My 2021 National League Rookie of the Year Ballot

The National League Rookie of the Year award was announced on Monday evening, with Jonathan India taking the victory with 29 first-place votes. India was Cincinnati’s eighth Rookie of the Year, but the team’s first since Scott Williamson in 1999. That number 29 turned out to be surprisingly important personally as, to my surprise, I was the only one to give Marlins pitcher Trevor Rogers a first-place vote. I expected India to win, but not to take Andrew Baggarly’s spot as the unanimity denier that enraged a fanbase.

Arguing about awards was one of my first baseball-related activities as a teenage stathead in the mid-1990s. Being much younger and slightly more foolish than I am now, it boggled my young mind that someone could think that Mo Vaughn had a better year than Albert Belle, or that Dante Bichette was the second most valuable player in the National League. I mean, someone was wrong on the internet!

Twenty years later, I find myself, through a series of unlikely events, voting on baseball’s year-end awards. In my six years of BBWAA membership, I’ve gotten to vote four times by virtue of being in a local chapter with only about a dozen active members. The years I vote, I usually take most of the entire last weekend of the season to make sure I’ve put my best effort forward at deciphering the season’s results. If someone’s going to ask me to be an expert, I’m going to try to act like one, rather than send off my ballot based on fleeting feelings while sitting in the smallest room of my house.

Any time I vote, I write an article like this, because I believe transparency to be vital; every BBWAA vote, including Hall of Fame votes — the Association proposed this, but the Hall of Fame vetoed it — ought to be open for public scrutiny. I don’t know if I’ve arrived at the “right” answer, if such a thing is possible, but I’ve given the best answer I can that’s consistent with my worldview. That’s my responsibility to the players in question and the fans of those players.

Below, I’ve also thrown in some preliminary ZiPS five-year projections for the players I voted for. Projections were no part of my voting, so consider it a bonus for watching me torture the English language as if it were Cary Elwes on a bathroom floor.

First Place – Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins

I did not expect Rogers to be the victor, but in his rookie season, he’s the one that impressed me the most by a hair. His innings total (133) is far from impressive for a starting pitcher (though he missed a month late in the season after his mother was stricken with COVID-19). But it’s also understandable why the Marlins were cautious with him, given that his brief 2020 amounted to seven starts in the majors, with mixed results, after only five starts in the high minors. His stuff is simple and straightforward — a mid-to-high-90s fastball mixed with either a slider or a really underrated changeup — but it got massive results in 2021. A FIP of 2.55 is nothing to scoff at, no matter the park. You can make a very good case that his FIP was helped by a meager home-run rate, which is by far the most volatile of the three true outcomes when it comes to pitchers, and you would be correct. But Rogers actually wasn’t hit hard at all: He allowed an average exit velocity of just 87.8 mph and was one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball when it came to hitters’ barrels. For an award like this, I tend to err on the side of quality over quantity.

ZiPS Projection – Trevor Rogers (Preliminary)
2022 9 6 0 3.55 26 26 134.3 115 53 15 49 158 121 2.9
2023 10 6 0 3.46 27 27 140.3 117 54 15 50 167 124 3.2
2024 10 6 0 3.39 26 26 138.0 113 52 15 49 167 127 3.2
2025 9 5 0 3.40 24 24 124.3 102 47 13 44 151 127 2.9
2026 9 5 0 3.35 23 23 121.0 97 45 13 43 149 129 2.9

Second Place – Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds

I expected India to win, and he was a deserving candidate in a race in which I saw two. Since my BBWAA chapter is the Cincinnati one, I also expect this ranking to be unpopular among Reds fans, especially with the vote not being close.

This is my third Rookie of the Year award and easily my hardest first-place decision (the others were Corey Seager and Pete Alonso). India was an extremely impressive rookie, and like Rogers, he did it with a real lack of upper-minors experience, combined with an awkward developmental year in 2020. And there was no whiff of a fluke here, or a freaky BABIP lurking in the evaluative shadows, as his excellent 2021 performance was based on a broad skillset: He hit for power, he made good contact, and he showed excellent plate discipline. There’s some disagreement in the fielding metrics (OAA had him at -7, with UZR and DRS right around average), but he at least demonstrated that he is a legitimate major league second baseman. India was so good that he was almost able to paper over the team’s decision to throw Eugenio Suárez back into the shortstop role. If he had won the Rookie of the Year award, he certainly wouldn’t have been in the same galaxy as one of those regretful picks everyone laughs about 30 years later.

