The Rookie of the Year and its meaning can be hard to pin down. In recent memory, we’ve seen this designation awarded to future MVPs and elite pitchers, while others have struggled to maintain consistency. In 2022, Michael Harris II fit incredibly well with an already stout Atlanta Braves, but in 2023 has struggled to get going after an early season injury. Kyle Lewis won in 2020 after a highly productive campaign during the shortened season but hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Meanwhile, Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso have cemented themselves as the upper echelon of power hitters since their 2019 ROY awards; Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., the list goes on of successful players remaining at the top of their game after early career success. This year, we’ve seen a resurgence from one player who could have easily been written off after their ROY in 2021 and has a chance to make the Reds’ brass think about how to construct the roster for years to come.
Jonathan India has displayed all the tools that led to his 2021 nod while standing out as one of the most, if not the most, recognizable name on the Reds’ roster. Other 20-somethings join India in TJ Friedl, Spencer Steer, and Matt McLain, who have formed a young and intriguing core of the future, not to mention elite prospect Elly De La Cruz awaiting his big league debut and rumored to be aiming for his everyday spot. Now is the time for India to provide on and off-the-field leadership, along with undeniable improvements to cement his place atop the lineup.
From the Top
India has been locked in at the top of the Reds’ lineup. Through May 30th, India has bat leadoff in all but five games, while hitting third in the order as of late due to a recent display of power:
India has remained consistent within his key traits, by getting on base and scoring runs at a rapid pace. India is currently tied for fourth in runs scored in MLB behind superstar names such as the previously mentioned Ronald Acuña Jr. and the early season American League menace Marcus Semien. This in part is due to India’s elite eye at the plate, which has been his most consistent trait early in his career.
India’s ability to lay off pitches outside of the zone has begun to pay off with improved Whiff% and K% year to year, along with a very low PLV Swing Agg% of -12.5% (MLB Avg. 0%). India has seen steady improvement across both statistics regardless of his tough 2022 season.
The PLV metrics stand out for India in situational opportunities. First, India has been excellent in Hitter Performance (PLV HP) while in hitter-friendly counts:
Conversely, when India is in pitcher-friendly situations, he also sits high in PLV Decision Value (Modeled value (runs per 100 pitches) of a hitter’s decision to swing or take, minus the modeled value of the alternative):
India’s staple and overall approach has been and will likely continue to be a disciplined batter. India was noted in a scouting report as someone who “does not force swings; shows strike zone awareness”. What has been encouraging thus far is his improvement at making productive contact ahead in the count, and continuing to lay off pitches aiming to induce whiffs for strikeouts when behind.
India has provided an expected rebound based on his past. Although, there are some other areas that saw significant improvements over last year and show promise for a long tenure as a top-of-the-order producer.
2021 was a great year for India, who had staggering success against the four-seam fastball with a Run-Value of 23, ranking third amongst all eligible players. Included in that year’s performance were promising expected metrics with xwOBA and xwOBACON, both ranking in the Top 70. Unfortunately, due to multiple injuries, India couldn’t find his form throughout the entirety of the season. He saw major dips in those expected statistics.
But now India is officially back with a vengeance. While it may be seen as early career volatility, it does seem to track that injuries affected his overall performance throughout 2022. India is seeing massive swings back to the 2021 numbers, including much-improved numbers in Hard Hit% and Exit Velocity, amongst others:
I love it when there is a recent and obvious example of hard hits and how India seems to be focusing on bringing more power to the plate:
Two-homer game for Jonathan India! pic.twitter.com/zbzaqb3cOm
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) May 28, 2023
Embracing the Future
It’s confounding what is currently being discussed in the Reds’ sphere of media. Multiple outlets are reporting that INF prospect Elly De La Cruz could replace India in the lineup, which seems absurd, honestly. The Athletic recently wrote a piece noting the potential sentiment of India taking a backseat to De La Cruz or even trading India, while also covering all their bases by stating that “players and officials consider him the heart and soul of the team.” SB Nation’s Red Reporter shot back directly at that piece by rebutting it with the idea of building around India. What drama!
Realistically, the Reds would have a hard time justifying moving off of India while he performs at his ROY level, not including the improvements noted here. Sure, you have a backlog of infielders and why not make another trade for the future (prior to the 2022 season they traded Luis Castillo, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suárez to the Mariners in two separate deals). It wouldn’t be out of character for them, but alternatively, you can lean in and allow this roster to grow together. Not even mentioned yet is another strong prospect in Christian Encarnacion-Strand who currently ranks seventh in MLB Prospect Rankings for the Reds. A bit tongue in cheek, but maybe this core can break through as the modern Big Red Machine.
This potential infield lineup will be an entertaining watch for Reds and MLB fans alike:
It feels like it could be a matter of days before we see the Reds run out and infield of Elly De La Cruz, Jonathan India, and Matt McLain with Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand handling 1B/DH. This lineup is gonna be very fun very soonpic.twitter.com/9DcTFh2l4f
— Tyler Bowen (@bowentyler96) May 29, 2023
Jonathan India leads a dynamic, young group, that has a chance to find footing in an unusually volatile NL Central. India’s earned recognition, and rediscovered production at the plate, display optimism for a group looking to disrupt the narrative. Continuing to build on India’s contact tools, improved plate discipline, and hard contact, show an upside in clear sight. As the lineup takes shape and the future becomes present, Jonathan India is the steadying force leading the Reds into a competitive new era.
Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare (@bearydoesgfx on Twitter)