Beyond the Box Score continues its award series with our two winners for Rookie of the Year, as voted upon by our writing staff.
American League RoY: Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels
This one was pretty easy for me, as it was with the rest of our writing staff as a whole with Shohei Ohtani winning our unanimous selection. What Ohtani did in 2018 was straight unprecedented. He was pulling off unique feats that hadn’t been completed in about a century.
On the mound, with a limited sample size due to injury, Ohtani lived up to the hype. Among 179 starters with at least 50 innings, he ranked 12th in strikeout rate, 32nd in FIP, and 33rd in ERA. Narrowing the group to rookie hurlers, he ranked second, fourth, and fourth in those respective metrics. He did this all in fashion too, flashing a fastball that hit triple digits and a near unhittable splitter.
Amazingly though, Ohtani’s performance on the mound may not have been the most impressive aspect of his season. Among 278 hitters with at least 300 trips to the plate, he ranked eighth in wRC+, showing off his unreal power from the left side of the plate, hitting the ball over the fence in nearly six percent of his plate appearances. He led the way in production at the plate from rookies, even pushing himself ahead of Juan Soto’s unbelievable start and Ronald Acuña’s torrid late-season stretch.
The one argument against Ohtani’s Rookie of the Year case would be his shortage in availability compared to some of the other candidates. Early in the season, the Angels really paced his plate appearances as a two-way player. After being sidelined with injury, there was a primary focus placed on his bat, but he had to log his time at DH to avoid risk for further injury. But when it came down to total impact, not one rookie surpassed Ohtani’s combined 3.8 fWAR between both the mound and at the plate.
National League RoY: Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves
Outside of Mike Trout, I’m not 100% convinced there’s one future in baseball you’d take over Ronald Acuña’s. Playing 111 games in his debut season, Acuña did nothing to silence the hype behind him, hitting for a 143 wRC+ and being worth 3.7 fWAR.
Acuña contributed at the plate with 56 extra-base hits in 487 plate appearances. He contributed on the basepaths 16 stolen bases in 21 attempts. And he contributed a bit with the glove, saving four runs in the outfield.
Acuña did most of his work in the second half, as only Christian Yelich, Matt Chapman, Mookie Betts, and Justin Turner put up a higher fWAR in that time. Only Khris Davis, Christian Yelich, and Rhys Hoskins hit more home runs after the All-Star Break. For a majority of the season, he wasn’t just one of the better rookies in the game, he was one of the better players.
It’s easy to be pleased about the future of stardom in the National League. Juan Soto’s rookie season was one of the better storylines of the 2018 season, starting in Low-A, mashing his way past High-A and Double-A, and taking the majors by storm, putting up a 146 wRC+ at the age of 19. Walker Buehler would have a chance to take home this award in almost any other year, owning a 2.31 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 136.1 innings. Same goes for Marlins 3B/OF Brian Anderson, who was a three+ win player in his rookie campaign.
Come back here tomorrow to check out who we picked had the most impressive comeback seasons in each league.