Before the 2022 baseball season, anticipation was high for several top prospects to break into the big leagues in the upcoming season. As the season progressed, many of those now former prospects made their debuts; some have succeeded, some have underperformed, and a couple of other rookies have gone above and beyond any form of expectations. Julio Rodríguez and Adley Rutschman both broke onto the scene in 2022 doing everything in their power to help their teams succeed. They have even, arguably, been the driving forces behind their teams’ postseason contention.
I really wish there was more coverage of this AL ROY race.
We're talking about 2 players in Adley/J-Rod who could be generational talents who are now virtually tied in fWAR and bWAR and who keep putting up stellar performances day in and day out.
This should be everywhere.
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) September 7, 2022
Between bat flips and other flashy moments, Rodríguez has undoubtedly attracted more attention than Rutschman. Nevertheless, performance and value-added are what earn a player the Rookie of the Year honors. In terms of those benchmarks, the two candidates have offered very similar outputs. More specifically, their fWARs and bWARs are very similar. To declare who is more deserving of the award, it will be necessary to take a much deeper look at the catcher and centerfielder’s respective performances.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2018, Rodríguez breezed through the Dominican Summer League for the remainder of that summer. The outfielder did the same in three levels of the minors over the next two seasons (there was no Minor League season in 2020 due to COVID-19) before bypassing Triple-A and becoming one of, if not, the most productive hitter on the Seattle Mariners.
Through 527 plate appearances, Rodríguez is slashing .277/.340/.494 with a 141 OPS+ and a 141 wRC+. The righty has also hit 25 home runs, knocked in 71 runs, and swiped 24 bags. He is also in the 91st percentile for average exit velocity, the 93rd for HardHit percentage, and the 91st for Barrel rate.
Rodríguez has been great in the field as well. He has committed just four errors through over 1,000 innings in the field earning himself a .988 fielding percentage. His seven outs above average ranks in the 92nd percentile among outfielders.
All these impressive numbers have earned Rodríguez a 4.6 fWAR and a 5.4 bWAR.
Julio Rodríguez crushes a 117.2 mph home run — the hardest-hit ball of his career. pic.twitter.com/MH73UUgZbs
— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 11, 2022
These numbers are beyond impressive for any baseball player, let alone a 21-year-old rookie. Impressive enough to earn himself a seven-year extension worth at least $119.3 million. Few players showcase enough talent over less than a year of Major League service for their team to buy out five years of team control in favor of such a lucrative deal.
It was not just his statistical production, however, that has made the outfielder into such a valuable asset, he has also been a game-changer for the entire Mariners team. Rodríguez had a slow April to begin his Major League career. The Mariners followed by finishing the first month barely above .500. The team got even worse in May, going 10-18.
The next month, however, just as their rookie outfielder was taking off, the Mariners followed suit. Seattle found its footing in June and went on an extended winning streak heading into the All-Star Break. The team has not looked back since and has just about played .600-ball in the second half. If the Mariners attain their long-awaited postseason berth, Rodríguez should be credited with being the piece that pushed them over the top.
— MLB (@MLB) April 17, 2022
Rutschman, although drafted and not signed as an international free agent, had a similar rise to the big leagues as Rodríguez. The canceled 2020 minor league season failed to stunt Rutschman’s growth as he tore up Double and Triple-A in 2021. This led him to be ranked as the #1 overall prospect by MLB.com.
The catcher would have been promoted well before his May 21st debut if not for an injury. Regardless, it did not take long for Rutschman to become one of the best offensive performers on the Orioles. June saw the catcher connect for 19 hits, 13 of which were for extra bases.
The Orioles’ unanticipated success in 2022 can be traced back to Rutschman. The catcher made his debut at the end of May. From June and on, the Orioles have been a winning baseball team, even going 17-10 in August and looking like the antithesis of the team that Baltimore fans have experienced for years.
With his .251/.358/.442 slash line, Rutschman leads his team in OPS. His 126 OPS+ and 131 wRC+ are both team leading, as well. The catcher has racked up a 4.0 fWAR and a 4.4 bWAR so far in 2022.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 6, 2022
Perhaps even more significant has been Rutschman’s play at catcher. With the left-field wall at Camden Yards having been moved back, it gave the chance for the Orioles’ pitching staff to become the anchor of any future success of the Orioles. To attain that, a catcher who works well with the pitching staff was necessary; Rutschman has been exactly what the Orioles needed.
Adley Rutschman is a lot of things but above all else, he is a FRIEND pic.twitter.com/5mtBWsWAIU
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) July 31, 2022
Who Should Win?
Most evidence presented so far has highlighted the two ball players’ many similarities. For all of their similarities, however, there is one discrepancy between Rodríguez’s and Rutschman’s rookie campaigns. This disparity is found in their WAR breakdowns.
Rodríguez has about 150 more plate appearances and two more months of Major League service than Rutschman, but they have very similar WARs. They have similar WARs despite, if anything, Rodríguez having posted superior offensive statistics.
Rutschman has been able to nearly catch Rodríguez in WAR due to the position he plays. Catchers are involved with every single pitch. They earn a large portion of their total WAR from their defensive WAR. In this case, Rodríguez, as a center fielder, has earned a 0.6 defensive bWAR, while Rutschman has more than doubled that with his 1.4 defensive bWAR.
Julio Rodríguez started the season as the No. 3 prospect in baseball.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 19, 2022
With relatively little help from his defensive WAR, Rodríguez has earned a slightly higher bWAR and fWAR than Rutschman. To bolster his case, the outfielder holds a 5.3 offensive bWAR while the backstop owns a far inferior 3.4 in that category.
Rutschman deserves to win second place in AL Rookie of Year voting by a landslide, but Rodríguez, with all the value he has provided Seattle this year, is the most deserving of the first place honors. What is perhaps more important for these two teams that have spent years rebuilding is that both players, with little doubt, will blossom into superstars and franchise cornerstones for many years to come.
(Photos by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire and Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire) | Illustration by Cody Rogers (@CodyRogers10)