Ryan Mountcastle had a strong season for the Orioles. However, the slugging first baseman, who set a team record for most home runs by a rookie, isn’t likely to be the Rookie of the Year.
It doesn’t diminish Mountcastle’s season. It’s just that there’s an unusually strong field of candidates for the award. In many years, Mountcastle would win the award. This year, he’ll be fortunate to crack the top three.
If it wasn’t for the 60-game schedule of 2020, Mountcastle wouldn’t be eligible. He had 126 at-bats last year, four short of the 130 maximum for rookies.
Mountcastle played in 35 of the 60 games, hitting .333 with five home runs and 23 RBIs with an .878 OPS. He received one third-place vote for Rookie of the Year.
Mountcastle started slowly this season, hitting just one home run in his first 30 games. He finished with 33, surpassing Cal Ripken Jr.’s team record of 28 home runs, which had stood since 1982. Mountcastle also had 89 RBIs, a .255 average and a .796 OPS.
Mountcastle, who played decently in left field in 2020, didn’t start in left field after June 20th this year. Instead, he returned to first base and steadily improved even though his defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacment) was -1.5. Overall, Mountcastle’s WAR was .9.
The favorite for Rookie of the Year is Tampa Bay outfielder Randy Arozarena, who was the offensive star of the postseason in 2020.
This year, Arozarena hit .274 with an .815 OPS. He hit 20 homers, drove in 69 runs and stole 20 bases. His WAR was 4.2.
Arozarena had his way against the Orioles, hitting .448 (26-for-58) with eight home runs and 19 RBIs in 13 games, helping the Rays win 18 of 19 against Baltimore.
Two of Arozarena’s Tampa Bay teammates, right-handed pitcher Shane McLanahan and shortstop Wander Franco, could get support.
McLanahan, who was 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 25 starts, was also helped by his numbers against the Orioles. He was 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA in four starts, coming in just 39 days from July 20th-August 27th.
Franco probably would be the favorite if he had been recalled before June 22nd. In 70 games, Franco accumulated a 3.5 WAR, hitting .288 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs and an .810 OPS. Franco played brilliantly at short.
Another candidate is Texas outfielder Adolis Garcia, who had a 3.8 WAR because of his outstanding defense. Garcia had a 1.6 defensive WAR and 16 outfield assists. Garcia also hit .243 with a .741 OPS, 31 homers and 90 RBIs, but struck out 194 times.
Houston right-hander Luis Garcia was 11-8 with a 3.30 ERA and is likely to get support, as well.
A personal favorite is Cleveland reliever Emmanuel Clase, who had a 1.29 ERA, 24 saves and an 0.962 WHIP. Boston reliever Garrett Whitlock, who was chosen in the Rule 5 draft, was 6-4 with a 1.96 ERA and two saves. Although Whitlock pitched in bigger games than Clase, he didn’t pitch in the highest leverage situations.
Winning the Rookie of the Year award is no guarantee of future success. Last year, Seattle outfielder Kyle Lewis was the unanimous winner. This year, right knee surgery restricted him to 36 games.
While lots of big names, including Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, have won in recent years, so did Rangers reliever Neftali Perez and Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson.
Perez saved 40 games for Texas in 2010 but has pitched for six other teams since 2015.
Hellickson was 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in 2011 and was traded to the Orioles by Philadelphia for Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim in July 2017 and went 2-6 with a 6.97 ERA in 10 starts for the Orioles.
Six Orioles have won the award: Shortstop Ron Hansen (1960), outfielder Curt Blefary (1965), outfielder Al Bumbry (1973), first baseman Eddie Murray (1977), Ripken (1982) and reliever Gregg Olson (1989).
Since Olson’s win, each of the other 14 American League teams have had at least one Rookie of the Year winner. If not Mountcastle, perhaps Adley Rutschman can break the drought for the Orioles in 2022.