Why Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom Were the Rightful MLB Rookies of the Year
As I sat feverishly refreshing my Twitter feed last night waiting for the MLB Rookie of the Year announcements (I can't afford MLB Network, yo), I held a bobblehead threateningly in my right hand. I was prepared to end that abnormally-distributed piece of porcelyn's existence if the awards did not go the way I thought they should.
By the grace of all things beautiful, the bobblehead made it through the night. This is not because of any restraint on my part, but rather because the voters got it right. Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom were the unquestioned deserving candidates.
Let's run through the two so that I can have one last opportunity to (legally) slobber all over Abreu and explain why deGrom had no real competition.
Abreu the Great
Name an offensive stat. Any offensive stat. There is a 71.4 percent chance that Abreu led all rookies in that stat. And that's not an exaggeration. Abreu legitimately led 10 of the 14 relevant offensive categories on FanGraphs' dashboard. Get out of your mind, son!
Here is the list of statistics in which abreu led all rookies: plate appearances, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, isolated power, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted on-base average, wRC+, and wins above replacement (WAR). He didn't lead the league in stolen bases, walk percentage, strikeout percentage, and batting average. He is unfairly good.
Comparing Abreu to a simple list of one rookie class seems short-sighted. He is better than that. That's comparing The Beatles to "other random bands that happened to debut in 1960." Dat ain't right, doe. Let's look back to 1970 and compare Abreu to the 598 rookie seasons with at least 400 plate appearances since then.
Abreu ranked sixth in isolated power, 22nd in batting average, 29th in on-base percentage, 4th in slugging percentage, 5th in weighted on-base average, 3rd in wRC+, and 16th in WAR. Calling him a man demonstrates an inability to recognize his clearly mutant abilities. This is not the work of a mortal.
If we look at this through the lens of numberFire's nERD statistic, Abreu looks even Gucci-er. Abreu ranked fifth in the stat, which measures the number of runs one player is worth relative to another over the course of 27 plate appearances. You can read more about nERD in our glossary.
Abreu's 3.51 nERD trailed only Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, Jose Bautista and Michael Brantley. He led the league in slugging percentage, finished second in weighted on-base average, and fourth in home runs. He didn't just contend for Rookie of the Year; he would have been in the MVP discussion if the White Sox weren't hot garbage.
Abreu made this decision easy, but that's not a knock on his American League compadres. Some of them were pretty tasty, too. Most of the major contenders were pitchers, but there was one position player: Abreu's division-mate, Danny Santana.
Now, Santana wasn't at a level near Abreu's. Nobody was. But he did best Abreu in batting average and finish second to Abreu in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted on-base average and wRC+ among rookies. This was despite weighing in a modest 95 pounds less than Abreu. That's a full middle school human.
The other contenders in the AL were all pitchers, and they could all straight deal. Although Dellin Betances was in the final three, I'd nominate Yordano Ventura, Jake Odorizzi, Marcus Stroman and Collin McHugh ahead of him.
Matt Shoemaker earned his spot in the final three, although I don't know where I'd place him relative to that other trio I just listed. This just shows how stacked the AL rookie race was this year.
This discussion would be a whole lot easier if UCL's weren't the devil. They are, though, and they took Masahiro Tanaka from us for far too long. Darn you to heck, UCL's.
Tanaka could have at least made the race with Abreu interesting if he hadn't gotten hurt. He had a 3.2 WAR in only 20 starts. In his first 18 starts (the ones prior to the late-September comeback), Tanaka walked 19 total batters compared to 135 strikeouts. This would have been one of the best rookie one-two punches ever, but UCL's are fun-killing trolls who just want attention.
There could be endless debate about who should have finished second through sixth, but the guy at the top swatted that discussion right in its tracks with a massive, bleacher-bashing upper-cut.
Dominance of deGrom
Everything was sunshine and dandelions with the depth of the American League's rookie class! The National League was more like a deep, dank hole with a single glimmering light at the top. That glimmering light was deGrom.
In 140.1 innings, deGrom had a 2.69 ERA and a 2.67 FIP to go with 9.24 strikeouts and 2.76 walks per nine. Deliciousness across the board. If it weren't for his lack of early-season starts (he didn't start his first game until May 15th), he certainly would have been on our Rookie of the Year watch list far before the last week. In making that list in the final edition, though, deGrom became the first and only NL player to do so. That's how deep the AL was (and how cavernous the NL was).
Of deGrom's 22 starts, opposing teams failed to score an earned run in six. That's over a fourth of his starts where he didn't allow a single earned run. If we expand that to games where deGrom allowed one run, that number inflates to 11, which is exactly half.
Then you add in the strikeouts. There were a few of those as well. deGrom had four separate 10-strikeout games, including both of his final two starts. In half of his starts he either had as many as or more strikeouts than innings pitched.
Another impressive thing about deGrom was his progression throughout the season. deGrom went through a rough stretch from May 31st to June 16th in which he allowed three or more runs in four consecutive starts. But you could say he rebounded nicely later in the year.
In his first 10 starts, deGrom had a 3.77 ERA with 7.99 strikeouts and 3.92 strikeouts per nine. These weren't Rookie-of-the-Year type numbers. Those came from July 8th onward.
On that day (the same day Tanaka partially tore his UCL), deGrom went seven innings and allowed no runs on seven hits while striking out 11 and walking none. That started a string of 12 starts in which he had a 1.90 ERA with 10.15 strikeouts and 1.90 walks per nine. He went at least six innings in each of those starts and allowed multiple runs only four times. That'll do. Only a person with stuff and absolutely mesmerizing flow could accomplish numbers that silly.
It was pretty slim pickings for the rest of the National League. The other two nominees were Billy Hamilton and Kolten Wong, but neither of those guys even had a wOBA greater than .300 (remember that Abreu was at .411).
Giles only threw 45.2 innings, but they were 45.2 seductively awesome innings. His 12.61 strikeouts per nine weren't quite as high as Betances, but he surpassed Betances in walks per nine (2.17), ERA (1.18) and FIP (1.34). That said, ERA is a pretty lame stat for relievers because of the small sample size, but Giles' FIP shows that it was no fluke.
Inciarte was very Hamilton-esque, but with fewer games played. Inciarte actually bested Hamilton in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted on-base average and wRC+. While Hamilton did have more defensive runs saved than Inciarte, Inciarte had the higher UZR/150. Give Inciarte a full season, and I think he would have eclipsed Hamilton.
Overall, we were pretty lucky to watch this rookie class throughout the year. Abreu is one of those guys that people will bring up when discussing some of the best offensive rookie campaigns of all time. Tanaka, assuming health, should go on to be even better than he was this year. deGrom, if he continues to chuck it like he did in the second half, could put himself into that top tier of National League pitchers. And guess what? We get a new crop of rookies next year. Pitchers and catchers report in 100 days.