Juan Soto’s remarkable season, though historic for a teenager, wasn’t quite good enough to merit Rookie of the Year honors.
Soto finished runner-up to the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr., who tonight was revealed the winner of the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year Award in a race that was awfully close on paper but wound up more lopsided in actual balloting.
Acuña received 27 of 30 first-place votes and 144 total points, with Soto receiving two first-place votes and 89 total points to finish a distant second. Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler came in third with one first-place vote and 28 total points.
Voting was completed before the start of the postseason, with two members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America representing each of the NL’s 15 cities submitting ballots.
Soto and Acuña learned the results while together as part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star team currently playing in Japan, a fitting final example of how intertwined the young outfielders’ rookie seasons have been.
Acuña, 20, entered the year as one of the top-ranked prospects in baseball and quickly made his presence felt after debuting for the Braves on April 25. He missed most of June with a sprained knee, but came back strong and thrust himself into the national conversation with a torrid power display in early August in which he homered eight times in eight games.
Acuña finished the season with 26 homers, a .293 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, .552 slugging percentage and .917 OPS that would have ranked fifth in the NL overall if he had qualified for the batting title. (He was 15 plate appearances short of the minimum 502 required.)
Soto, who was 19 for the entire season, was highly touted within the Nationals’ organization but wasn’t expected to reach the majors anytime soon, given that he opened the year at low-Single-A Hagerstown. But his own dominant performance combined with the big league club’s rash of outfield injuries prompted general manager Mike Rizzo to call him up to Washington on May 20, and the kid more than justified the decision.
Soto hit .321 with a .978 OPS in his first month in the majors and seized the Nationals’ starting left fielder’s job even after injured veterans returned from the disabled list. His batting average never dropped below .287, and he never went three games in a row without successfully reaching base.
Soto finished the season with 22 homers, a .292 batting average, .406 on-base percentage, .517 slugging percentage and .923 OPS that would have ranked third in the NL overall had he qualified for the batting title. (He was only eight plate appearances short.) That OPS was the best ever for a major league teenager with at least 450 plate appearances.
In the end, voters appear to have given Acuña the edge over Soto based on his superior defense - Acuña had a +4 Defensive Runs Saved rating, while Soto rated poorly at -6 - and perhaps because he played for a Braves team that surprisingly beat out the Nationals for the NL East title.
Soto was seeking to become the second player in Nationals history to win Rookie of the Year honors, following in Bryce Harper’s footsteps from 2012.
Unless Max Scherzer tops Jacob deGrom in the Cy Young Award vote - deGrom, who had a 1.70 ERA, is favored to unseat back-to-back reigning winner Scherzer - to be revealed Wednesday, the Nationals will not have a BBWAA award winner for the first time since 2014. They do not have a top-three finisher for either MVP or Manager of the Year this season.