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Yankees fans' reality check on why Shohei Ohtani beat Miguel Andújar for AL Rookie of the Year

·MLB columnist
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Look, it brings me no pleasure to do this.

OK. That’s a lie. It brings me great pleasure to do this. Awards season elicits some of the very worst in logic, reasoning and rationality. As someone who wants to educate people on how baseball works in 2018, I’d like to examine some particularly hot takes on the American League Rookie of the Year voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. If nothing else for the sake of children who might encounter this sort of smut and not understand it.

The Los Angeles Angels’ DH/pitcher Shohei Ohtani won the award Monday night. He received 25 of 30 first-place votes, including one I cast. New York Yankees third baseman Miguel Andújar finished second, the same spot I voted for him. None of this – the results or my ballot – satisfied a particularly vocal group of Yankees fans, who contend Andújar deserved to win.

He did not. Here is why.


Actually, the BBWAA should be proud. Ten years ago, Andújar would’ve won in a landslide because he had a better batting average and more home runs and RBIs (.297, 27, 92). Only a handful of writers would’ve dinged him for his on-base percentage (.328). Fewer yet would’ve even considered his glove, which evaluators and defensive metrics agreed was well below-average. Traditional stats are great, so long as they’re supplemented by all-around excellence. In Andújar’s case, they were not.

The selection of Ohtani, in the meantime, offered a window into the evolution of writers’ thinking. Gone are the strawmen that have polluted past votes.

Ohtani didn’t lead rookies in any category. So? It’s not a prerequisite to winning the award or providing significant value.

Others could’ve done what Ohtani did had they been given the chance? Maybe. Maybe not. We shouldn’t penalize Ohtani simply because baseball was too closed-minded in the past to allow someone to try what he did. Just as we shouldn’t celebrate him simply for the same reason.

There were a number of hot takes about Shohei Ohtani winning the AL Rookie of the Year over Miguel Andújar. (Getty Images)
There were a number of hot takes about Shohei Ohtani winning the AL Rookie of the Year over Miguel Andújar. (Getty Images)

Shohei Ohtani is not the American League Rookie of the Year because what he did was historic. He is the American League Rookie of the Year because what he did. That it happens to be historic, too, is ornamental.

During his 367 plate appearances, he was one of the best hitters in baseball. It would’ve been nice if it were 400 or 500 or 600 plate appearances. It wasn’t. That does not negate what he did in those 367, which was put up an OPS+ better than everyone except Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Yelich, Max Muncy and Alex Bregman. Two of them will win MVP awards this week. The others will get copious votes.

During his 51 2/3 innings, he was a well-above-average pitcher. Think of it this way. Ohtani faced 211 batters. They hit .202/.289/.332 against him. Who is that similar to this season? Yoshihisa Hirano. Lou Trivino. Chaz Roe. Keone Kela. Solid relief pitchers. And no, that’s not what Ohtani wanted to be or could’ve been had his elbow held up. It’s simply what he was, and that’s all he deserves to be judged on.

I didn’t have an MVP vote last year. If I did, it would’ve gone to Aaron Judge.

(I don’t hate your team. I promise. That goes for everyone.)

The Yankees won 100 games. The first team out of the playoffs, Tampa Bay, won 90. Betts and Trout were not 11-win players this season. But Miguel Andújar was?

And it was the Yakuza.

All of these belong to the Fallacy Family, which comes to town this time of year, drinks too much and causes trouble.

The first is a Fallacy of Exclusion. It’s great to point out all of the numbers that work in favor of Andújar. It’s also misleading and unfair. Ohtani’s OBP was 33 points higher. His slugging percentage was 37 points higher. And the notion that he gets to decide what’s too big or too small a sample to include is absurd. Ohtani pitched in the major leagues. Good or bad, those innings are part of his 2018 season.

Ten years ago, Miguel Andújar would’ve won Rookie of the Year in a landslide because he had a better batting average and more home runs and RBIs. (AP)
Ten years ago, Miguel Andújar would’ve won Rookie of the Year in a landslide because he had a better batting average and more home runs and RBIs. (AP)

The second is a false premise. Nobody set an over/under on starts from Ohtani. He started the games he started. Maybe you expected or hoped he would start more games. That’s on you. I look at his 51 2/3 innings, his 63 strikeouts, his 3.31 ERA and think: That’s solid – and on top of what he did offensively, it’s phenomenal.

The third is a classic strawman – and an important one. Because so many of these arguments rest on Ohtani not playing as much as Andújar. And of all the points that are made, it’s the best one. It’s true: Playing more is better than playing less. But there is a point at which playing better while playing less exceeds that of the person playing more. In fact, Yankees fans are familiar with this concept seeing as they were making the exact same argument themselves two years ago.

