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American League Rookie of the Year: Julio or Adley?

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Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman, two of the top three prospects entering this year, have both had incredible rookie seasons in 2022. Rodriguez made his MLB debut on opening day and has been one of the best players in the American League since he adjusted to MLB pitching in May. Rutschman, on the other hand, didn’t make his MLB debut until May. Despite not playing the whole season, he’s been one of the key pieces of the Orioles’ surprise run to a 75-68 record.

Julio Rodriguez

Julio Rodriguez had a rough first month in the majors, slashing just .187/.257/.250 (47 wRC+) in his first 70 PAs. Since then, however, he’s been one of the best hitters in the league. Since April 28th, he ranks 5th in the AL in wRC+ and 6th in the AL in fWAR. In those 108 games, he has slashed .293/.355/.537 (157 wRC+) with 26 home runs and 4.9 fWAR. On Wednesday, he became the first player to hit 25 home runs and steal 25 bases in their debut season.

Rodriguez is the definition of a traditional “five-tool player”. On the season, Rodriguez has a .279 batting average with a 71.7% contact% and 81.7% zone contact%. He is also slugging .499, has a .220 ISO, and is barreling the ball at a 13.5% rate. He also has 25 stolen bases and 4.0 BsR, while ranking in the 97th percentile in sprint speed. He has also been one of the best defensive outfielders in the league in his rookie season. He ranks in the 93rd percentile with six outs above average to go along with three outfield assists.

Adley Rutschman

When Adley Rutschman made his MLB debut on May 21, the Baltimore Orioles were 16-25 and already 6.5 games out of the final American League Wild Card spot. Since then, they have gone 59-43, good for a .578 winning percentage. Rutschman isn’t the only reason for this turnaround, but he has surely made a huge difference.

Since May 21 (his debut), Rutschman ranks 12th in the AL in fWAR and 29th in wRC+. He ranks 3rd in fWAR and 4th in wRC+ among all MLB catchers since that date. To go along with his bat, Rutschman is already one of the best defenders in baseball, at any position. He ranks 15th in DEF since his debut, while putting up 6.1 FRAA (fielding runs above average), 5.4 FRM (framing runs), and 14 DRS.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Rutschman’s rookie season has been his plate discipline. Typically, it takes players a couple of years to adjust to MLB pitching and cut down their chase rates, but Rutschman is already walking at a 13.6% clip while striking out just 17.9% of the time. As a rookie, he has just a 6.3% swinging strike% and 22.6% chase rate.

Who Deserves the American League Rookie of the Year?

Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman have been, without a doubt, the two best rookies in the American League this year. In almost any other year, they’d each win the award. The question, though, is which of the two superstar rookies deserves the award more?

Both of them have been instrumental in their teams’ success. The Mariners are on track to break their 21 year playoff drought with Rodriguez as their best player, while the Orioles could end up as the league’s most improved team from last season. Rodriguez has an inherent advantage over Adley since he’s played in 30 more games, and he is also the heavy betting favorite.

I think it’s closer than Vegas is giving Adley credit for, though. He’s already established himself as one of the top three catchers in the league, if not the very best, in his first 100 games. However, at the same time, you could make an argument that Rodriguez is already a top 10 player in the league. It’s not about where they rank, though.

On a solely statistical basis, the edge has to go to Rodriguez, who is approaching 5 WAR in his rookie season. Rutschman’s lack of volume hurts him a little, and Rodriguez’s team success will help him in the voting. It’s clear that Rodriguez will win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, barring any drastic changes, but the race is closer than it may appear.

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