MLB picks: Sizing up Rookie of the Year races as baseball season nears midpoint

Throughout the season I’ll do periodic looks for the major awards. I’ve already taken a look multiple times at both MVP and Cy Young odds for each league. Now it’s time to give the kids their due. Let’s take a look at the current Rookie of the Year odds in each league.

National League

He’s barely been up over a week, but Oneil Cruz of the Pirates is the betting favorite at +350. Braves center fielder Michael Harris is next at +375. Fathers pitcher MacKenzie Gore and Braves hurler Spencer Strider both sit at +550. Cardinals second baseman Nolan Gorman is +650 with his teammate, utility man Brendan Donovanat +1000.

is so fun and he’s a Statcast superstar, but with such a late start and the likelihood that he posts a low batting average (.222 so far) and rough strikeout rate (11 K, 0 BB in 36 at-bats) makes me want to stay away. He’s interesting and his long-term ceiling is probably the highest here, but the favorite? For this season? Nah.

Harris might be the winner to this point. He’s been a good defender at a premium position while hitting for power and average and providing value on the basepaths as well. I believe he’ll continue to be a good defender and baserunner, but I’m dubious on the hitting. Given the extreme strikeout-to-walk ratio and an awful lot of batted-ball luck so far, he’s going to hit worse the rest of the way than he has to this point. There will also be a period of time when the league adjusts to him and he’ll be tasked with adjusting to those adjustments. With only 43 career games in Double-A and zero in Triple-A, I’m not sure he’s ready to deal with that just yet. Let’s keep in mind we’re only talking about winning Rookie of the Year in 2022, of course. I think he’s gonna be a great player for a long time.

Gore has been so valuable for the Padres as they’ve used their organizational depth to get through rotation injuries. He recently had two awful outings in a row, though he rebounded by going five scoreless innings last time out. Still, he’s at 59 1/3 innings this season. He only threw 62 1/3 innings last season if we loop in the Arizona Fall League and add it to his work in the minors. There’s just no way he’s going to take on the workload needed for a starting pitcher to win this award.

Possible value?
Cardinals utility man/DH John Yepez is sitting at +1500. That’s too low. He’s hit .277/.322/.497 (133 OPS+) with eight doubles, nine homers, 24 RBI and 21 runs in 48 games.

At +2000, Cubs utility man Christopher Morel has the type of stat-stuffing talent who could take this thing. He’s only played in 38 games, but he has nine doubles, two triples, five homers, 16 RBI, 25 runs and seven steals. Diamondbacks center fielder Alek Thomas is +2500 and in 45 games has seven doubles, six homers, four stelas and plays great defense.

How about Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft at +15000. Through seven starts, he’s 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA (145 ERA+) and 1.09 WHIP. He worked 111 innings (or nearly double Gore’s output) last season, so there’s a bit more hope for him to keep going strong later in the season. Plus, these are ridiculously long odds.

The pick
I thought about Gorman, but he’s struck out 40 times in 118 at-bats and the emergence of Donovan and Yepez end up limiting his playing time a bit, I think. I’m going with Yepez here. His odds fell from +2000 to +1500 just in the last two days and he has staying power. He’ll be on prominent display for a contender, too.

American League

The favorite is Julio Rodríguez of the Mariners at -130. Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña is second at +325 with Royals shortstop Bobby WittJr. next at +430. There’s a big dip before Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (+1200), Tigers outfielder Riley Greene (+2500) and Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan (+2500), but it’s a top-heavy field.

I’ve actually got nothing here. There are some I wouldn’t bet on, but the odds get long pretty quickly here so there isn’t much that sticks out as unreasonable.

Possible value?
got off to a slow start — it’s always amazing to me when it happens and people wonder “what’s wrong?” — but in his last 16 games has hit .310 with a .638 slugging. He didn’t homer until his 21st game, but he hit his second and third home runs, respectively, here in the last five games. The Orioles are 14-11 this month and are only six games under .500 overall. People are going to start to notice.

It’s going to be awfully tough for a pitcher to break through against Rodríguez, Witt, Rutschman et al, but through 11 starts Ryan is 6-3 with a 3.20 ERA (120 ERA+), 1.12 WHIP and 1.3 WAR. Of course, he is at 59 innings and last season only worked 92 2/3 between the minors and majors.

Spencer Torkelson (+4500) has been bad this season. He has a 68 OPS+, only four home runs in 240 plate appearances and is dead last in WAR. He also has the type of power that means he could go on a surge and jump right into the thick of the race. He had 30 home runs in 121 games across three minor-league levels last season. I think the field is too crowded here, but it would be justifiable to throw some change on him.

Jarren Duran (+10000) has only played in 13 games, but he’s hitting .327/.386/.500 and he’s been hitting leadoff. He could pile up the runs if he keeps getting on base like this and he’s on a high-profile team.

The pick
I think Rodríguez is gonna win. He doesn’t have the greatest value right now, but who cares about that when you’ve got the winner? Rodríguez is electrifying and has been filling up the stat sheet for bit, hitting .276/.337/.452 (129 OPS+) with 15 doubles, a triple, 11 homers, 35 RBI, 40 runs, 19 steals and 2.9 WAR. We discussed the slow start thing with Rutschman, but if we just lopped off the first 12 games of Julio’s career, he’s hit .301/.360/.506 since. He’s already showing himself a star and he has a decent-sized head start on Rutschman.

Rutschman is the backup pick at good odds. At this point, I’d be pretty shocked if anyone outside Rodríguez, Rutschman, Peña and Witt won this.

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