Voting for the annual Baseball Writers' Association of America awards has always seemed like a distinguished honor. And at times a difficult one.
Needless to say, I was very surprised and grateful when I learned I had been assigned a ballot for this year’s National League Rookie of the Year Award in my first season as a BBWAA member.
At first, I was intimidated by the daunting task. How could I – a humble D.C.-area kid who grew up to be fortunate enough to cover his hometown baseball team – be given such an important task as to vote for one of the sport’s most prestigious awards and by so doing become a part of the sport’s incredible history? Again, while in my first year as a member, nonetheless?
Thankfully, this year’s NL Rookie of the Year decision ended up being sort of a no-brainer instead of one of the highly debated awards.
In fact, entering last night since 2003, four NL Rookie of the Year awards have been won unanimously, with a majority of the others winning by a landslide. Only four races for this award over the last two decades were actually close, the latest coming in 2012 when Bryce Harper took home the hardware for the Nationals by narrowly beating the Diamondbacks’ Wade Miley by a score of 112-105 (Harper was awarded 16 first-place votes, eight second-place votes and eight third place votes while Miley was awarded 12 first-place votes, 13 second-place votes and six third place votes on a 5-3-1 scoring system).
Add this year to the long list of landslide victories as the fifth unanimous selection.
Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll was named the 2023 NL Rookie of the Year last night, beating out the other two finalists in Mets right-hander Kodai Senga and Dodgers outfielder James Outman.
Those were the three finalists I had on my ballot, with Carroll as my winner, and Senga and Outman following in that order. Nailed it.
(A reminder that all BBWAA award ballots are submitted before the start of the postseason. So nothing that happened in October – not even Carroll’s great performance in the playoffs – factor into these decisions.)
Carroll became the clear choice by season’s end, but let’s take a look at the cases for the two runner-ups first …
Outman started off the year as an early favorite for the award. The 26-year-old hit seven home runs with a .991 OPS en route to being named NL Rookie of the Month for April. He finished the season slashing .248/.353/.437 with a .790 OPS, 23 home runs, 70 RBIs, 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts, 68 walks, 181 strikeouts and a 112 OPS+ in 151 games.
Defensively, he led the Dodgers with nine outs above average to go along with his one defensive run saved, a 2.8 ultimate zone rating, eight runs prevented above average and a 6.0 defensive rating, per FanGraphs, while mostly playing center field.
He had 4.4 WAR per FanGraphs (third among all rookies and second in the NL), but Baseball Reference had him with 3.3 WAR.
Senga established himself as one of the better major league pitchers after his dominant career in Japan, partially in thanks to his “ghost forkball” that kept hitters off balance.
The 30-year-old went 12-7 with a 2.98 ERA, 77 walks, 202 strikeouts, 142 ERA+, 2.36 fielding independent pitching, 1.220 WHIP, 10.9 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate, .208 opponents’ batting average and .627 opponents’ OPS in 166 ⅓ innings. He was also named an All-Star in his first major league season.
He led all NL rookies in wins, ERA, innings, strikeouts and opponents’ average (minimum 60 innings pitched). He also became just the third rookie of the wild card era to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA and 200 strikeouts.
Senga really threw his name into strong consideration for the award near the end of the season. He allowed two or fewer earned runs in 14 of his final 16 starts. Over that span, he posted a 2.56 ERA with 115 strikeouts to 36 walks while holding opposing batters to a .211 average and .602 OPS.
He led all rookie hurlers with 4.5 bWAR and 3.4 fWAR.
But as impressive of those two were, neither matched Carroll’s historic rookie campaign.
Carroll slashed .285/.362/.506 with an .868 OPS, 30 doubles, a league-leading 10 triples, 25 home runs, 76 RBIs, 54 stolen bases in 59 attempts, 57 walks, 125 strikeouts and 134 OPS+ in 155 games. Not only was he named an All-Star for the first time, but he was also voted a starter in the Midsummer Classic.
His 25 homers and 54 stolen bases accounted for the first 20-50 campaign by a rookie in major league history. And he became the first player, rookie or otherwise, to reach those marks while also adding double-digit triples.
He led all NL rookies with 6.6 bWAR, which was second of all major league rookies behind the 7.1 by the Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson. But according to FanGraphs, Carroll’s 6.0 WAR beat Henderson's 4.6 for the best among big league rookies and was ninth in all of baseball.
Carroll was also solid defensively while playing all three outfield positions. Though he posted a minus-4.2 defensive rating and minus-3 DRS, he had four outs above average and three runs allowed above average.
In the end, it was Carroll’s offensive output at the plate and on the basepaths while also playing three defensive positions that put him over the top for me.
I also considered Reds utility man Spencer Steer because of his offensive production of a .271/.356/.464 slash line with an .820 OPS, 37 doubles, three triples, 23 homers, 86 RBIs, 15 stolen bases in 18 attempts, 68 walks, 139 strikeouts and 119 OPS+. But although he was versatile in playing all over the field at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field, his poor defensive metrics led to him being left off my ballot (minus-17.7 defensive runs above average, minus-1 DRS, minus-1.8 UZR, minus-4 OAA and minus-4 RAA, per FanGraphs).
Even though in the end it was an easy decision to name Carroll the NL’s best rookie, it’s obvious that the game’s future is in good hands.