Making the Case: Akil Baddoo for AL ROTY

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In a heated race for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, the Tigers outfielder has proven that he deserves to be in the discussion.

Why Baddoo is Deserving

If you were watching the early stages of the 2021 Major League Baseball season unfold, chances are you know the name Akil Baddoo. The Rule 5 pick turned heads in Spring Training, finding his power stroke while giving opposing pitchers nightmares on the basepaths, essentially forcing his way onto the Tigers roster. He made a huge splash early in the season, hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw in the majors. To follow it up, he hit a grand slam in his next game, and to wrap up his first week, he gave the Tigers a game-winning single in the bottom of the tenth inning. The start to his career was storybook stuff, and he began garnering a lot of media attention as an early favorite for rookie of the year.

However, as is the case with most rookies, he began to take his lumps against major league pitching soon after, especially facing left-handers. This was to be expected, given the fact that Baddoo had never played above High-A ball in his career. Despite his hot start, Baddoo came out of March and April hitting just .222 with an on-base percentage of .242. His slugging percentage was largely inflated due to his early power surge, sitting at .571 over 63 at-bats. Given that Baddoo is a rookie who never touched AA or AAA, these numbers were quite a bit better than most Tiger fans even expected from him in just over his first month of play.

But then, just as quickly as the calendar jumped from April to May, Baddoo found his stroke again. He began seeing the ball more clearly, cutting his strikeouts from April nearly in half while walking at a much higher rate. His OBP in May sat at .431, a huge increase from the previous month. A big reason for this turnaround can be attributed to manager AJ Hinch using Baddoo as more of a platoon player who sat against lefties, thus eliminating many of Baddoo’s struggles from the first month of the season.

However, as Baddoo began to heat back up, Hinch began to give him another taste against lefties, a situation in which he has slowly improved since the beginning of the season. Today, he is now hitting over .200 against lefties and while these are not huge numbers, it is a big step forward from where Baddoo started. Given how effective he is against righties, if he can continue to take steps towards being a better, more disciplined hitter against southpaws, he could be an all-star caliber player shortly. For reference, Baddoo hits .283 with a .535 slugging percentage against right-handers. His improving stroke in May led to Baddoo becoming an everyday starter at the top of the order, and he took the opportunity and ran with it.

June is probably Baddoo’s most impressive month so far, as he hit .348 with a .889 OPS, adding five stolen bases. The strong month was a testament to the changes that Baddoo had made in his approach, seeing the ball get deeper and trying to just put it in play instead of hitting it out. In July, Baddoo saw his power stroke return, and while his contact and OBP numbers suffered slightly, it was clear to see that Baddoo had found a middle ground between swinging to make contact and swinging to hit it out, an encouraging sign for the Detroit prospect.

Overall on the season, Baddoo is now hitting .267/.333/.467 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI’s primarily out of the leadoff spot. On top of this, he has 14 stolen bases, adding another tool to his kit. Arguably Baddoo’s best trait, however, is his ability to hit in the clutch. With runners in scoring position, Baddoo is hitting a whopping .379 while slugging an insane .724, giving him an OPS of 1.211 with RISP. Even more impressive than this is his ability to hit with two outs and RISP. Baddoo is hitting .407/.500/.889 in these situations, giving him a 1.389 OPS. Numbers like this are reserved for some of the best players in the league, which makes what Baddoo has been able to do this season even more impressive, especially considering his lack of major league at-bats coming into the season. Unfortunately, a collision with Derek Hill in the outfield two weeks ago landed Baddoo on the 7-day IL. However, as of August 23rd, Baddoo has been promoted from his rehab assignment in Toledo and will be rejoining the Tigers. The time missed will be yet another obstacle for Baddoo to prove that he can overcome, as he attempts to catch the presumed leaders in the AL ROTY race: Adolis García, and Luis Garcia.

The Competition

Adolis García

The Texas Rangers have not been a very good baseball team in 2021. They currently sit at 43-81, good for second-worst in the American League behind a truly abhorrent Orioles team. One of the lone bright spots on the roster has been the surprising play of 28-year-old rookie outfielder, Adolis García. Currently, García leads the Rangers squad in home runs at 27, and RBI at 71. However, Garcia has also had nearly 150 more at-bats than Baddoo and tends to sit in the middle of the Rangers order. Baddoo has a higher OPS than García, largely because García struggles to get on base, walking at half the rate Baddoo does and striking out at a 33% clip, higher than Baddoo’s 29%. García has Baddoo’s number in the outfield according to Defensive WAR, where García sits at 1.0 and Baddoo at -0.6.

Luis Garcia

The Houston Astros are once again a powerhouse in the American League. Currently sitting atop the AL West, the Astros have relied on many key contributors. This includes their rookie stud, Luis Garcia. It is difficult to compare Baddoo and Garcia directly, due to the fact the Garcia is a pitcher, but there is no denying Garcia’s effectiveness. The 24-year-old right-hander has thrown 116.2 innings this season, with an ERA of 3.39 and an impressive 10.6 K/9 which is especially high for a starting pitcher. His ERA has been increasing every month of the season, and the last 5 starts have been more of a struggle for Garcia, as he has given up 15 ER in 25.1 IP. If his recent struggles continue, Garcia could pitch himself out of the conversation, but the overall numbers hold up extremely well.

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main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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