Rookie of the Year rankings: J-Rod vs. Adley, Braves pair pulls away
Welcome to the fifth and final edition of theScore's 2022 Rookie of the Year rankings, where we pick five top candidates from each league. As the season enters the home stretch, the best freshmen are solidifying their cases, but a few latecomers are looking to keep the voting interesting. Here's how the rookie races are stacking up with two weeks to go.
5. Felix Bautista, Orioles
Bautista's rise from obscurity to bullpen anchor over the last several months has been nothing short of incredible. The 27-year-old's 0.82 WHIP is both the fourth-lowest among qualified AL relievers and the lowest among all rookies. His 82 strikeouts are the second-most among rookie relievers, and he might rank first in that regard had the struggling Orioles given him some save opportunities this past week. Bautista has been nearly flawless cleaning up any mess he's given: He's stranded 92.4% of baserunners, given up multiple earned runs in just three of his 61 appearances, and blown only one save in 14 chances. While he throws far more four-seam fastballs, Bautista's most devastating pitch has been his splitter, against which batters are hitting a meager .060 this season. Bautista has opened some eyes this year, and Baltimore's bullpen is in good hands going forward.
4. Steven Kwan, Guardians
Coming out of nowhere to win a roster spot in spring training, Kwan has become a staple of the Guardians' offense and leads all rookies with 144 hits. The 25-year-old makes up for his lack of power by finding ways to reach base: He leads qualified AL rookies in OBP while ranking fourth in the AL in singles (113), and fifth in triples (five). Most of his at-bats result in some form of contact, yet Kwan also continues to take his free passes. He still has more walks (58) than strikeouts (53) and is one of four rookies with more than 50 bases on balls. Kwan has also done his share on defense, amassing 18 defensive runs saved in left field and 12 across all three outfield spots. While he won't win Rookie of the Year, Kwan certainly deserves consideration and has a fighting chance at a top-three spot. He should shine in Cleveland's outfield for years to come.
3. George Kirby, Mariners
A second-half surge has propelled Kirby into these rankings for the first time, and what a run it's been. Now that he finally has enough innings to qualify for the rookie leaderboards, the 24-year-old is the only AL rookie starter with an ERA below three and the lone AL rookie hurler above 2.0 WAR. He also leads the Mariners in ERA, FIP, and ERA+ (124); only deadline acquisition Luis Castillo has been a better starter for Seattle. A late May call-up has held Kirby back in the counting stats, but his prolific 9.4 K/9 rate and 1.12 WHIP are second and third among AL rookies, respectively. His 1.15 walks per nine is the second-best rate among all pitchers with at least 110 innings pitched, sitting just a few points behind qualified MLB leader Corey Kluber. Kirby isn't even the top rookie on his team, but his stellar freshman season is certainly worthy of recognition. He could give Seattle two AL Rookie of the Year finalists.
2. Adley Rutschman, Orioles
The AL Rookie of the Year race seemed settled until Rutschman arrived. The 24-year-old needed just 96 games to surpass the four-WAR mark, making him one of only two AL rookies to get there this season. He ranks second among Junior Circuit freshmen in OBP and third in OPS (.809), and he leads all rookies in walk rate (13.6%). He also owns the fifth-lowest strikeout rate (17.7%) in his class. Rutschman is just the sixth rookie catcher in MLB history to record 30 doubles, joining a list that includes two Hall of Famers. A solid defender, he ranks third among major-league catchers with 14 defensive runs saved and has thrown out 23 would-be base-stealer. Most importantly, Rutschman has turned Baltimore's season around; the young Orioles are 59-45 since calling him up on May 21 and are still hanging around a wild-card race they weren't supposed to even sniff. Rutschman has all but guaranteed himself a top-two finish, but it's hardly an indictment if he doesn't win. The future is bright in Baltimore.
1. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners
J-Rod has turned it up a notch in September, sparking the Mariners' push to end a 21-year playoff drought with six home runs and a 1.259 OPS so far this month. Those numbers bolster an already-unbelievable rookie campaign for the 21-year-old phenom. He leads AL rookies in wRC+ (145) and is the only freshman in either league with 5.0 WAR. Rodriguez is also making his mark on the AL as a whole, ranking fifth in the league in stolen bases and ninth in slugging. Rodriguez is just the third rookie ever to post a 25-25 season, and he's within striking distance of a 30-30 campaign, something accomplished by only one other rookie (Mike Trout) in baseball history. Rutschman has guaranteed that the vote will be close - perhaps much closer than many expect - but this was always Rodriguez's award to lose, and he's only tightened his grip in September.
