My 2023 National League Rookie of the Year Ballot

Corbin Carroll
Arizona Republic

The first of MLB’s major awards to be announced for 2023, the Rookie of the Year awards, were given out Monday evening, with Arizona’s Corbin Carroll and Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson taking the laurels in the NL and AL races, respectively.

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 a surprising 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. As such, a secret ballot is not appropriate the way I believe it is for, say, a presidential or parliamentary election. So, as usual, this is my explanation (or apologia depending on your point of view) of why I voted the way I did. I don’t expect 100% of people to agree with my reasoning, which I doubt has happened for any opinion I’ve expressed ever, but that doesn’t mean I don’t owe you, the reader, the details of my vote.

This is my fifth Rookie of the Year vote. Previously, I gave my first-place votes to Spencer Strider, Trevor Rogers, Pete Alonso, and Corey Seager. This year, my ballot, starting at the top, was Carroll, the Mets’ Kodai Senga, and the Reds’ Matt McLain. Let’s start at the top. I’m also including preliminary 2024 ZiPS projections because, hey, why not? (They didn’t have any bearing on my vote, nor did the preseason projections.)

The Easy Part: Corbin Carroll

My last two first-place votes were close for me, and it took a while to decide on them. But this one was the easiest since Seager in 2016 (and I’m not forgetting Alonso versus Michael Soroka). Everyone expected Carroll to steamroll the league, and that’s just what he did. And while he didn’t have a Mike Trout-esque rookie season, who does?

For much of the season, Carroll logically was part of the MVP discussion, though by the time September rolled around, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mookie Betts had an obvious advantage, with Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson being clearly superior, too. But if I had voted for the NL MVP, Carroll would have still landed somewhere in the back of my ballot. He hit .285/.362/.506, clubbed 25 homers and stole 50 bases, and played all three outfield positions at least respectably. He is the type of player for whom the phrase “speed kills” makes sense, because his skill set is broad enough that he can actually weaponize that speed. For the season, he was seventh in sprint speed, had dominating baserunning numbers beyond stolen bases, and in 90-foot splits, he was bested only by Elly De La Cruz.

ZiPS Projection – Corbin Carroll
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .279 .362 .485 555 99 155 27 12 21 90 61 141 39 129 10 5.4
2025 .275 .359 .480 571 104 157 28 10 23 94 64 139 39 127 10 5.4
2026 .272 .358 .474 570 104 155 28 9 23 95 65 133 37 125 10 5.2
2027 .273 .361 .479 568 105 155 29 8 24 95 67 129 36 127 9 5.4
2028 .272 .363 .479 566 105 154 29 8 24 94 69 125 33 128 9 5.3

The Still Pretty Easy Part: Kodai Senga

I’m inclined to like Senga considerably more than his WAR simply because he has a significant history of outperforming his peripherals in Japan as well, so there’s more basis for believing in his ERA than for the typical pitcher in this position. Because of that, I’m closer to bWAR on Senga (4.4) than I am to fWAR. If forced at gunpoint to name the Dan’s Brain WAR for Senga, I’d probably put him at 3.8–4.0 or so. Also, that’s a very weird use of a firearm.

There’s always a writer or two who complains about Japanese players being eligible for the RoY award, but I think the idea that they shouldn’t be is preposterous. Nippon Professional Baseball appears a bit closer to the majors than Triple-A ball in the U.S. is — something like Triple-A 1/2 — but it’s a very different kind of league. While Triple-A hitters may be easier than NPB hitters, you’re also facing a rather different style of play and plate approaches, and now that some of the recent rule changes have hit in the majors, Triple-A ball is roughly a not-as-good MLB.

