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Ryan Mountcastle not among top three finishers for AL Rookie of the Year

The Orioles rookie slugger did not place in the top three for AL ROY. The O’s haven’t had a winner of this award since 1989.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles
Ryan Mountcastle led all rookies with 33 home runs. It wasn’t enough for a top three ROY finish.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Orioles have gone without having the American League Rookie of the Year on their team since Gregg Olson in 1989. That streak will continue for at least one more season. The top three finishers for the major baseball writer-voted awards, were announced on Monday night and Ryan Mountcastle was not included among the high-placed AL rookies. Maybe next year the award will belong to Adley Rutschman.

The three players who were announced as “finalists” for AL ROY are: Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco, both of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Luis Garcia of the Houston Astros. MLB Network refers to the players as finalists, but there will be no additional voting from this point. These are the top three vote-getters in the Baseball Writers Association of America’s balloting for the award.

Ballots are submitted by two writers per league city prior to the start of the postseason. For ROY, there are three spots on the ballot and the winner is determined by counting up the votes using a 5-3-1 point system. The winner will be announced a week from today: November 15.

Mountcastle, 24, debuted for the Orioles in the 2020 season. Perhaps by the team’s design, Mountcastle finished the shortened 2020 season with 126 at-bats, four at-bats shy of the threshold that would have taken him out of rookie eligibility for 2021.

In his first full regular season, Mountcastle lived up to his bat-first prospect potential. The biggest feather in his cap is that he led all MLB rookies in home runs, with 33. I wrote last week that 33 home runs isn’t as impressive as it used to be, but having more homers than any rookie is still a nice accomplishment for Mountcastle. Only Texas’s Adolis Garcia finished with 30+, and there were just two more rookies across MLB who had 25+ dingers.

The common wisdom after last year’s postseason was that Tampa’s Arozarena, who hit ten home runs in 22 games as the Rays trounced to an American League championship and then took the Dodgers to six games in the World Series, would probably run away with the home run title here in 2021. Arozarena finished with 20 home runs in 141 games. He was not even close to Mountcastle in this regard. Mountcastle separated himself from the rookie pack here.

If hitting home runs was the only measure of player quality, Mountcastle would probably win the award handily. Indeed, he’s already won the praise of his peers, winning Outstanding AL Rookie in the postseason awards handed out by the MLBPA.

It’s not that easy to win among the baseball writers these days, mostly because more voters than ever are keyed in to judging players beyond surface-level stats like batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.

Mountcastle gets dinged compared to the competition in part because he was quickly relegated to first base while other rookies excelled at more premium positions. This leaves him much farther from the top in the two big Wins Above Replacement measures even though some other rookies got much less playing time than Mountcastle did.

At Fangraphs, Mountcastle is seventh among AL rookies with 1.4 WAR. He wasn’t even the leading Orioles rookie in fWAR, as he was topped by teammate Ramón Urias at 1.6 fWAR. On Baseball Reference, Mountcastle didn’t even get to 1.0 WAR, finishing the season with a 0.9.

The Rays rookies, Arozarena and Franco, finished with 3.3 and 2.5 fWAR, respectively, and 4.1 and 3.5 bWAR. Franco managed this in only 70 games. The Astros hurler Garcia 3.1 fWAR and 2.5 bWAR. That’s a big gap to Mountcastle’s performance and that clearly mattered to voters, though this did not stop some professionals whose checks are ultimately signed by the Orioles from banging the Mountcastle ROY drum.

Franco had the good fortune of arriving with mega-prospect hype. He was the game’s #1 overall prospect until he graduated to MLB, leaving Rutschman as everyone’s #1. The fact that he debuted at 20 years old and could hit .288/.347/.463 mostly as a shortstop surely wowed some voters. Arozarena may not have won the rookie home run title, but he did have a 20/20 season manning the outfield corners. And Garcia impressed with a 3.48 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 155.1 innings across 30 games, striking out 167 batters.

In recent seasons, a couple of Orioles have come close to the top of the ROY balloting. In 2017, Trey Mancini placed in third, having the misfortune to debut in Aaron Judge’s 52 home run rookie season. John Means was the runner-up in 2019 despite leading all rookies in bWAR; voters were wowed by Yordan Alvarez’s 27 home runs in 87 games. In the end, fair or not, Mountcastle didn’t even get that close.