ZiPS Projection – Jonathan India (Preliminary)
2022 .260 .360 .443 503 76 131 23 3 21 59 63 12 110 -1 2.9
2023 .260 .363 .457 492 77 128 23 4 22 61 64 11 114 -1 3.2
2024 .258 .362 .463 488 77 126 23 4 23 61 65 11 115 -1 3.2
2025 .254 .361 .463 477 75 121 23 4 23 60 65 11 114 -1 3.0
2026 .255 .362 .455 466 73 119 22 4 21 58 63 10 113 -2 2.8

Third Place – Frank Schwindel, Chicago Cubs

The MVP award has specific guidelines; for example, “valuable” is specifically spelled out as the “strength of a player’s offense and defense.” As with Hall of Fame votes, there’s no such guidance given for candidates for Rookie of the Year aside from the basic playing time qualifiers that remove players from rookie status. As such, I consider it to be similar, in that I consider both “season value” and “peak value” for the candidates. The best candidate isn’t necessarily the most valuable rookie, but by the same token, quantity counts, too; otherwise, you end up voting for a guy who went 5-for-5 in his one game in September.

Schwindel did not play a full season in the majors in 2021. He was not a top prospect, or a prospect of any stripe. I’m not sure he’ll even be a contributor for very long. But he absolutely crushed the ball in his 259 plate appearances, hitting .326/.371/.591 for a 152 wRC+. He finished behind Dylan Carlson and Patrick Wisdom in WAR, but I think his “peak” here was the more impressive one. (Carlson, in particular, is almost certain to end up with a better major league career.)

ZiPS Projection – Frank Schwindel (Preliminary)
2022 .269 .304 .453 468 61 126 27 1 19 70 22 2 95 1 1.1
2023 .265 .303 .447 430 55 114 25 1 17 64 21 1 93 1 0.8
2024 .262 .300 .437 412 51 108 24 0 16 59 20 1 90 0 0.6
2025 .256 .293 .410 390 46 100 21 0 13 53 18 1 82 0 0.1
2026 .250 .284 .389 368 41 92 18 0 11 46 16 1 74 0 -0.4

The Near-Misses

If not for Schwindel’s astounding run, Carlson was likely my third-place pick. He had already been named one of the finalists going into the announcement, so he was guaranteed at least a bronze, which is what he took home. Wisdom’s season was nearly as much of a surprise as Schwindel’s, and he played more than the first baseman did, but there were larger holes in his offensive game, so he was a clear step behind for me.

Ian Anderson was an interesting candidate in light of his postseason performance. We can’t count his work in the 2021 playoffs, as ballots are due before the first Wild Card game, but should we necessarily be voting without considering the playoffs? On some level, it seems odd that more than a fifth of his major league career — eight starts of high-pressure baseball that feature a bonkers 1.26 ERA — is not considered when estimating what kind of a rookie season Anderson had. He is a good example of why the timeframe of the vote might not be a good thing; it may have been enough to make him third on my ballot instead of Schwindel.

That last player I considered for a third-place vote was Tyler Stephenson. He was probably closer to making my ballot than Wisdom, but was a harder player to evaluate. He got into 132 games, but more than a third of them were as a pinch-hitter and a bunch more as a first baseman. So I couldn’t consider him purely as a catcher, which made his solid offensive performance (.797 OPS) a bit less exciting. In the end, it was the Schwindel-Carlson-Stephenson question that was more difficult for me than India vs. Rogers, simply because things like value relating to positional flexibility are really hard to eyeball. After all, Stephenson being a contributor allowed the Reds to play Kyle Farmer at shortstop, a move that worked better than it had any right to. If I do happen regret my exact ballot 10 or 20 years from now, it’s more likely Stephenson vs. Schwindel that will be the cause.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Cave Dameron
1 year ago

Thank you Dan, very cool!