Even if - heavens forbid - the Yankees fail to make much noise in the postseason, Yankee fans have good reason to look back fondly on the 2018 season. If you’re reading this and wondering why, may I remind you that Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar made their respective debuts this year and proceeded to kick major butt? Teams are lucky to have one heralded prospect have a successful debut season in a given year. This year’s Yankees had two, continuing a ridiculous run of success for their player development staff.
Torres and Andujar’s rookie seasons have been absolutely fantastic. As such, many Yankee fans have hyped up their Rookie of the Year cases, particularly in the case of the latter, and understandably so. However, there is a good chance that neither of them will win the award this year. In fact, it wouldn’t really be an injustice to them if that happened.
I say this because there are two rookies in the American League who boast even more statistically impressive rookie campaigns than Torres and Andujar’s. The first of them, obviously, is Shohei Ohtani.
Since this is a Yankees blog, I’m going to try my best to keep this paragraph from becoming an Ohtani hagiography. But when the numbers are this ridiculous, the praises write themselves. Right now, Ohtani finds himself barely ahead of Andujar on the rookie hitter fWAR leaderboards, with 2.7 fWAR to Andujar’s 2.5. (Torres, by the way, is a bit behind them both at 1.9 fWAR.) “That’s not a lead at all,” you might think, until you realize that Ohtani has compiled that WAR figure in roughly 60 percent of Andujar’s playing time. Ohtani’s wRC+ of 154 bests Andujar’s 127 mark by nearly two standard deviations and paces all MLB rookies this year, ahead of even National League phenoms Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna. Oh, and I hear he can pitch too.
The second rookie, perhaps a less obvious name, is Joey Wendle of the Tampa Bay Rays. Wendle is less hyped up in terms of ROY conversations compared to Ohtani, Andujar, or Torres for a number of reasons. For one, he’s 28, which I personally find to be a turn on (because I think older rookies make for great stories), but doesn’t really generate the same buzz as a precocious talent. Secondly, he doesn’t hit for power, as he only has 7 homers to his name while the aforementioned three all have more than 20. Thirdly, he can’t pitch, which is a darn shame when you’re going up a guy who can pitch like Mike Clevinger and also hit like Alex Bregman.
However, Wendle has a few things going for him over Ohtani, Torres, and Andujar. Unlike Ohtani, Wendle plays a defensive position - primarily second base, with reps at shortstop, third base, and the outfield corners, to be exact. And unlike Torres and Andujar, the defensive statistics suggest that Wendle has handled his position well, recording positive marks in both DRS (6) and UZR (4.3) at second base this season. On top of all that, Wendle is an entirely capable hitter in his own right, as he currently owns a .300/.354/.435 slash line and a 116 wRC+. Put it all together and you have a 3.7 fWAR player, on par with Ohtani the pitcher plus Ohtani the hitter, and decisively ahead of both Andujar and Torres.
My point isn’t that Ohtani and Wendle aren’t absolutely more deserving of the Rookie of the Year award than Torres or Andujar. There are convincing cases to be made for the latter two over the former two, based on the fact that Andujar/Torres have played full seasons unlike Ohtani, or that small sample size defensive metrics overstate the defensive gap between Andujar/Torres and Wendle. However, there is no doubt that Ohtani and Wendle have had outstanding rookie campaigns of their own. Outside of Yankee-land, absolutely no one would cry foul if the Yankees’ phenoms were to lose the ROY race to them.
My point is that we should appreciate what Torres and Andujar have done this year, regardless of whether they win any hardware. We’ve watched them play and seen the numbers; those should be plenty good enough to ascertain the greatness of their rookie years in the eyes of Yankee fans, and also the wider baseball community as well. Due to there being two other perfectly deserving ROY candidates, it would not be an injustice if neither Torres nor Andujar were to win. It would be a grave injustice, however, if Yankee fans were to belittle Ohtani or Wendle’s ROY resumes, or criticize MLB of a perceived anti-Yankee bias. We can appreciate Torres and Andujar, while conceding that other rookies have had good years as well. In the end, doesn’t that leave us with more baseball to enjoy?