5. Nick Lodolo, Reds
Lodolo's emergence is the silver lining of another lost season for the Reds. Though he's made just 16 starts, Lodolo ranks third among National League rookies with 113 strikeouts, and his 11.6 K/9 rate is second among qualified NL rookie starters. The 24-year-old has hit his stride in the second half of the campaign, limiting opponents to a .626 OPS in 10 post-All-Star break starts. He also made history over the past two weeks, becoming the first Reds pitcher and fourth left-hander in modern MLB history to have at least 11 strikeouts and no walks in consecutive starts. The rebuilding Reds have some excellent young arms in their rotation, with Lodolo standing out as a potential front-line starter in the years to come.
4. Jake McCarthy, Diamondbacks
McCarthy spent the first half of the season shuttling between the majors and Triple-A, but he's taken off since securing a full-time spot in the D-Backs' outfield in July. Even with fewer plate appearances than many of his rookie peers, the now-qualified 25-year-old ranks second among NL rookie position players in WAR, OPS (.839), and wRC+ (134). He's also one of only two rookies in either league hitting above .300. McCarthy has been incredibly successful on the basepaths, stealing 18 bases - tied for seventh in the NL - while being caught just twice. He's shown the ability to play all three outfield spots, with his best work coming in center field despite more appearances in the corners. It wouldn't be a shock to see McCarthy get one or two down-ballot votes in November.
3. Brendan Donovan, Cardinals
Donovan has maintained his place among the top three NL rookies through solid contact hitting, on-base skills, and unique versatility. The 25-year-old continues to lead rookies in OBP by a wide margin and would rank fourth in the NL if he qualified for the league leaderboards. He also sits third among Senior Circuit freshmen in WAR and wRC+ (127), fourth in OPS (.768), and first in walks (51). While he strikes out a bit more than Kwan - his closest rookie comparable - his 15.7% strikeout rate is the third-lowest among rookies and several points better than that of Cardinals teammate Paul Goldschmidt, the arguable NL MVP front-runner. Donovan also continues to aid his team as a tremendously versatile defender, starting games at six different positions. He's been one of the best utility players in baseball this year and should be an easy choice for third place in this race.
2. Michael Harris II, Braves
The NL's youngest player has proven age is just a number during his remarkable rookie campaign. Harris continues to lead all qualified freshmen in average (tied with McCarthy at .306) and OPS (.886), and he's one of only two rookies in either league slugging above .500. He also ranks third among all rookies in homers and extra-base hits and fourth in RBIs, steals, and runs scored. If all that wasn't enough, "Money Mike" is a game-changer on defense. His five defensive runs saved are tied for second among NL center fielders, and he continues to make remarkable, highlight-reel plays that remind Braves fans of the great Andruw Jones. Harris solidified center for Atlanta when the team needed someone to step up, becoming an indispensable piece for the defending champions. He's also the best rookie position player in his league by a wide margin.
1. Spencer Strider, Braves
Strider is authoring a potentially historic rookie campaign. In addition to sitting fourth in the NL in strikeouts, he's on pace to break both Kerry Wood's MLB rookie record and Charlie Morton's single-season Braves mark with a 13.77 K/9 rate. That rate easily eclipses those of both Carlos Rodon - the qualified Senior Circuit leader and potential NL Cy Young winner - and MLB leader Shohei Ohtani. Strider has tallied nine quality starts, five double-digit strikeout performances - including an Atlanta-era record 16 in eight innings on Sept. 1 - and has allowed just six homers while holding opponents to a .186 average. The 23-year-old has been so dominant that he enters Sunday's start nearly three full wins ahead of second-place Lodolo on the NL rookie pitcher WAR leaderboard. Harris and Strider should become the first teammates to finish one-two in Rookie of the Year voting since two other Braves players - Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman - did it in 2011. In these rankings, Strider's incredible strikeout numbers give him the edge.
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