Gary Sanchez hit 20 homers, batted .299, slugged .657 and threw out 41% of opposing base stealers this season, numbers that would normally win him a Rookie of the Year award by acclamation.
But Sanchez’s major-league season was just 53 games and 201 at-bats, which raises the question of how much is a third of the season worth. WAR says 3.0.
Sanchez’s competition for the AL award, which will be announced Monday, is Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer, who won 11 games, had a 3.07 ERA and .652 OPS against, accumulated 4.9 of WAR and is spending his offseason, according to the Detroit Free Press, working as a plumber.
No matter the results, that should prepare him.
(The third candidate is Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin, who batted .296 and slugged .514 but did so in only 321 at-bars. He’s only there for the group picture, and he’ll be third when the results are announced).
It’s the fate of starting pitchers that Sanchez, who wasn’t called up for good until the first week of August, played in more than twice as many games as Fulmer (53-26). That was enough for him to almost slug the Yankees into the playoffs.
If Sanchez had played the whole season like that, we’d be arguing whether he should be MVP, not Rookie of the Year. It’s not fair to anoint Sanchez based on projections, but it’s just as fair to point out Fulmer only made 26 starts, which is about 20 percent short of a full workload.
The six or seven missed starts helped prevent the Tigers from making the playoffs, just as the four months Sanchez spent in the minors kept the Yankees out. The Tigers were wise to do that — Fulmer’s 159 innings pitched were 34.1 more than his minor-league high — but given how he closed the season (a 5.54 ERA, 46 hits and six homers in 39 innings), you can wonder whether those extra starts wouldn’t have hurt his case rather than helped it.
(In the Yankees’ defense, it was hard to foresee how successful Sanchez would be. He hit twice as many homers in the majors as he did in AAA in 73 fewer at-bats and had an OPS 225 points less. The 20 homers in two months were more than he hit in any of his seven minor-league seasons).
Fulmer’s three-quarters of a season might have been more valuable than Sanchez’s third, and it won’t be unreasonable if he’s the Rookie of the Year, but it wasn’t better. Fulmer was 23rd in MLB in OPS and 14th in ERA, though Fulmer didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify for the latter. Sanchez was tied for 98th in homers, but first in homers per at-bats for players with at least 200 of the latter (one every 10.1), slugging percentage and OPS.
It’s a small sample size, but a home run of a sample.
There’s also precedent for Sanchez. In 1959 Willie McCovey played 52 games for the Giants and was a unanimous Rookie of the Year after hitting .354, homering 13 times and slugging .656. At a time of one vote, one rookie, no one else earned a mention.
Here’s a tentative vote for Sanchez.
- NL: The National League presents a similar scenario. Is a half season of Nationals centerfielder-second baseman Trea Turner (.342 average, 33 steals, 13 homers, .567 slugging percentage, .937 OPS, 3.5 WAR) better than a full season of Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager (.308, 26 homers, .512 slugging percentage, .877 OPS, 6.1 WAR). It’s not, but Turner made it closer than anyone might have thought possible when he was called up for good in early July. Seager will win, and he should, but Turner will be just as solidly second ahead of Seager’s teammate, pitcher Kenta Maeda, who, like Naquin, is here only to have a quorum. GM A.J. Preller hopes Turner doesn’t win, because it will remind everyone that he’s done for the Padres what Dave Stewart did to the Diamondbacks. Preller went through the Padres roster his first winter like Paul O’Neill putting a bat to the bat rack after being called out on strikes. Part of that was sending Turner and pitcher Joe Ross to the Nationals in a three-way deal that sent outfielder Wil Myers to San Diego. Myers hit 28 homers this year but it would take a lot more than that to pry him from the Nationals now. There are a lot of Padres fans who are only sorry Preller’s recent 30-game suspension couldn’t have been applied retroactively to the winter of 2014-15.