ton of physicality that goes into playing that position well, and Walker should be recognized as one of the best first-basemen in the game in the near future - I think he already is, and came very close to winning my NL Rookie of the Year ballot.
The Winner: Peter Alonso, 1B, NYM
There are multiple reasons I have Alonso winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2019, even though you’ll notice that his HBV is lower than that of my other two finalists, Robles and Walker. I understand that seeing a defender as good as Robles is super rare for rookies, and Alonso most certainly couldn’t defend in 2019, but bad defense is a lot less costly at first base than it is elsewhere on the diamond, and Alonso was so much better at hitting than everyone else in this NL rookie class, so he still reigns supreme in my opinion. Robles wasn’t the only elite defender in the class either, which is something to take note of. Alonso set the all-time NL rookie home run record, so you could argue that he’s the best power-hitting rookie we’ve ever seen in the National League. Youngsters who can crush baseballs aren’t exactly rare nowadays, but Alonso is so good at it that he gets the benefit of the doubt, and remains the winner of the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year.