Despite facing different types of hitters, a spate of different rules, and against the backdrop of New York pressure and a collapsing team behind him, Senga was one of the few players who could really be counted on there. He had some issues with walks early on, and to his credit, he adjusted. But it wasn’t actually his control that was the issue; he actually threw more strikes earlier in the season! Instead, the issue was that after putting up an out-of-zone swing rate above 30% in each of his last two seasons in Japan, he was down in the low-20s early on with the Mets. As time went on, he got a better feel on how to lure MLB batters to their doom; in the second half, his 31.1% out-of-zone swing rate was right where it was in Japan.

ZiPS Projection – Kodai Senga
Year W L ERA FIP G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 11 8 3.63 3.87 28 28 161.0 132 65 18 76 190 122 3.4
2025 10 7 3.72 3.94 26 26 150.0 126 62 17 69 171 119 3.0
2026 9 7 3.82 4.06 24 24 141.3 124 60 17 63 156 116 2.7
2027 8 7 3.98 4.24 22 22 129.0 118 57 17 58 138 111 2.3
2028 7 8 4.21 4.46 21 21 124.0 118 58 17 56 128 105 1.9

The Excruciating Part and the Fifth Wheel: Matt McLain versus Nolan Jones versus James Outman

I don’t see Rookie of the Year as necessarily meaning Most Valuable Rookie, but as Best Rookie. As such, in a kind of small-scale examination of Hall of Fame candidates’ peak versus career numbers, I don’t necessarily think measures against replacement are as important as in the MVP voting, which has directions that more strongly imply an emphasis on quantity.

Outman was probably the most valuable of the three hitters I listed above, but he also got a lot more playing time, winning the job from the start. Both McLain and Jones out-hit him from a quality standpoint, with a 128 wRC+ from McLain, a 135 from Jones, and a 118 from Outman. I might discount this if there were evidence from their minor league time that the major league time was flukier, but both played in Triple-A just about how you’d expect from their actual major league performances. Outman was an excellent player and a big part of why the Dodgers survived the loss of a lot of players, but I would have him fifth in a larger ballot because he wasn’t quite as good as McLain or Jones. Per WAA on Baseball-Reference, both McLain and Jones were well ahead of him.

McLain versus Jones was very difficult for me, and I went back and forth on it the entire Sunday I made my vote (the last day of the season). And it still wasn’t an obvious result, more a 51%–49% judgment; if asked on a different day, I might have said Jones instead of McLain. But at the end of the day, I had to pick one. McLain hit almost as well as Jones did and played the hardest non-catcher defensive position. I don’t like deciding based on small things, but it’s inevitable if the big things can’t settle the score. The slight nudge to McLain comes on the balance of having the more valuable defensive versatility (2B/SS for him versus 3B/OF for Jones) and the fact that he played for a team that was playing higher-leverage games all season, with a deep roster of prospects that could push him off a job at any time. The Rockies, meanwhile, were a basement dweller without a lot in the cupboard.

Jones may have just missed my ballot, but it’s no negative reflection on what was an excellent season. I was quite perturbed that he didn’t start the season in Colorado, with the Rockies apparently deciding that Mike Moustakas was nine years better in age than Jones, but they at least weren’t stubborn after he crushed pitchers in the Pacific Coast League. That wRC+ of 135 was an OPS+ of 138 if you like the simpler approach, and both numbers are park-adjusted, so he was Actual Good, not merely Coors Field Good.

ZiPS Projection – Matt McLain
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .245 .332 .444 482 73 118 25 4 21 83 55 148 18 107 3 3.4
2025 .250 .339 .457 501 78 125 27 4 23 88 59 147 18 112 3 3.9
2026 .249 .341 .458 518 81 129 28 4 24 92 63 148 17 113 3 4.1
2027 .246 .339 .453 528 83 130 28 3 25 94 65 147 16 111 4 4.1
2028 .244 .339 .445 528 83 129 28 3 24 93 66 146 14 109 4 4.0

