My 2022 National League Rookie of the Year Ballot

Michael Harris II
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The National League Rookie of the Year award was announced on Monday evening, with Michael Harris II of the Braves taking home the honor. Harris earned the hardware by collecting 22 of 30 first-place votes from the BBWAA writers, convincingly beating out teammate Spencer Strider, who only collected eight (and was left off one ballot completely), including mine.

Getting inappropriately annoyed with year-end awards — more specifically in 1995, the year Mo Vaughn beat Albert Belle in the AL and Dante Bichette confusingly finished second in the NL — was one of the things that got me reading Usenet. A high schooler at the time, I had little idea that it was the start of an astonishing career path. And even back then, I was frustrated that the writers who voted for these awards didn’t always make convincing arguments about their picks and, occasionally, offered no justifications at all. I still believe that this kind of transparency is crucial for the legitimacy of any type of award. This is ostensibly an expert panel — if it’s not, there’s no purpose for the award to exist — and as such, a secret ballot is not appropriate the way I believe it is for, say, a presidential or parliamentary election.

In my previous Rookie of the Year ballots, I gave my first-place votes to Corey Seager, Pete Alonso, and Trevor Rogers. The last one basically ruined my social media for a week. I had expected more writers to pick Jonathan India, but I felt (and still do) that Rogers had a slightly stronger case for the award. While it wouldn’t have changed my vote, I freely admit that I would have preferred to be one of three or five Rogers voters rather than end up being alone!

As usual, I will now endeavor to explain why I voted for the players I voted for.

The First Place Brave Conundrum

This was the toughest first-place vote that I’ve had yet. Seager was an easy choice, and while I thought Mike Soroka had an arguable case over Alonso, I didn’t come close to convincing myself that the Mets slugger wasn’t the right answer for me. Even with last year’s vote, I was confident that Rogers was a hair better than India.

This year, I don’t even have that certainty. To me, this race looked a lot like a tie, and since I’m pretty sure I’d have gotten a justifiably angry BBWAA-related email if I had submitted a write-in first-place vote for Michencer Harder, I’m still not convinced that it wouldn’t have been the just vote on some cosmic level. So I voted for Strider.

I did not expect to be evaluating Harris at the end of the 2022 season in this manner. While he performed very well in the low minors at a young age, enough to get into the ZiPS Top 100 prospects for 2022, he had yet to play above High-A ball. The Braves were off to a very slow start to the season, and the outfield looked like an obvious weakness. Ronald Acuña Jr. was not at 100%, and with Eddie Rosario gone for eye surgery, the outfield was largely the unconvincing quartet of Marcell Ozuna, Guillermo Heredia, Adam Duvall, and Travis Demeritte.

So the Braves decided to try to catch lightning in a bottle by aggressively promoting Harris, who had been crushing things at Double-A Mississippi; it’s unlikely there was any player available cheaply who could match the .271/.320/.433 line ZiPS had for his two months in the minors in 2022. A .753 OPS would have been an excellent line for a center fielder in 2022’s offensive environment. Harris was even better than that, hitting .297/.339/.514 in 114 games for the Braves, enough for 4.8 WAR. Once he seized the job in center, nobody took it back, and in only two games the rest of the year did Atlanta go with another player there.

Strider’s breakout had a lot of similarities. A cursory glance at his Double-A performance in 2021 might have focused on the 4.71 ERA, the one walk per game too many, and the fact that he had just one professional season under his belt. The Braves were more interested in the overpowering fastball, the filthy slider that was better than initially advertised, and the solid peripheral numbers. Even a lockout-shortened spring and two major league appearances in 2021 were enough for them to be confident enough in Strider to have him break camp with the parent club.

The experiment worked out well. In 24 1/3 innings over 13 appearances, Strider struck out 37 batters for a 2.22 ERA and a 1.43 FIP. The last three appearances — all higher-leverage, scoreless outings — were enough to get him a shot at the rotation. This was another successful trial, and over 20 starts, Strider put up a 2.77 ERA, a 1.92 FIP, and 4.2 WAR. That last number was third in the NL over that time period, behind only Aaron Nola and Carlos Rodón.

