The Rookies of the Year will be no surprise, and a look back at 1997


The Rookies of the Year will be announced later Monday, and no one should be surprised when the winners are revealed. As elections go, this is Kim Jong-un against the field; this is polls close at 7 and projections at 10 seconds after seven.

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger will be the Rookies of the Year, and probably unanimously so, as sure as Ben McAdoo won’t be coaching the football Giants next year. The 91 home runs they hit overwhelmed the opposition.

Watching the awards show Monday and expecting any other outcome is like watching an old Fugitives episode and expecting Dr. Kimball to be captured.

You can argue that the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi might yet have a better career than Judge — he’s two years younger, can play center field, a better base stealer and better controls the strike zone (70 walks to 112 strikeouts vs. Judge’s 112-208). But there’s no arguing with 2017: Judge’s 1.028 OPS was 252 points higher than Benintendi’s .776, and until the latter’s power spikes and the former’s ebbs, it’s no contest.

And projections aren’t a criteria. If they were Joey Votto would have received more than one vote in 2008 when Geovany Soto got 31, even though Votto had an OPS six points higher (.874-.868) and they had identical 3.3 WARs. (Votto, still a Red, is an MVP finalist; Soto, a free agent, will be on his sixth team when he signs a new contract, unless it’s with one of the five he’s already played for.)

Judge will be the Yankees’ ninth Rookie of the Year, and first since Derek Jeter in 1996. The 52 home runs Judge hit this year are just five fewer than the 1957 winner, Tony Kubek, hit in his nine-year career.

To the Dodgers, the award is what World Series titles are to the Yankees. Bellinger will be the 17th Dodgers so honored, and second in a row. But back-to-back Rookies of the Year is nothing compared to the five in a row the Dodgers won from 1992-96 (Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo and Todd Hollandsowrth). If future team success was predicated on Rookie of the Year awards, the Dodgers wouldn’t be 29 years without a World Series title. And counting.

(The Dodgers also won four in a row from 1979-82 — Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax — which did lead to their ’81 title, and back-to-back in 1952-53 with Joe Black and Junior Gilliam. The latter started on the ’55 Brooklyn champs.)

Bellinger — who might lose a vote to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, though he shouldn’t — would be the third straight unanimous NL winner, following Kris Bryant (2015) and Corey Seager (2016).

If unanimous, it will be the first time both leagues so voted since 1997, when the Red Sox’s Nomar Garciaparra and the Phillies’ Scott Rolen won all 28 votes. They deserved them.

What’s remarkable about the 1997 vote, 20 years hence, is that Pirates outfielder Jose Guillen finished seventh in the NL, five votes behind Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and 136 behind Rolen. The Guillen being seventh part seems right with his modest production — a .267 average, 14 homers and a .712 OPS. But somehow Guillen accumulated a -3.3 WAR. That’s not a typo, but minus 3.3.

Guillen didn’t walk much (17) and hit into 16 double plays, but even that doesn’t come close to explaining such a low WAR. Sure enough, his defensive WAR was -3.5, which is somewhat lower than the standard set by the Pirates’ Roberto Clemente, whose 12 straight Gold Gloves say he’s the greatest defensive right fielder of them all.

Manny Ramirez, who might have been better served taking bathroom breaks while the ball was in play, never had a defensive value worse than -2.2. Jose Canseco, who had a ball deflect off his head and go over the wall, never had a defensive value worse than -1.5.

Yet Guillen was at -3.5: what, besides his nine errors, could he have done to be that bad? That’s a whole lot of overthrowing cutoff men and misplaying flyballs.

The good news is that Guillen improved, according to defensive WAR. His next-worst season was -2.3, and in three of his 14 seasons, he was a positive defender, if barely.

I’m pretty sure I drafted Guillen in our playback league that year, and maybe as high as the first round.

I hope it wasn’t for his defense.

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