Examining 6 National League Rookie of the Year Contenders
It’s been the Year of the Rookie across baseball this season, which has made the Rookie of the Year races all the more exciting.
From Miguel Sano to Carlos Correa, we've seen rookies step right in and produce at the big league level. It’s not just a top-heavy class, either, as fairly unheralded first-year players like Taylor Jungmann and Anthony DeSclafani have made quality contributions, as well.
In the National League, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson threatened to make it a two-man contest early on, but each has slowed down in the second half. That, coupled with stellar play from other first-year players, has made the NL races a tight one.
Let’s take a look at six of the top contenders for NL Rookie of the Year.
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Pitching on a bad Cincinnati team, Iglesias’ excellent rookie year hasn’t received the attention it deserves. The 25-year-old Cuban defector has made 15 starts and owns a sparkling 3.25 xFIP, which ranks second among all rookie starters. He paces rookie starting pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings at 10.06, which is good enough for sixth among all starters, not just rookies. Iglesias really caught fire in August, allowing just 10 earned runs in 39 2/3 innings while striking out 45.
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Bryant was the odds-on favorite after a monstrous spring training, and all he’s done is produce for the Cubs. In 550 plate appearances, Bryant owns a .360 wOBA and 23 homers, which ranks second among NL rookies. He is striking out in 30.5 percent of his plate appearances, but his 12.2 percent walk rate helps compensate for his low number of balls in play. Bryant has spent most of his time at the hot corner, where Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) sees him as the sixth best defensive third baseman in all of baseball. His 5.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) leads all rookies by a full win.
Jung Ho Kang, Pittsburgh Pirates
Kang may be the most underrated player in baseball. In the Rookie of the Year race, he has two things working for him: he’s played nearly half his games at a premium position, and he’s more experienced than most rookies. Kang is a 28-year-old rookie, but he’s a rookie nonetheless. He has made 48 starts at shortstop and 49 starts at third base. He owns a .360 wOBA, which ranks second among all shortstops and sixth among NL rookies. No shortstop in all of baseball has amassed more WAR than Kang’s 4.0, which ties him with Brandon Crawford.
Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pederson’s profile is similar to Bryant’s in that he also has immense power, walks a lot and strikes out a bunch. Pederson has a .346 wOBA and leads all rookies with a superb 16.5 percent walk rate. The walk rate is good for fourth among all hitters, not just rookies. He’s blasted a rookie-best 24 homers while fanning in 29 percent of his plate appearances. His 3.0 WAR is held back by a -4.5 UZR rating as an outfielder.
Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
Schwarber made his MLB debut on June 16, but he wasn’t called up for good until July 17, which means his counting stats won’t be on par with the other contenders. The jury is still out on Schwarber as a catcher, but he has proven himself to be an offensive machine. In 196 plate appearances, Schwarber is slashing .262/.356/.536 with a .380 wOBA, which ranks first among NL rookies and second among all catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. His 11.9 percent walk rate checks in third among NL rookies, and he’s striking out in 30.4 percent of his plate appearances. Having played in nearly a third of a season, Schwarber has already racked up 1.6 WAR, putting him near a 5.0 WAR pace for a full season.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Syndergaard has excelled in his first season with the Mets. His 3.19 xFIP ranks first among all rookie starting pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, and his 2.4 WAR slots him first among NL rookies. He’s striking out 9.49 hitters per nine innings, which ranks second among all rookie starting pitchers and 11th in all of baseball. In addition to the strikeouts, Syndergaard’s walk rate of 2.13 hitters per nine innings is first among NL rookies.