NL Pitchers from 5/30 On
Name W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO WAR
Aaron Nola 9 9 3.12 22 22 144.3 121 50 10 19 161 5.1
Carlos Rodón 10 4 2.60 22 22 128.0 89 37 9 32 173 4.7
Spencer Strider 10 4 2.77 20 20 107.3 72 33 7 34 165 4.2
Sandy Alcantara 9 7 2.40 22 22 161.0 128 43 12 28 144 4.1
Blake Snell 8 8 3.18 22 22 119.0 97 42 9 46 159 3.6
Max Fried 9 5 2.17 20 20 124.3 100 30 7 21 113 3.5
Max Scherzer 6 4 2.16 15 15 95.7 72 23 8 13 114 3.2
Yu Darvish 12 6 2.85 21 21 142.0 104 45 18 24 153 3.1
Corbin Burnes 9 6 3.41 23 23 137.3 102 52 15 40 165 3.1
Zac Gallen 9 4 2.65 23 23 139.3 94 41 13 37 149 3.0
Jose Quintana 5 5 3.08 23 23 119.7 116 41 6 30 99 3.0
Brandon Woodruff 8 1 2.38 18 18 109.7 81 29 11 29 137 2.9
Logan Webb 10 8 2.65 23 23 139.0 121 41 9 35 123 2.9
Tyler Anderson 9 5 2.44 21 21 129.0 101 35 8 28 90 2.8
Clayton Kershaw 8 3 2.43 17 17 96.3 77 26 8 20 105 2.7
Alex Cobb 4 6 3.05 20 20 112.0 108 38 6 31 104 2.7
Julio Urías 14 3 2.04 22 22 128.0 88 29 16 30 132 2.6
Edwin Diaz 1 0 0.65 40 0 41.3 18 3 0 8 80 2.5
Zack Wheeler 9 4 2.66 17 17 101.7 79 30 11 21 105 2.5
Hunter Greene 3 7 3.65 15 15 81.3 61 33 9 24 108 2.3

So, how to settle a tie? Unfortunately, a summary statistic such as WAR does not provide an easy out here. The difference between 4.9 WAR and 4.8 WAR is not such that you can meaningfully separate two players based on it. Neither player has a glaring mark on their performance record that suggests that there was anything misleading or lucky about their performances. As teammates, both had the same difficult task of helping to turn around Atlanta’s season (below .500 as late as June 3). Neither folded when the pennant race got tough. They both even successfully addressed one of the minor flaws in their game; Harris’ plate discipline improved as the season went on, and Strider kept making progress at getting to 0–1 counts. Even just a concept of excellence rather than value did not separate the two; Strider was third in the NL in WAR after May 30, but Harris was fourth among NL hitters.

Naturally, if the big things can’t settle a decision, you end up with smaller things as tiebreakers. In this case, Strider had to deal with a significant change in role in-season, going from a reliever to a starter who was eventually capable of regularly going over 100 pitches, not just throwing four-inning specials. Harris, meanwhile, was a plug-and-play center fielder, just as he was in the minors. Just this slight handicap of Strider having to adapt to a new role, without any benefit of getting stretched out in the minors, served as the tiebreaker for me.

Oh, how about some ZiPS, too? These are official 2023 projections, piping hot off the conveyer from the ZiPS mill:

2023 ZiPS Projection – Spencer Strider
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 12 5 3.01 24 24 137.7 102 46 14 49 191 139 3.4

2023 ZiPS Projection – Michael Harris II
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .269 .319 .459 573 89 154 35 4 22 99 35 143 24 106 7 4.1

And that’s how my ballot worked out.

Oh, Right, There’s a Third-Place Vote Too

For my remaining vote, I went with Brendan Donovan of the Cardinals. This was a relatively easy choice for me, despite the crowded field behind Harris and Strider. Donovan was one of the reasons the Cardinals surprised some people this year, and he put up an impressive .281/.394/.379 line in 126 games in his rookie season. Only a couple of other players — Jake McCarthy and Seiya Suzuki — were within 30% of Donovan’s WAR, so that statistic was far more useful as a separator here.

