Who will win this year's AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards? Cliff Corcoran gives his predictions for who will be named this year's top freshmen in Awards Watch.
The final act of the 2015 season will take place this week, as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will reveal the winners of its annual awards each day in one-hour specials on the MLB Network at 6:00 p.m. ET. First up will be the Rookie of the Year for each league, announced on Monday, followed by the Manager of the Year winners on Tuesday, Cy Young awards on Wednesday and Most Valuable Players on Thursday. Continuing my year-long Awards Watch coverage, I will have reactions to each night’s results and previews of the player awards on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
We start with the Rookie of the Year awards, which seem likely to crown a pair of players who were each instrumental to their team’s postseason runs this year and who went a long way toward fulfilling their superstar potential in their first season. But despite all of that, the wrong man could take home the trophy in the American League.
Note: Ballots for all awards were submitted on Oct. 5, before the start of the postseason. I am a member of the BBWAA but do not have an awards vote this year. Rookies are players who, prior to the current season, had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster prior to rosters expanding on Sept. 1. The finalists below are listed in alphabetical order.
Who Will Win: Correa
Who Should Win: Lindor
Sano’s relative lack of playing time and fielding contributions (he was blocked at the infield corners by Trevor Plouffe and Joe Mauer, forcing him to start 69 of his 80 games at designated hitter) prevent him from being a serious threat to win this award. That leaves us with a rather handy apples-to-apples comparison of two young shortstops who played in the same number of games and had nearly the same number of at-bats (Lindor came to the plate six more times than Correa, a difference of just 1.4%).
I expect Correa to win this award largely because of the strength of his narrative. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft and a top-four prospect in both Baseball America's and Baseball Prospectus' preseason rankings, then made his major league debut on June 8 (six days before Lindor) and was an instant success, going 5-for-16 with a pair of home runs in his first four games. Over the remainder of the regular season, Correa was the best everyday player on an Astros team that improved by 16 wins over 2014 to reach the playoffs for the first time since '05. Correa was also a more productive hitter than Lindor on the season, besting his rival by 30 points of slugging and ten points of OPS+ and leading him by wide margins in home runs, walks and RBIs, as well as by smaller margins in runs scored and stolen bases.
So why do I think Lindor should win? Because the gap in their offensive performances wasn’t as large as the counting stats suggest, and the gap in their defensive performances more than compensates for it. Lindor led Correa in batting average by 34 points and in on-base percentage by eight points, matched him in doubles, edged him out in triples (four to one) and stole his 12 bases at a higher percentage than Correa stole his 14. Correa was indeed better at the plate, but that ten points of OPS+ is not an insurmountable difference.
Turning to their fielding, Defensive Runs Saved (cited above) graded Correa as dead-on average defensively and credited Lindor for saving ten runs more than the average shortstop (which is to say, ten runs more than Correa). For comparison’s sake, Ultimate Zone Rating and Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average both rated Correa as below average and Lindor as 16.5 and 5.5 runs better than him, respectively, making the 10-run difference in DRS a fair middle point. In the current scoring environment, nine runs are roughly equivalent to a win; in other words, Correa would have to have been more than a win better than Lindor on offense to make up the difference in their fielding. He was not.
Who Will Win: Bryant
Who Should Win: Bryant
The only argument for someone other than Bryant here would be the same as the one for Lindor. In this case, Duffy was roughly a win better in the field, but Bryant was more than a win better than Duffy at the plate, leading him by 35 points of on-base percentage, 60 points of slugging and 23 points of OPS+; he also came to the plate 38 more times. Kang, like Sano, is a distant third due to a relative lack of playing time, but he also failed to out-hit Bryant even over that smaller sample.
Bryant is likely to be a unanimous winner, which means I’ll have an opportunity to say more about his season after that result is officially announced.