Month to month, day to day, it seems that the AL Rookie of the Year (ROY) favorite has the opportunity to make a shift into another player’s hands.
After a slow start in April, and up until the mid-point of the year, it was a battle between Masataka Yoshida and Josh Jung. The latter unfortunately sustained a significant injury, and in his place, Triston Casas and Gunnar Henderson have had incredible improvements to their season since the All-Star break.
As we near September, these candidates will continue to push toward early career recognition, and they’ll all do it with different strengths and weaknesses as they vie for the crown.
It’s hard to determine a definitive set of statistics or even an intangible metric to prioritize when giving out awards. What matters most – Consistency, months-long hitting sprees, or objective data when the season runs its course? A fun part of this debate is that each player has earned the right to have their name in the conversation. All three have over 430 ABs going into the end of August, which helps omit any suspicion of a low sample size.
The race to the finish has seen the baton passed a few times in the national consciousness, and now it’s time to see who truly has the best case going into the final leg of games.
The Current Favorite
Right now, the betting favorite is Gunnar Henderson. A mix of power and speed has him as the flashy pick on the American League’s best team. Amongst his noted contenders, Henderson leads in a handful of the most esteemed statistics. A standout being 7th overall in MLB in HardHit% and strong fWAR:
Henderson has greatly helped his cause by having a solid defensive season. While it isn’t near Gold Glove level, his OAA ranks in the 62nd percentile, and both Casas and Yoshida struggle mightily in that category. While the perception may be that the best batter should get the award, Henderson completely dominates the defensive side of the conversation.
The playing field begins to level out after those, undoubtedly, very important metrics are identified. The PLV data, OPS, and Plus (+) data begin to tell the story of why Yoshida and Casas are still hanging around with Henderson:
While Henderson continues to edge both out in OPS+, his defensive gap begins to even out when only focused on the batter’s box. While his average hard hit metrics (HardHit%, Avg/Max Exit Velo) are all in the top 10th percentile, Casas and Yoshida trade off slight edges in either overall OPS and PLV HP (Hitter Performance, Runs added per 100 pitches seen by the hitter (including swing/take decisions), after accounting for pitch quality).
Henderson has also had a flair for the dramatic recently. The highlights include a game where he had passed on a cycle to earn another XBH instead, along with a consistent streak of power since the beginning of July. None more exciting than a go-ahead bomb that ultimately became the game-winning runs:
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) August 26, 2023
The Orioles will continue to play in meaningful games, and Henderson will be a major part of their hope for playoff success. In the meantime, Henderson will have to continue to drive the ball to stave off both Yoshida and Casas, who together create significant gaps in other areas that differentiate themselves from Henderson and each other.
Red Sox Prospect and Promise
Triston Casas and Masataka Yoshida have taken turns this season as the top Red Sox rookie. Out of the gates between the two, Yoshida held a strong advantage with a .900 OPS going into play on June 1st, but since then has slowly but steadily come back down to a .800 OPS.
Yoshida is an elite contact hitter, as advertised out of NPB. With a .326 BA and .957 OPS in Japan over 7 seasons, the upside and expectations were clear when the Red Sox signed him to a 5-year deal for $90M.
But, even after a strong performance in the World Baseball Classic, where he drove in 13 RBI in 7 games, Yoshida still carried some doubts with critics about producing similar results against MLB pitching. In fairness, his power hasn’t translated at the same rate, but what sticks out is his elite plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills.
Noted in a previous table, Yoshida is rating better than Henderson and Casas in PLV HP, and his PLV Contact, amongst other statistics, drives the narrative that has followed him to Boston:
When it comes down to a solid wire-to-wire pick, Yoshida holds the reins. Yoshida’s contact-focused hitting continues to pay off in his professional career.
Triston Casas brings a different twist. The Red Sox’s #2 prospect coming into the season is the underdog of this group at the moment. But Casas seems to have entered the season set to get on base as much as possible and has been very productive at doing just that, especially since July 1st, with his OPS going from .743 to .838.
Casas ranks in the top 25 in xwOBA, and even despite his slow start, he has been able to get back on track with his preseason expectations after a strong July and August with 12 of his 21 HR.
The season has panned out, and with Casas’ ability to earn walks as his stabilizing force, he will continue to push both of our other candidates to the end:
Casas has hit RHP well and has an 8 Run-Value against the slider. Don’t hang one of those to Casas because his power upside has been on full display. Casas has maintained his run in the top 10 percentile with a PLV Power 65 in the last 150 Batted Ball Events (BBE), while Henderson currently sits around the league average:
Casas has a different style than the other two, with a sense of getting on base with power and patience. In doing so, Casas creates a claim for his name to be highly considered going into September.
The Race to the Finish
This is a ROY race that has all the levels of the game on full display. Henderson’s athleticism, Yoshida’s consistency, and Casas’ patient approach all give them an opportunity to earn a ROY in a September showdown. It’s the rock, paper, scissors of position player baseball!
It was intriguing to take a look at these three rookies and make a case for each of them. Alongside the statistical factors and differentiators, intangible decisions will certainly come into play.
Will Henderson get bonus points for being on the best team and having an electric stretch in recent months? Will Yoshida be rewarded for being the most consistent from start to finish? Or can Casas drive the Red Sox to the playoffs with an exceptional final month?
It won’t be easy for voters, and that’s exactly what each player has earned: a truly qualified consideration for AL ROY.
I’d give it to Masataka “Macho Man” Yoshida if he can finish strong!