Breaking Down the National League Rookie of the Year Race

The National League Rookie of the Year is going to be a fun award to debate this season. The NL has seen the debut of a plenitude of big prospects, many of which are not only playing every day and performing, but also making their mark on the playoff race.

With about six weeks remaining in the regular season, I think now is as appropriate time as ever to start handicapping the chances of the best and brightest rookies in the senior circuit.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Schwarber – Catcher/Left Fielder, Chicago Cubs

17 June 2015:  Chicago Cubs Catcher Kyle Schwarber (12) [11203] hits a RBI triple for his first major league hit during the second inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.

Schwarber really has no chance at winning this award, as he’s only been in the Major Leagues and playing consistently since just after the All-Star break. But he’s worth mentioning, because in just 140 plate appearances he’s hit .311/.407/.613 with 10 homers and 31 RBI. Expand that out to 450 plate appearances (about what Bryant, Duffy, and others have to this point) and Schwarber would have 32 homers and 99 RBI right now.

Of course, that is to make the assumption that he hits as well as he has the last month and a half over the course of the entire season. That’s a big leap of faith. Schwarber may miss out on NL ROY due to a lack of time in the big leagues, but that doesn’t at all diminish what he’s done in his short time with the Cubs. They are 19-10 when Schwarber starts either behind the plate or in the outfield.

5. Randall Grichuk – Outfielder, St. Louis Cardinals

31 MAY 2015: St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk (15) at bat during the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers  and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.

Grichuk has had a very good season, no doubt. Originally thought to be a platoon outfielder to play against lefties, Grichuk has done his best to have fairly even splits. It hasn’t mattered much which side a pitcher throws from, as Grichuk has had a .918 OPS against righties and a .848 OPS against lefties. On the season, he’s hitting .284/.333/.894.

Unfortunately for him, he’s done this in only 312 plate appearances, and that number won’t be changing much until probably the middle of September. He was recently placed on the disabled list with a right elbow strain that will cost him about three weeks of action. The good news for the Cardinals is that they should have him back and healthy for the playoffs, but the downside is that Grichuk has almost no chance of sneaking the ROY away from the next four guys on the list.

His Chances: 1 percent

4. Joc Pederson – Outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers

May 02 2015: Los Angeles Dodgers Center field Joc Pederson (31) [8776] hits a home run during the game between the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA.

Pederson has crazy amounts of power in his bat, which he put on display at the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break. I actually wrote about Pederson’s chances in a collaborative piece at Baseball Prospectus – Wrigleyville, where I am also a contributor. From my argument in favor of Pederson:

“On the season, he’s batting .217/.355/.442, which is good for a .798 OPS (fourth among center fielders in the National League), and he’s slumped lately, hitting just .091/.328/.182 over his last 16 games. But Baseball Prospectus has him projected to hit .234/.334/.433 with seven homers for the rest of the season, which would bring his season total to 29. If the guy hits around .220/.350/.440 with nearly 30 bombs while batting leadoff for a true contender, it would be hard not to at least consider him for the NL Rookie of the Year.”

His Chances: 8 percent

3. Jung-ho Kang – Shortstop, Pittsburgh Pirates

May 8 2015: Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang (27) singles to center field during the seventh inning in the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Kang received sparse playing time early in the season because the Pirates were enamored with incumbent shortstop Jordy Mercer, for some reason. Eventually, an injury and overall poor play from Mercer has taken him and his .604 OPS to the disabled list and allowed Kang more time in the field. He’s had 375 plate appearances this year and hit .284/.360/.443 with 10 homers and 46 RBI.

Kang is a strong defensive player at a key position on the third best team in Major League Baseball. He’s been worth 3.1 fWAR this season, and it likely would have been higher had he been the everyday starter from the get-go. That said, unless he makes some sort of hard push in the final few weeks, I don’t see him leaping to the top of the list.

His Chances: 10 percent

2. Matt Duffy – Third Base, San Francisco Giants

June 25, 2015: San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Duffy (5) at act and swinging for the ball, during the MLB game between the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, USA. The San Francisco Giants won 13-8.

Duffy has been somewhat of a quiet ROY candidate, but he’s having a solid year for the Giants. He’s first among qualified rookies in batting average, hitting .305 to go along with a .341 OBP and .463 slugging percentage, which has him right up there with Kris Bryant. Duffy doesn’t strike out nearly as much as Bryant (about half as often, actually), but he also only walks once for every three Bryant walks.

Duffy is second in fWAR among NL rookies at 3.8 and is playing a key role on a team that is currently fighting for a playoff spot. He’s played in just two games fewer than Bryant but he trails him in every “counting stat” category, in some cases by a wide margin. Duffy is worthy of consideration, but I think he comes up short.

His Chances: 15 percent

1. Kris Bryant – Third Base, Chicago Cubs

June 22, 2015: Chicago Cubs Third base Kris Bryant (17) [10177] rounds the bases after hitting a homerun during a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL.

Bryant is having a big year by just about any statistical measure. In 472 plate appearances, Bryant has hit .259/.365/.461 with 17 home runs and 12 stolen bases. He has knocked in 68 runs, which puts him second on the team behind Anthony Rizzo. His fWAR is 4.3, highest among all rookies, and he is one of the most important players on one of the five best teams in baseball.

Bryant is one of the middle-of-the-order hitters in a developing, young lineup that features four rookies in the everyday lineup.You could call me biased, as I am an unabashed Cubs fan, but I think Bryant will win the NL ROY. As I mentioned, he’s first in fWAR, but also first in RBI and runs scored, second in home runs and walks, and third in stolen bases.

His Chances: 66 percent

Others of Note

  • Noah Syndergaard – Starting Pitcher, New York Mets

7-6, 18 starts, 110.2 innings, 3.17 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 117 K’s, 2.4 fWAR

  • Odubel Herrera – Outfield, Philadelphia Phillies

.291/.324/.426, 6 homers, 46 RBI, 1.9 fWAR

  • Addison Russell – Shortstop, Chicago Cubs

.241/.303/.371, 8 homers, 41 RBI, 1.6 fWAR

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