Before Handing Out Awards, A Moment of Appreciation for the 2022 Rookie Class

Adley Rutschman
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, MLB unveiled the three highest vote-getters for its four major end-of-season awards, including the three top-voted rookies in each league. Steven Kwan, Julio Rodríguez, and Adley Rutschman made the cut from a strong American League pool including playoff double-MVP Jeremy Peña, 2022 preseason No. 2 prospect Bobby Witt Jr., and rotation standouts from across the circuit (George Kirby, Reid Detmers, and Joe Ryan). In the National League, teammates Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II underscored Atlanta’s bright future with quick breakouts. Inaugural Gold Glove utilityman Brendan Donovan complemented his defensive versatility with a 129 wRC+ to earn an underdog spot among the finalists over Jake McCarthy, Seiya Suzuki, and others.

The winners won’t be revealed until this coming Monday, but this week’s announcement was a sort of celebration of a rookie class that lived up to expectations and then some. Award season is about recognition of individual achievement over the past regular season, but in the case of the Rookie of the Year, it also feels like a prospective look at the careers that might be awaiting us. With the talent exhibited by this year’s class, particularly the position players, it seems we have a lot to look forward to.

This year’s position player cohort racked up 54.9 WAR, the second-highest in a single season after a 2015 class that featured Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Joc Pederson, Kyle Schwarber, and Corey Seager, among others. Some of that was a matter of opportunity; rookies took more trips to the plate this year than in all but a handful of years. But they held their own with an 89 wRC+, second only to that same 2015 class. And, as evidenced by the award finalists, the class featured some premiere talent at the top. The five position players leading this year’s group in WAR — Rodríguez, Rutschman, Harris, Kwan, and Peña — amassed a total of 23.2 WAR, the highest since 2012, when Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasmani Grandal, and Todd Frazier all cleared the rookie eligibility threshold.

Rookie Position Player Classes
Season Top 3 WAR Top 5 WAR Top 10 WAR Total WAR
2022 15.4 23.2 35.2 54.9
2021 10.1 15.1 25.8 39.7
2020 5.4 8.2 13.4 9.0
2019 11.8 18.7 32.7 49.2
2018 12.1 19.5 34.0 45.0
2017 16.2 21.1 31.2 41.5
2016 12.5 18.4 30.6 37.0
2015 14.5 22.0 36.5 75.1
2014 12.0 17.5 27.3 34.9
2013 8.5 13.1 23.5 35.2

Rodríguez and Rutschman were even at the top of the class with 5.3 WAR this season, matching each other for the most in a rookie season since Aaron Judge finished with 8.7 WAR as a rookie in 2017. In the last 20 seasons, the only players with rookie seasons as productive as Rodríguez’s and Rutschman’s are Judge, Bryant, Jose Abreu in 2014, Trout in 2012, and Evan Longoria in 2008. The last time two rookies posted 5.0-WAR seasons in the same year was 2001, when future Hall of Famers Albert Pujols (7.2) and Ichiro Suzuki (6.0) debuted.

Highest Rookie WAR, Since 2000
Season Name Team G wRC+ Off Def WAR
1 2012 Mike Trout LAA 139 167 64.4 10.2 10.1
2 2017 Aaron Judge NYY 155 174 61.8 2.5 8.7
3 2001 Albert Pujols STL 161 159 50.7 0.9 7.2
4 2015 Kris Bryant CHC 151 136 33.8 3.6 6.1
5 2001 Ichiro Suzuki SEA 157 124 27.8 7.8 6.0
6 2008 Evan Longoria TBR 122 129 21.1 17.9 5.6
7 2022 Julio Rodríguez SEA 132 146 33.4 -0.5 5.3
8 2022 Adley Rutschman BAL 113 133 22.4 13.1 5.3

As amazing as that duo was this season, Harris and Kwan were not too far behind in terms of production. Harris was called up in late May and finished with 4.8 WAR in 114 games, showcasing his abilities with all five tools to finish with a .297/.339/.514 slash line alongside strong center field defense and the eighth-highest BsR in the NL. Kwan started for the Guardians on Opening Day and, aside from a sub-par May, gave Cleveland disciplined production from the top of the order, finishing with 4.4 WAR of his own.

That level of production from a quartet of position player rookies was historic; the last four position player rookies to finish with 4.0 WAR or more in the same year were Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Jim Ray Hart, and Rico Carty in 1964. But the position player talent ran deep this year. The top nine finishers in WAR — the five position player finalists along with Peña, McCarthy, Witt, and Suzuki — all had 2.0 or more.

On the mound, the 2022 rookie class was a little more top-heavy. Strider burst onto the scene with one of the finest rookie seasons in recent memory, leading the majors with a 2.39 xERA, a 1.83 FIP, and a 2.30 xFIP in 131.2 IP, finishing with a 2.67 ERA. His 4.9 WAR ranked eighth among big leaguers, just a hair behind teammate and Cy Young finalist Max Fried’s 5.0 in over 50 more innings, and was the most by a rookie pitcher since Hideo Nomo’s 5.2 in 1995.

Spencer Strider MLB Ranks
Stat Value Rank
WAR 4.9 8th
SO 202 11th
K/9 13.81 1st
K% 38.3% 1st
SwStr% 15.5% 3rd
HR/9 0.48 2nd
ERA 2.67 17th
xERA 2.39 1st
FIP 1.83 1st
xFIP 2.3 1st
AVG 0.179 3rd
Min. 100 IP

Strider went unmatched from a production standpoint, but in addition to the trio of starters in Kirby, Detmers, and Ryan, the 2022 class also showcased a slew of dominant relief arms. Minnesota’s Jhoan Duran had the hardest fastball in the majors, averaging 100.8 mph en route to a 1.86 ERA. The Orioles’ Félix Bautista struck out 88 in just 65.2 innings with his own high-powered four-seamer. Scott Effross became a key weapon in the Yankees bullpen down the stretch, as did lefty Dylan Lee with Atlanta. Cincinnati’s Alexis Díaz generated a ton of swings and misses and ended up closing games for the Reds by September.

Dominant Rookie Relievers in 2022
Name Team G IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA xERA FIP xFIP WAR
Jhoan Duran MIN 57 67.2 11.84 2.13 0.80 1.86 2.22 2.52 2.11 1.5
Felix Bautista BAL 65 65.2 12.06 3.15 0.96 2.19 2.66 2.92 2.77 1.4
Scott Effross CHC/NYY 59 55.1 10.08 2.44 0.49 2.60 2.44 3.10 1.3
Dylan Lee ATL 46 50.2 10.48 1.78 0.89 2.13 2.57 2.66 3.10 1.1
Alexis Diaz CIN 59 63.2 11.73 4.66 0.71 1.84 2.76 3.32 3.97

Between the high levels of production from the position players and the eye-catching talent of the pitchers, this year’s rookie class put on a show all season and, thanks to Peña and others, into the playoffs. On Monday, we’ll celebrate the best rookie in each league, and each of them will have earned that honor against some tough competition. But until then, let’s recognize the abundance of top-tier talent introduced to the game this year. Chances are we’ll be celebrating most of them for a long time to come.

Chris is a data journalist and FanGraphs contributor. Prior to his career in journalism, he worked in baseball media relations for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

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2 months ago

This truly was an amazing rookie class. One minor quibble, Munoz spent 3 months in the majors in 2019, definitely over 45 days, so I would think he would technically not qualify as a rookie this year.

2 months ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

Actually, it looks like Schreiber, Vesia, and Abreu may have exceeded 45 days as well. Or do Sept. days still not count?