By Jack McLoone
Ultimately, Rookie of the Year (ROTY) awards don’t matter—a weird thing to start what’s going to be about 700 or so words on that very topic—but bear with me.
While more often than not it goes to a player that goes on to have a great career, only 16 have gone on to have Hall of Fame careers (as of now, the likes of Albert Pujols, Ichiro, Derek Jeter, Justin Verlander, etc. also won it and will get in when eligible). But at the same time, you can look at 2009’s ROTY winners: Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s and Chris Coghlan of the then-Florida Marlins. Bailey was a reliever who had one more elite year, one okay year and then mostly fell apart. Coghlan spent last year in the minors after playing a good chunk of his career as a bench bat.
What I’m trying to say is that Rookie of the Year awards aren’t a barometer of future success, no more than getting an All-Star nod is a predictor of second-half success.
With that being said, the competition between Shohei Ohtani and Miguel Andujar for American League Rookie of the Year is important. Yes, I’m shocked too. I say this not because I think the winner is guaranteed future success. Instead, I think it will be a telling sign of how skewed—or hopefully, not—baseball media is towards the return of a successful Yankees team, because this should easily be Ohtani’s award.
Ohtani doesn’t deserve the award just because he was the first true two-way player in MLB since Babe Ruth. However, it is important that he did it well. As a pitcher, he had a 4-2 record in 10 starts, posting almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.31 ERA (3.57 FIP). That is worth one fWAR. As a batter, he hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs and a wRC+ of 152. He had 2.8 fWAR.
By all but one measure, the first season of the “Ohtani Experiment” was a success. He was incredibly effective in his starts, with just a couple of bumps along the way. In seven of his starts he gave up two or fewer runs. And Mike Scioscia did a great job managing his workload, while getting him into the lineup at designated hitter as much as possible.
But the big mark against him is his health. Ohtani went to the Angels with an already-known elbow injury, and he eventually tore it, requiring surgery—though not before he wrapped up the season at the plate. It’s why he was only able to log 10 starts.
Even so, that’s more starts on the mound than Miguel Andujar. To be fair, the Yankee third baseman did have a great season. He played in 149 games, hitting .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs. However, that is a 128 wRC+ and 2.7 fWAR.
Yes, even without counting his pitching, Ohtani had a higher Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement than Andujar.
It’s not even really fair to hold Ohtani’s injuries against him, as he still ended up appearing in 124 games—10 starts on the mound and 114 games at designated hitter. That’s plenty for a ROY award.
There’s really only one way that Ohtani loses this award: East Coast elitism, specifically, Yankee elitism.
You hear the claim leveled at sports outlets all the time: “All you care about are the East Coast teams” and “We get it, you’re Yankee fans.” Well, if Ohtani loses out, there will be some credence to that.
What Ohtani did this season was special. But, to be honest, I didn’t get a chance to see much of it live, living on the East Coast—though for a while his starts were always on Sunday, which was nice and predictable.
It also didn’t help that he was on yet another underperforming Angels team. The struggles of the Anaheim squad has already hurt Mike Trout’s chances of being easily accepted as the best player in baseball, and now it is helping bury the most fascinating young player in the sport as well.
On top of all of that, giving the award to a Yankee would be too easy; a young player at the core of a pretty young team that is very much on the upswing is enticing, but should not outweigh a historic achievement.
That is what is at the core of this argument: Shohei Ohtani is a piece of history, even if just for one season. He just had to get Tommy John surgery, which will keep him from pitching for probably the entirety of 2019, but he can still hit. We may never again see him on the mound, and he should get some sort of recognition for it.
That’s certainly better than appeasing the vitriolic Yankee fans.