ZiPS Projection – Nolan Jones
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .272 .366 .485 474 77 129 30 4 21 80 66 157 13 118 3 3.1
2025 .271 .365 .484 479 78 130 30 3 22 82 67 154 13 118 3 3.1
2026 .271 .366 .483 480 78 130 30 3 22 83 68 151 12 118 2 3.0
2027 .268 .363 .480 477 77 128 29 3 22 81 67 147 10 116 2 2.8
2028 .266 .362 .474 466 75 124 28 3 21 78 66 143 9 115 2 2.6

ZiPS Projection – James Outman
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .244 .337 .437 501 85 122 22 3 23 79 62 185 12 108 3 3.3
2025 .243 .337 .435 503 85 122 22 3 23 80 63 181 11 107 3 3.3
2026 .244 .340 .445 499 86 122 22 3 24 80 63 177 10 110 2 3.5
2027 .237 .333 .429 490 82 116 21 2 23 77 62 172 9 104 2 3.0
2028 .234 .330 .417 475 78 111 20 2 21 72 60 166 8 100 2 2.6

Short on Pitching: Bobby Miller, Eury Pérez, and Andrew Abbott

Outside of Senga, no pitcher was close to making my ballot, though these three came closest. The Dodgers should be greatly pleased about having Miller’s services, but his numbers weren’t enough to balance out a rather low innings total. Pérez not being called up until May was a handicap, and while the Marlins being cautious with his workload to the extent of giving him a bit of a mini-vacation in July may be good for his future, it’s hard to give a Rookie of the Year vote to someone who threw less than 100 innings. Abbott’s mid-rotation performance was absolutely needed by the Reds, but again, not quite enough.

ZiPS Projection – Bobby Miller
Year W L ERA FIP G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 10 7 3.76 3.57 26 26 138.7 119 58 13 38 128 114 2.4
2025 11 7 3.75 3.55 27 27 144.0 122 60 13 38 133 114 2.5
2026 11 7 3.77 3.56 28 28 150.3 128 63 14 39 138 114 2.6
2027 12 7 3.76 3.58 30 30 155.7 133 65 15 40 143 114 2.7
2028 11 8 3.87 3.65 30 30 156.0 134 67 15 40 140 111 2.5

ZiPS Projection – Eury Pérez
Year W L ERA FIP G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 8 6 3.72 3.85 27 27 121.0 106 50 16 42 138 120 2.5
2025 8 7 3.67 3.77 29 29 130.0 113 53 17 42 143 122 2.7
2026 9 7 3.66 3.72 30 30 137.7 119 56 17 41 147 122 3.0
2027 9 8 3.58 3.69 32 32 145.7 125 58 18 41 151 124 3.2
2028 10 7 3.58 3.67 32 32 148.3 128 59 18 39 150 125 3.3

ZiPS Projection – Andrew Abbott
Year W L ERA FIP G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 8 9 4.60 4.17 29 29 144.7 130 74 22 53 161 95 1.7
2025 8 9 4.48 4.08 29 29 144.7 129 72 21 50 160 98 1.8
2026 8 9 4.50 4.08 29 29 148.0 135 74 22 49 161 97 1.9
2027 8 9 4.53 4.11 30 30 147.0 136 74 22 47 156 97 1.8
2028 8 9 4.60 4.16 30 30 146.7 139 75 22 47 152 95 1.7

The Sixth Man: Patrick Bailey

Of the rest of the field, the closest to making my ballot was Bailey, who was absurdly good defensively in 2023. I could have voted for a player short on playing time; I clearly did with McLain and was close with Jones. But to vote for a hitter at any position who slashed .233/.285/.359 over Outman, McLain, and Jones, I’d need a lot more certainty with defensive numbers than I have. We’ve made great progress in evaluating defense, but it remains extremely volatile, meaning that we simply can’t count on a small sample of defensive data to the same degree as a small sample of offensive data.

