The Orioles will have to wait at least one more year to break their drought of having a player win one of the major BBWAA postseason awards. Their only hope for this year, Adley Rutschman, was announced as the runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year on Monday night. Rutschman fell shy of the winner, outfielder Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners. Rodríguez was a near-unanimous choice.
This was the expected outcome since at least the end of the regular season. You could have reasonably predicted this result almost as soon as Opening Day, when Rodríguez was able to make his MLB debut at age 21. He was clearly one of the most exciting potential debuts all through the last offseason, and as soon as MLB’s current CBA went into effect with incentives for teams to get top prospects on their Opening Day rosters, it seemed clear Rodríguez would get the full season to show what he could do.
Rutschman had to wait until mid-May for the minor shoulder issue he suffered in spring training to subside before he could make his own debut. That might have made the difference. Rodríguez, even dealing with a midseason injury of his own, was able to play in 19 more games than Rutschman did. It would have been a much closer case, certainly. Rodríguez finished with 6.2 Wins Above Replacement at Baseball Reference. Rutschman was one win behind him at 5.2.
The two were tied in FanGraphs WAR at 5.3. One of fWAR’s quirks is it really boosts catcher defense, where Rutschman scored very well. The tie in fWAR doesn’t seem to have held much sway for the BBWAA voters, as Rodríguez was the first place choice on 29 of the 30 ballots.
Rutschman received one first place vote - and it wasn’t a homer Baltimore vote; this was a Toronto-based writer. Rutschman was named in second place on 18 ballots and in nine ballots for third place. Two voters looked at the field of 2022 AL rookies and left Rutschman off entirely. Being paid to have an opinion confers no inherent quality upon that opinion.
Though it would have been nice for Orioles fans to celebrate Rutschman being the winner, there’s no denying that Rodríguez has gotten a deserving crown. His batting line of .284/.345/.509 set him up as one of the five best full-season batters in the American League. He stole 25 bases. He scored well in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric, coming in as a 93rd percentile defender. All of this edges out Rutschman, even if there’s no question Rutschman was also doing great things on defense.
The performance from both of these guys is even more impressive considering that even some highly-touted rookies ran into problems over the course of this season. Kansas City’s Bobby Witt was another preseason pick for a possible ROY. He had good things going for him, including 20 homers and 30 stolen bases, but he finished below a 1.0 WAR due to a sub-.300 OBP and absolutely brutal numbers in publicly available defensive metrics.
2020 #1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson was another hyped guy who faltered. Batting below both the Mendoza line (.200 BA) and Belanger line (.300 OBP) in mid-July, he was banished to the minors until September callups. Torkelson eventually finished the season with a .203/.285/.319 line. Nobody’s success is guaranteed, not even #1 picks. Things went much better for Rutschman, thankfully for Orioles fans.
There will be a ripple effect for Rutschman finishing in second place here. In the current CBA, a player who finishes in first or second in Rookie of the Year voting who does not otherwise qualify for a full year of service time will be awarded the full year. Rutschman was not going to get the full year due to his mid-May debut - but since he’s the second place finisher here, he does. He will become a free agent after the 2027 season, instead of after 2028.
Had Rutschman been able to play on Opening Day and the Orioles put him on the roster then, they would have qualified for a new “prospect promotion incentive” draft pick, which would have given them an extra pick at the end of the first round next year for having a rookie get the full season of service and then finish in the top 3 of ROY voting. Unless there’s a previously-unmentioned loophole where a player who gets the full year by virtue of the ROY vote retroactive qualifies for the bonus pick, the O’s will miss out.
It’s not worth angsting too much about either of these things. The reward for the Orioles in 2022 is that Rutschman was a big difference-maker, helping to fuel the team’s surprising turnaround and close chase for a wild card spot. There will be more reward next year when Rutschman will, barring another unfortunate injury, be ready to play from Opening Day.
The third place finisher was Cleveland’s Steven Kwan. He made waves early in his rookie campaign with a contact-heavy approach that he carried through the whole year. Kwan’s walks exceeded his strikeouts, 62 to 60, and he finished in the top 10 in the AL in on-base percentage. It’s impressive for any player, let alone a young one.
There aren’t many other players like that in the game right now. He also won a Gold Glove for his left field defense, not that this would have affected the BBWAA ROY voting. Kwan actually exceeded Rutschman in bWAR with 5.5, though he wasn’t as close in fWAR at 4.4.
In all, six AL rookies received votes. In addition to Rodríguez, Rutschman, and Kwan, a smattering of votes went out to Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr., Houston’s Jeremy Peña, and Seattle’s George Kirby.
The last Oriole to win the ROY was Gregg Olson in 1989. An Orioles player hasn’t won one of these awards (ROY, Cy Young, MVP) since Cal Ripken’s second MVP in 1991. Maybe next year.