Nobody in the baseball community expressed surprise when Yordan Alvarez took home the American League Rookie of the Year award on Monday. After all, Alvarez hit like Mike Trout over 369 plate appearances, finishing second in the majors in wRC+ among those with at least 300 trips to the plate. His 3.8 WAR led all AL rookies by a wide margin; second-place John Means was nearly an entire win behind.
But if you had a time machine and went back to the start of the 2019 season, people would undoubtedly be befuddled to learn that Alvarez claimed the ROY hardware. Rather, you might have expected the honor to go to the best hitting prospect in recent memory: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
At the beginning of the season, Guerrero seemed poised to be the Rookie of the Year. As Eric and Kiley wrote in February, “He should […] immediately become one of the game’s most exciting, productive hitters. He is the cornerstone of the Blue Jays franchise, and perhaps a cornerstone of our sport.” Expectations were through the roof; here at FanGraphs, 20 of the 32 writers who voted in our preseason awards predictions had Guerrero winning the award. Alvarez was not on our collective radar.
In a vacuum, Guerrero did not have a bad season. Not every 20-year-old is Juan Soto, and for Guerrero to hit .272/.339/.433 with a 105 wRC+ at this age is still impressive. Since 2000, there have only been 25 individual position-player seasons with at least 200 plate appearances taken by a player aged 20 or younger. Guerrero’s wRC+ ranks 15th. Granted, there is survivorship bias here, as the only players to even be in the majors by age 20 are those who are supremely talented. But even among those supremely talented youngsters, Guerrero’s bat was still in the middle of the pack. Again, we’re reminded of expectations versus reality. We expected Guerrero to be the best, and when he wasn’t, it came as a bit of a surprise. On the whole, however, he wasn’t bad. Read the rest of this entry »