Is It Time to Consider Gary Sanchez as a Legitimate Rookie of the Year Candidate?
Baseball's 162-game schedule is brutal.
Not that we don't enjoy all 162 games as fans, because we do. But for the players, managers, and coaches, 162 games during a long, hot summer, can really take its toll. They call it a marathon -- a true endurance test -- to be able to play nine or more innings virtually every single day in heat and humidity. It is grueling and exhausting, and wears down even the heartiest and strongest of men.
When considering post-season awards like MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year, preference is understandably given to players who have been on the big league roster for at least a vast majority of the season. And this is right and good.
But sometimes there are special circumstances. Sometimes a player emerges in mid-season, or sometimes later, and has such a profound impact on his team and the game itself that he forces himself into the hardware conversation.
Enter New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.
It's taken just 45 career games for @ElGarySanchez to reach 19 HR. Next fastest? Wally Berger (1930) in 51 games. https://t.co/W4qHNU7Ryu
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) September 22, 2016
In the modern era, no player has reached 19 home runs faster. And this next stat is kinda fun: the top four players on the career home run list, Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Alex Rodriguez, hit 19 homers combined in their first 45 games.
Sanchez has done that on his own. And if you extrapolate Sanchez' current home run pace for a 162-game season, he would hit 73 homers and tally 143 RBI. Sanchez is also now just three homers shy of leading the Yankees in bombs, chasing the recently departed Carlos Beltran's 22.
Sanchez was called up to the team in August.
So, needless to say, he's had a ridiculous start to his Major League career. But is it enough for him to win the AL Rookie of the Year award over players who have played full seasons?
The other leading candidate to win the award is Detroit's outstanding young starter Michael Fulmer, who is helping the Tigers stay in the thick of the AL wild card race. Fulmer has been part of Detroit's rotation all season, and has been pretty darn good throughout the long grind of 162 games. Here is how the two players compare.
Unfortunately for Fulmer, as Sanchez is surging, he's stumbling.
In his last five starts, he has seen his ERA rise from 2.25 to 3.03. During that stretch, he has an ERA of 6.28, giving up 20 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings pitched with a strikeout to walk rate of 17/7. He's given up six dingers during that time, and opponents are batting .278/.336/.470 for an .806 OPS. And the Tigers are just 1-4 in his last five starts.
Clearly, the narrative has shifted. But can a player who has only played slightly less than two months of baseball really win the rookie of the year over a capable candidate that has had season-long success?
If you're someone who likes to look at wins above replacement to help determine season-ending awards, you're not going to get much help. As the chart above shows, Sanchez' fWAR of 3.2 is substantially higher than Fulmer's 2.6. However, according to Baseball Reference's WAR (rWAR), Fulmer has been the more valuable player, 4.7-to-3.0.
The last two weeks of the season will help determine who wins this award. If Fulmer can right the ship and pitch lights out in his last couple outings, he'll probably lock it up. Or, if Sanchez goes into any kind of slump, the same could be true. But if Fulmer continues to struggle and Sanchez continues to hit like crazy, this is probably Sanchez' award to lose.
Right now, Sanchez has Fulmer by a nose, but it's still a very close horse race.