- Each league offers a battle between rookies who contributed over nearly the entire season against those who came up late but dominated in their short stays. But which players will walk away with the hardware?
It's difficult to recall a season where so many of baseball's major awards seemed so up in the air. Even with last Monday's announcement of the league’s top three finalists for the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards, most of the elections carry a fair bit of suspense as to who will take home the trophy. Which players are the favorites in each league for each award? What follows here is a handy one-stop guide to the proceedings, which begin today with the announcement of the American and National League Rookies of the Year at 6 p.m. ET.
With the thrilling seven-game World Series between the Cubs and Indians still in mind, it's important to remember that the balloting for all of these awards was completed by the end of the regular season, so candidates such as Corey Kluber, Kris Bryant, Jon Lester, Joe Maddon and Terry Francona won't receive extra credit for their October heroics. For each award, two BBWAA-affiliated writers from each city in the league cast their votes. The candidates are listed alphabetically, and unless otherwise indicated, all WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference.com version.
AL Rookie of the Year
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers
11–7, 3.06 ERA, 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, 7.5 K/9, 4.9 WAR
The key piece in the deadline deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to New York in July 2015, Fulmer debuted on April 29. Despite some early struggles, he became a key part of the Tigers’ (unsuccessful) push for a playoff spot, proving a formidable second starter alongside Justin Verlander and outpitching the banged-up Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers went 19–7 in Fulmer's starts, and he flirted with the AL ERA lead for much of the second half; had he not finished with 159 innings, three shy of qualifying, he’d rank a close third behind Toronto's Aaron Sanchez (3.00) and Verlander (3.04). As it is, Fulmer's 4.9 WAR ranked eighth in the league, the highest from an AL rookie hurler since Jonathan Papelbon's 5.0 in 2006.
Tyler Naquin, CF, Indians
.296/.372/.514, 14 HR, 43 RBIs, 126 OPS+, 0.9 WAR
The 15th pick of the 2012 draft was in line to debut at some point in '16, but injures and suspensions elsewhere in Cleveland's outfield accelerated Naquin’s timetable. He made the team out of spring training, though roster issues caused him to be yo-yoed between the majors and Triple A despite a hot bat. Playing primarily against righties and benefiting from an MLB-high .411 batting average on balls in play, he posted Cleveland’s highest OPS+, though his value was offset by suspect defense in centerfield (-17 Defensive Runs Saved, -5 Ultimate Zone Rating) that unfortunately was exposed at some of the worst possible moments in the World Series.
Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees
.299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 42 RBIs, 168 OPS+, 3.0 WAR
A five-time Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Prospect who had been on the radar since his age-17 season (2010), Sanchez seemed more myth than man before being called up on Aug. 2. His ridiculously torrid performance thereafter reinforced that idea: In a 15-game span from Aug. 10 to 27, he bashed 11 homers, not only supplanting Brian McCann as the Yankees' starting catcher but also resuscitating the playoff hopes of a club that had been sellers at the trade deadline. Sanchez also reached 20 homers in just 51 games, matching Wally Berger (1930 Boston Braves) for the quickest rush to that plateau in history.
NL Rookie of the Year
Kenta Maeda, RHP, Dodgers
16–11, 3.48 ERA, 112 ERA+, 3.58 FIP, 9.2 K/9, 2.4 WAR
After eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japan Central League, Maeda came stateside. Despite a ridiculously team-friendly contract whose structure owed to concerns about irregularities in his elbow, the 28-year-old righty was the only Dodgers starter who stayed healthy all season. Concerns about his stamina and his ability to retire batters in his third time through the order limited him to a modest 5.5 innings per turn (175 2/3 overall), but he delivered a very solid season, finishing fifth in the league in wins, seventh in strikeout rate and ninth in FIP.
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
.308/.365/.512, 26 HR, 72 RBIs, 137 OPS+, 6.1 WAR
The consensus top prospect in the game coming into 2016, Seager (who debuted in late '15) completely lived up to the hype. Despite a sluggish April, the 22-year-old younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager emerged as a lineup centerpiece, a standout defender (at least via UZR, which rated him at +11 runs compared to his 0 DRS), an All-Star and a legitimate MVP contender. He finished second in the NL in hits (193), fourth in total bases (321) and WAR (second via FanGraphs, at 7.5) and sixth in OPS+, helping the Dodgers to their fourth straight NL West flag.
Trea Turner, CF, Nationals
.342/.370/.567, 13 HR, 40 RBIs, 33 SB, 144 OPS+, 3.5 WAR
The Nationals raised some eyebrows when they sent Turner off for more minor league seasoning and went with Danny Espinosa at shortstop to begin the season. The 13th pick of the 2014 draft (by the Padres), Turner played just two major league games in the season's first three months before arriving for good on July 10. After initially filling in for the injured Daniel Murphy at second base, he quickly supplanted Ben Revere in centerfield despite just six games of minor league experience at the position and not only played solid defense but also rapidly emerged as one of the league's most exciting players thanks to his speed. He placed fifth in the league in steals—even swiping home on July 20—and in triples (eight) in just 324 plate appearances, and Statcast identified as the fastest runner in the game (hitting a high of 22.7 mph on a July 19 triple against the Dodgers).
The solid full-season work of Naquin and Maeda aside, both leagues' votes comes down to philosophical choices between full(ish) season contributors and late-arriving comets. Four position players have won ROY honors despite playing in 89 games or fewer, headed by 1959 NL choice Willie McCovey, who hit .354/.429/.656 with 13 homers and 3.1 WAR in 59 games (out of 154) to win unanimously. In the AL, while I'd probably cast my ballot for Fulmer, I'll bet that Sanchez's sizzle carries the day. In the NL, Seager's MVP-caliber season should be enough to offset Turner's late challenge.