Data Missing: Top MLB Rookies Receive 'Incomplete' Grade In 2020
If Baseball America had chosen its Rookie of the Year on Sept. 1, it would have been a three-player race. White Sox outfielder Luis Robert and Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis seemed locked in a back-and-forth battle for rookie supremacy.
Robert was ranging far and wide to make catches all over the outfield and also was one of the best hitters in the game. At the end of August, Robert was hitting .298/.348/.612 with 10 home runs in
Lewis was hitting just as well. While not as rangy as Robert, Lewis was robbing home runs and holding down center field. He was hitting .328/.418/.527 with eight home runs in 36 games.
And if either of them slipped, Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth was also lighting up box scores. He was hitting well and showing the versatility to play anywhere on the infield. On Aug. 31, Cronenworth was hitting .356/.411/.624.
So how did we end up not picking any of that trio as our Rookie of the Year? September offered a reminder of why we like to have the totality of a season to pick a winner.
From Sept. 1 until the end of the season, Robert (.136/.231/.173), Lewis (.147/.270/.280) and Cronenworth (.183/.275/.268) were three of the least productive hitters in baseball as pitchers adjusted to the rookies.
By the end of the year, all three had gone from being standout hitters to much closer to league average—in Robert’s case—or modestly above-average, as was true for Lewis and Cronenworth.
Those awful endings reopened the field to everyone else, and a number of candidates took advantage.
Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm got a late start. But from the moment he arrived on Aug. 13, he showed solid pitch recognition and hit the ball hard. His defense was not as impressive, and the Phillies regularly started him at first base after Rhys Hoskins was injured. But Bohm quickly established himself as one of the Phillies’ best hitters.
His Rookie of the Year candidacy is undermined by the fact that he wasn’t even the most productive rookie third baseman in the National League.
The Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes didn’t arrive until Sept. 1. But from the time of his debut to the end of the season, Hayes was the best rookie position player in the league. He hit .376/.442/.682 and even outhomered Bohm, five to four, despite playing 20 fewer games. Hayes lived up the scouting reports that predicted he could be a future Gold Glover at the
Like seemingly everyone in the discussion for top rookie, there was a drawback to Hayes’ candidacy. He played 24 games and batted fewer than 100 times. Should Hayes be rewarded for a great month? In the end, we decided no.
Nothing about Hayes’ September significantly outpaced the August production from Robert, Lewis or Cronenworth, and that trio’s September struggles offered a cautionary tale about not getting too excited by one month.
On the pitching side, we also had solid choices. Brewers righthander Devin Williams pitched as impressively as a reliever can. He allowed one earned run all season, and his changeup might have been the best pitch in baseball, but BA has a predilection against picking a reliever as ROY. The role is simply less demanding than starting, especially with batters seeing a reliever only once per game.
Tony Gonsolin’s Dodgers teammate Dustin May also has a case as top rookie. The 6-foot-6 righthander is a groundball pitcher, the rare 100 mph flamethrower who doesn’t really miss bats. His strikeout rate of 7.1 per nine innings was one of the lowest rates in the league.
Even with a strikeout rate straight out of the 1990s, May posted an excellent 2.57 ERA in 56 innings, though various advanced metrics weren’t as generous based on the quality of contact he allowed.