WAR has trouble dealing with the small (but real) value of the Tony Phillips-esque super-sub type, and the fact that Donovan played six positions admirably would have added to his value, not brought McCarthy or Suzuki closer. Donovan’s teammate Lars Nootbaar may have been the fiercest competition for this spot, but he was used so much as a pinch-hitter in 2021 that he didn’t qualify for the ’22 award due to service time, despite only having 109 at-bats.

The Missed

Suzuki was my favorite for this award coming into the season, in no small part due to him starting the year written into the Cubs’ lineup in permanent marker. Some might characterize his rookie season as a disappointment, but some of that is due to a finger injury and a mirage caused by the drop in league offense. His wRC+ of 116 was slightly below his ZiPS projection, but it was only a 43rd-percentile outcome, so not exactly a shocker.

McCarthy may be someone who was overlooked by some voters; the Diamondbacks, outside of Zac Gallen’s scoreless streak, were not a must-see team by late summer. He hit very well in his call-up after crushing Pacific Coast League pitching, but I can’t just make a case for him over Donovan.

I’m willing to vote for a player who played amazingly but in fewer plate appearances than the leaders, as I did in 2021 when I cast a third-place vote for Frank Schwindel. But in this case, Donovan was tougher competition for Joey Meneses than I felt Dylan Carlson was for Schwindel, so Meneses fell off my ballot. If there were a fourth-place vote, I suspect I would have leaned toward him.

Four Reds pitchers — Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, and Alexis Díaz — all land in that next tier for me. Lodolo may very well have been third if he had a full slate of games in the majors. Greene was one of my favorite pitchers to watch in 2022, and he really came around in the second half, but he was erratic enough early that he didn’t get my final vote. Ashcraft had decent peripherals, but the competition here was too fierce. Díaz, as a reliever, has a bit of a higher bar for me. Scott Effross‘ NL performance would have made him my preferred reliever candidate anyway (over Dylan Lee and Andrew Bellatti, too).

Christopher Morel had a stunning debut, almost out of nowhere — a .721 OPS in the minors in 2021 hardly screams prospect — but his offense dropped off considerably after the first month or so. Jack Suwinski’s versatility wasn’t impressive enough to counteract a rather meh bat for me. Oneil Cruz, despite some unbelievably impressive flashes of talent, is still on the raw side.

One last player I gave serious consideration to was Corbin Carroll. He was phenomenal in his brief 2022 stint in the majors and, on a per-game basis, was even better than Harris and Strider, but 32 games were just too few for me to send a vote his way. Luckily, he retains Rookie of the Year eligibility for 2023 and will likely be my preseason pick. While I don’t want to spoil his 2023 ZiPS projection quite yet, how about a hint in meme form?

So, did I choose wisely? Or did I pick poorly, and I’m quickly turning into an angry Julian Glover skeleton? Let me know in the comments below!





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com 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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drbn8rmember
2 months ago

Your justification for voting for Strider makes complete sense to me. There is another player whom I think deserved a possible third place vote. Wasn’t Kwan a rookie this year. He had a 4.4 fWAR season and in my mind would have made a better third place choice than Brendan Donovan, and I am a Cardinals fan!

fjtorres
2 months ago
Reply to  drbn8r

Absolutely right that Kwan deserved a 3rd place ROY slot.
Which is exactly what he got in the AL ballot, behind Julio and Rutschman. 😎

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

The AL RoY race, amazingly, was even more crowded than the NL. Aside from the top 3 (who all would have likely been winners in prior years), you’ve also got George Kirby and Jeremy Pena.

drbn8rmember
2 months ago
Reply to  drbn8r

drbn8r, you are dumb!

drbn8rmember
2 months ago
Reply to  drbn8r

This is the most likes I have ever gotten on a comment in FanGraphs. I will have to admit being dumb more often.