One of my favorite games to play is to take a fact from the baseball season, and imagine being presented with it before the year began. How would you react? What false conclusions would you jump to? How blindsided would you be by the reality of the situation?
Here’s a great example from this year. Imagine it’s February, you’re pondering the start of Spring Training, and I tell you that a Giant will be in the race for Rookie of the Year. Who do you think it is? What in the world do you think happened?
Here are the options I would have thought of:
1. Andy Suárez really figured things out
2. The Giants made a last-minute decision to rebuild, and shipped off Madison Bumgarner for a hot prospect
3. Chris Shaw dinger bash 2018
If you make the month March, instead of February, Steven Duggar comes into play, but doing so just makes me that much more angry that he didn’t start the year with the Giants.
Here’s what I’m obviously getting at: Dereck Rodríguez is in the running for NL Rookie of the Year, and absolutely no one saw it coming. In February I’m not even sure I knew who Dereck Rodríguez was. Admittedly that was before I started writing for this site, and therefore before Tank from The Matrix installed the discs with all the Giants history and information into my brain, but still.
I don’t think many people expected Rodriguez to play this season, let alone enter the Rookie of the Year discussion, but here we are, and it’s beautiful. It’s the type of unexpected development that makes baseball so fun, even when a team hovers around .500 like a frat boy hovers around a keg of horrendous beer.
The case for Rodríguez
The beauty of Rodríguez’s season is that, despite his success, he hasn’t been insanely lucky. Sure, he’ll regress a bit as some things normalize - he is, sadly, not one of the five best pitchers in the National League - but it’s not like the guy is walking five batters for every nine innings and magically suppressing a sky-high FIP.
His ERA of 2.25 is suppressing his FIP a little, but, given that the latter figure is 3.08, he’s still doing darn well. His 7.31 strikeouts per nine innings is not going to set any records, but is balanced out by 2.14 walks per nine, and a 40.4% ground ball rate.
There are plenty of reasons to think that Rodríguez is going to tail off dramatically, but his performance hasn’t been Jarrett Parker’s three-dinger day in Oakland a few years back. This isn’t a mini hot stretch aided by a good performance or two; Rodriguez has genuinely pitched brilliantly over a significant stretch.
And yet . . .
Rodríguez isn’t going to win the Rookie of the Year. He’s just not. Look at the NL leaderboard in rookie WAR, per Fangraphs:
1. Juan Soto - 2.6
2. Harrison Bader - 2.3
3. Brian Anderson - 2.2
4. Ronald Acuña - 2.0
5. Dereck Rodríguez - 1.8
That’s a pretty tightly packed race, though you can remove Anderson, who, unlike the other four names, has actually played something approximating a full season.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine someone other than Soto or Acuña winning the award. They’re putting up huge numbers on good teams, and come with big name prospect pedigree. Those things matter. And, let’s be honest, it’s hard to beat a .968 OPS in an awards race, which is what Soto is sporting.
So Rodríguez won’t win Rookie of the Year, but you can bet he’ll get a lot of votes. And he should get a lot of votes. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him finish third or fourth in the totals, and really, could anyone have seen that coming?