I have little doubt that Bailey is an elite defensive catcher, but just how elite is crucial to advancing him over the others with only 97 games played. And it was just a bridge too far for me; if he had been the catcher at the start of the season, there would have likely been a little more flexibility on how to deal with a defense-only candidate.

ZiPS Projection – Patrick Bailey
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .228 .291 .366 382 45 87 18 1 11 45 32 112 2 81 13 2.7
2025 .233 .299 .382 377 46 88 18 1 12 46 33 108 2 87 13 3.0
2026 .234 .300 .387 367 45 86 18 1 12 45 32 103 2 89 13 3.0
2027 .234 .302 .390 354 44 83 17 1 12 44 32 99 2 90 13 3.0
2028 .229 .298 .379 340 42 78 16 1 11 42 31 94 2 86 12 2.6

The Best of the Rest: Spencer Steer, Francisco Alvarez, Elly De La Cruz, Ezequiel Tovar

Steer played the entire season but was basically a league-average starter — something that had value, but he was clearly behind several others in quality. Alvarez hit a lot of homers (25) but was rather one-note in his offensive contributions, though he really surprised with his framing numbers. Tovar was brilliant defensively, and it was nice to see him as a Gold Glove finalist, but his offense was well behind his glove.

De La Cruz was arguably the most exciting of the prospects, maybe even more than Carroll, but he still has some serious holes in his game that were exposed with time in the majors. At the very least, he’s going to need to shore up his plate discipline or become better at effectively connecting with junk in the way Tim Anderson was able to do at his peak.

ZiPS Projection – Spencer Steer
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .249 .331 .436 534 76 133 28 3 22 85 56 129 8 104 4 1.9
2025 .250 .330 .436 525 75 131 28 2 22 84 55 124 8 104 4 1.9
2026 .250 .332 .434 511 73 128 27 2 21 81 54 119 7 104 4 1.9
2027 .250 .332 .433 492 70 123 26 2 20 77 52 114 6 104 3 1.7
2028 .250 .331 .429 464 64 116 25 2 18 72 49 107 5 103 3 1.5

ZiPS Projection – Francisco Alvarez
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .230 .321 .436 422 61 97 18 0 23 73 51 131 2 107 0 2.4
2025 .236 .329 .449 441 67 104 19 0 25 79 56 131 2 112 1 2.9
2026 .240 .334 .459 442 69 106 19 0 26 82 57 126 2 116 1 3.2
2027 .241 .338 .461 440 69 106 19 0 26 83 59 122 2 118 1 3.4
2028 .244 .344 .466 438 70 107 19 0 26 84 61 119 2 121 1 3.6

ZiPS Projection – Elly De La Cruz
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .236 .298 .434 564 91 133 24 8 24 89 48 190 39 94 -2 2.4
2025 .239 .303 .441 585 98 140 26 7 26 97 52 185 40 97 -1 2.8
2026 .243 .308 .450 606 106 147 27 6 29 104 56 181 40 101 -1 3.3
2027 .247 .314 .465 608 110 150 28 6 31 107 59 173 38 106 0 3.8
2028 .248 .317 .465 606 111 150 29 5 31 108 61 166 35 107 0 3.9

ZiPS Projection – Ezequiel Tovar
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .258 .300 .416 551 75 142 31 4 16 75 29 145 11 83 10 2.5
2025 .264 .307 .433 561 79 148 33 4 18 79 31 141 11 89 11 3.1
2026 .268 .313 .443 567 82 152 34 4 19 82 33 136 11 93 11 3.5
2027 .269 .315 .448 572 84 154 34 4 20 84 34 132 10 95 12 3.6
2028 .271 .318 .454 573 86 155 34 4 21 85 36 128 10 97 12 3.9





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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CC AFCmember
5 months ago

Did McLain and Jones’ babips factor into your decisions? Do you ignore them because the hits fell and that’s what happened? And if so, how does that jive with your emphasis on how “good” someone is over their accumulated value?

Not asking to play “gotcha. I think those are hard questions