Ronald Acuña Jr. had the higher batting average (barely) and slugging percentage (by a lot). Juan Soto had the higher on-base percentage (by a lot) and OPS (barely).
Soto was the more consistent hitter throughout his rookie season, never posting an OPS lower than .800 in any single month. Acuña was the more explosive hitter during stretches of his rookie season, producing a brilliant August in which he hit .336 with 11 homers and a 1.103 OPS.
Acuña was the better defensive outfielder and baserunner. Soto was the more advanced offensive player.
And, of course, Acuña played a big role in the Braves’ surprise division title, while Soto was the biggest surprise on a Nationals club that barely finished above the .500 mark.
And so Acuña took home the hardware Monday night as the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year, winning in a landslide with 27 first-place votes to Soto’s two. Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler received the only other first-place vote.
That will give Acuña bragging rights over Soto for the rest of the winter, and no doubt there will be some good-natured ribbing from one to the other this week while they continue playing as teammates on the Major League Baseball All-Star team during its Japan tour.
But this certainly isn’t the end of the Soto-Acuña rivalry. It’s just getting started, and it should continue for years to come.
Rarely do you see two exceptionally young rookies burst onto the scene at the same time like these two did this season, and it’s even rarer when they happen to play for the top two teams in the same division. Acuña is going to be the face of the Braves for a while (with obvious assistance from Freddie Freeman) and Soto is going to be the face of the Nationals for a while (if Bryce Harper signs elsewhere, that is).
And that’s going to make for some really compelling head-to-head comparisons. These guys were one-two in the Rookie of the Year race this year. Would it surprise anyone if they were one-two in the MVP race next year?
It will be fascinating to see how each player grows with experience. Acuña, who hit 26 homers in 487 plate appearances as a 180-lb. 20-year-old, has the potential to be a regular 40-homer masher as he grows into his body and refines his swing. Soto, who hit 22 homers with a .406 on-base percentage in 494 plate appearances as a 185-lb. 19-year-old, has the potential to be a league batting champion and one of baseball’s most complete hitters.
Who will prove to be the better player over time? How will their respective teams’ performances help shape that argument?
Fair or unfair, Acuña’s large margin of victory in the Rookie of the Year vote probably had something to do with the Braves’ division title versus the Nationals’ disappointing season. He also showed off his skills to a national audience when he launched a key grand slam during the National League Division Series.
How many more opportunities for October glory will each player get? It’s possible both teams make it next year, though as we’ve seen the wild card participant faces a daunting task to keep playing deep into the month. Whichever player’s team wins the NL East automatically will find himself in position to garner more attention and praise.
Soto and Acuña already gave us a fantastic head-to-head battle as rookies. Now sit back and enjoy the next chapter in what easily could become baseball’s newest and best individual star rivalry.