I get it. This is about fandom. It’s about what you know and who you know. And in 2016, Yankees fans knew Gary Sánchez’s last two months were historically good. They wanted him to win Rookie of the Year on the strength of that. They’d seen 2005, when Ryan Howard’s 88 games of mashing overcame Willy Taveras’ full season in center field. Plenty of other examples exist. Sanchez didn’t beat Michael Fulmer, but he reminded Yankees fans: You can play less and be better.

Shohei Ohtani did. That’s why he won. And by the way, take the 367 plate appearances, add them to the 211 batters he faced and that’s 578 batter-vs.-pitcher scenarios for Ohtani. Andújar had 606. Feel free to add his defense at third, but, well, we’ll get to that soon.

At 23 years old, with all of his home country watching, Shohei Ohtani gave up hundreds of millions of dollars that he would’ve received had he waited just two more years and came to Major League Baseball attempting to do something no one had done since Babe Ruth, who happens to be the greatest player in baseball history. He did not know the city he’d be living in. He did not know the language that would be spoken around him. He did not know a single teammate. He did not know if his elbow would allow him to pitch. He did not know if the excellence of major leaguers would allow him to hit.

No pressure. Got it.

Yes, they are. Though if your beef is about Japanese players being more well-seasoned than those who play in the major leagues, perhaps this is not the best place to make that argument. Miguel Andújar’s first professional season was in 2012. Shohei Ohtani’s was 2013. Andújar’s age on opening day this year: 23. Ohtani’s: Mmm hmm.

It’s 2018 and someone is still using errors to make an argument about fielding.

Fielders are capable of making more errors and still being better. The more balls you get to, the more chance you’re going to have to make an error. Matt Chapman had 327 balls in his zone this year and made plays on nearly 75 percent of them, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Andújar made plays on 63.4 percent of the balls in his zone. It was the worst among regular third basemen this season. It ranks 293rd of 305 qualified seasons by third basemen dating back to 2003. Every player with a worse number switched off third base.

But yeah. Errors and stuff.

Funny you say that. I consult with executives, scouts, field staff, players – you know, people actually involved in the game – before I vote on these awards. Their vote was split. Slightly more favored Ohtani.

Two Andújar supporters – an agent and an executive, neither of whom know him – reached out Monday to discuss the vote. We talked. They made their points. I made mine. I think they’re wrong. They think I’m wrong. That’s fine. We’ll talk about something else tomorrow and take one another’s perspective forward for when it applies another time.

Oh, and nerds run baseball today, buddy. Get used to it.

I didn’t realize my 11-year-old had three burner accounts.

Miguel Andújar was good in 2018. He was, at times, very good. He was not the Yankees’ best hitter, not by any measurement. If you’re going strictly with counting stats, Giancarlo Stanton was better. If you’d prefer rate stats, Aaron Judge was better. High-leverage situations? Gleyber Torres. Runners in scoring position? Torres again – or Aaron Hicks.

There is literally no case that Andújar was the Yankees’ best hitter in 2018. Remember for the next time you get angry over a baseball award: Resorting to hyperbole is not the path to a winning argument. Though at this point it’s obvious that there isn’t one without hyperbole, either.

One played on a really good team. One didn’t.

Oh, come on. Don’t do this to poor Miguel Andújar. Don’t. Please don’t.

Fine. You asked for it.

In 39 games against playoff teams this season, Andújar hit .243/.282/.365. In 156 plate appearances, he hit three home runs and drove in nine runs. His line, in fact, is almost the exact same as that of Adeiny Hechavarria, who hit .247/.279/.345 this year. Hechavarría was Andújar’s defensive replacement.

In 43 games against playoff teams this season, Ohtani hit .271/.336/.519. In 149 plate appearances, he hit nine home runs and drove in 23 runs. His line, in fact, was almost the exact same as that of – yup – Miguel Andújar, who padded those numbers by beating up on bad teams and struggling against good ones.

None of this is intended to malign Andújar. If I’m starting a team, I’d love to go into 2019 with a 24-year-old third baseman who can rake. I hope his glove improves. If it doesn’t, perhaps he can play first or DH.

It’s just that compared to Ohtani, he wasn’t equal. There is no shame in that. Depending on the health of Ohtani’s elbow as he returns, in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the best player in this rookie class winds up being Torres, who finished third.

For now, though, it’s about the award. And for all the bluster, all the noise and all the really, really, really, really, really bad arguments, the right person won. Shohei Ohtani, American League Rookie of the Year, as it should be.

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