John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So just how many home runs does Pete Alonso need to hit this season to lock up the Rookie of the Year Award, anyway? You'd think 50 would leave no doubt, right?
Well, maybe not, judging by the support Fernando Tatis Jr. seems to be gaining.
Alonso has been the favorite from early in the season, thanks to his eye-opening home run power, but the Padres' 20-year old shortstop is making a big run, putting up impressive offensive numbers while earning raves for his defense practically on a daily basis.
On Monday night, Tatis Jr. made another highlight play, leaping so high to snare a line drive that Padres' TV analyst Mark Grant declared him "a cartoon character" for his freakish athletic ability.
The play also prompted MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand to tweet that Alonso's power has been "very impressive, but Fernando Tatis might be the most exciting player in baseball. To me the Rookie of the Year should be his to lose."
Feinsand's opinion is worth noting because, as a Baseball Writers Association of America member, he is a potential voter for the award. The way voting is conducted, two BBWAA members from each National League city are assigned a vote for the Rookie of the Year award, with national writers such as Feinsand filling in the gaps when there aren't enough voters in certain cities for each award.
So I called Mark and posed the question: if Alonso hits 50 home runs, should that clinch the award for him?
"If he hits 50 it would be hard to ignore," Feinsand said, "and it would be hard to deny him in the Rookie of the Year award. But what if Tatis has a 30-30 season? As a guy playing a more important position, that would be hard to ignore, too.
"Look, I think Alonso is a beast, and it's really close between them, but I just think Tatis has been the more dynamic all-around player."
Ok, so let's break it down:
The surprise, in looking at the numbers, is that Tatis' slugging percentage, as of Tuesday, is nearly identical to that of Alonso -- .591 to .592.
The Padres' shortstop has that kind of power. He's hit 22 home runs, which pales in comparison to Alonso's 38, but he's done that in 128 fewer plate appearances because he missed more than a month due to a hamstring injury.
Indeed, the Mets' first baseman has played in 117 games, to 83 for Tatis, and that should count in Alonso's favor, as he has been a difference-making force every day of the season.
Yet, if you're making the case for Tatis, you'd note that despite the missed time, he has a higher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) number -- 4.2 to 3.8. And that's significant because it's a cumulative stat, meaning it would be even higher if he'd played more games.
Tatis' defense and baserunning, in addition to his offense, is what gives him the higher WAR, and whatever you think of its significance, it matters because many of today's BBWAA members consider it strongly when voting on awards.
As another BBWAA member, who preferred to be quoted anonymously, told me, "When you're voting on an award like that and you may not be seeing the guy play on a daily basis, WAR gives you a solid foundation for judging because it factors in all phases of his play.
"In the old days the writers might look at Alonso's home runs and RBIs and it'd be a slam dunk. Now we look at it more comprehensively."
With all of that in mind, it's shaping up as a very close race.
Alonso numbers, including a .258/363/.592 slash line, add up to a .955 OPS, which obviously translates to an excellent offensive year. Yet Tatis is hitting for a much higher average, .315, has an on-base percentage of .378, as well as that .591 slugging percentage, adding up to an even higher OPS of .969.
And since OPS is regarded as perhaps the most defining way to evaluate a player offensively these days, that works in Tatis' favor.
What it doesn't factor in, however, is the missed time, which gives Alonso his huge advantage in home runs. In the end, that could still be crucial if he keeps hitting home runs and gets into the 50s, perhaps even breaking Aaron Judge's rookie record of 52.
"If Alonso breaks Judge's record," one potential Rookie of the Year voter said, preferring not be named, "he's getting my vote, no matter what. Tatis is a tremendous player but an award like that should reward a player for a special accomplishment."
Well, 50 would be quite the accomplishment too, but the way Tatis is playing, it just might take breaking Judge's record for Alonso to lock up that Rookie of the Year award.