Luis Robert’s already got a Gold Glove in his trophy case. Is the American League Rookie of the Year Award next?
Robert was announced as one of three finalists for the award last week, meaning he finished in the top three in the vote. The Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce the winner 5 p.m. CT on Monday night.
There’s no doubt that Robert did what many expected him to when his rookie season began: He exhilarated White Sox fans and showed off his jam-packed toolbox, displaying his eye-popping athletic abilities at the plate, on the base paths and in the field.
Despite a prolonged slump over the final month of the shortened 60-game season, he lived up to the hype, showing off a skill set that could one day make him one of Major League Baseball’s superstars. It was a positive sign from a guy who is one of the team’s main building blocks for the better part of the next decade.
But the voting surely focused more on the results than the process.
Robert is up against Seattle Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis and Houston Astros pitcher Cristian Javier, who both had fine seasons in their own right. Javier put up a 3.48 ERA in 12 games, including 10 starts, for an Astros team that made it all the way to the ALCS. Lewis had a season very similar to Robert’s, but with sizable advantages on the White Sox rookie in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.
Lewis is perhaps seen as the favorite, but a comparison of the numbers shows there’s certainly an argument to be made that Robert deserves the award.
While Lewis held edges in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, Robert finished the season with the same amount of home runs, more extra-base hits, more RBIs and more stolen bases. The two had nearly the same amount of total bases.
Robert, too, let’s remember, was picked as the best defensive center fielder in the American League. And though that award was handed out well after voting concluded, his defensive ability might end up making a big difference. According to Fangraphs, Robert was among the best defensive center fielders in the game. Lewis, also a center fielder, was among the worst, per the website’s metric.
— Robert: .233/.302/.436, 11 home runs, 31 RBIs, eight doubles, nine stolen bases, 20 walks, 73 strikeouts, 88 total bases, 1.5 fWAR, 3.4 defensive WAR (via Fangraphs)
— Lewis: .262/.364/.437, 11 home runs, 28 RBIs, three doubles, five stolen bases, 34 walks, 71 strikeouts, 90 total bases, 1.7 fWAR, minus-0.9 defensive WAR (via Fangraphs)
Robert’s woeful September was a big story on the South Side, but in the Emerald City, the same thing happened to Lewis. Robert went 11-for-81 in the season’s final month. Lewis was 11-for-75 in September.
While the discussion point of how well the player’s team did rarely applies to Rookie of the Year honors the way it applies to the MVP Award, Robert indeed played a role in the 2020 White Sox making the franchise’s first playoff appearance in a dozen years. Lewis’ Mariners missed the playoffs, though of course that’s not his fault.
Voting ended before the White Sox three-game stay in the postseason, but Robert left everyone with a reminder of what he did and what he’s capable of moving forward when he launched a 487-foot home run in Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series, a nice exclamation point on a rookie year that had its share of highlight-reel moments, including a jaw-dropping diving catch in Kansas City and a walk-off home run to beat those same Royals on the South Side.
This isn’t an exercise in attempting to predict the award, though preseason hype could be on Robert’s side. As one of the highest ranked prospects in baseball, he was pegged as the favorite for the award as early as the end of the 2019 campaign after he lit the minor leagues on fire last year. Lewis, meanwhile, wasn’t even among MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects. It’s not really part of the argument over who deserves the award but could still play a factor in the voting outcome.
If Robert wins Monday, he’ll be the seventh White Sox rookie to take home the award and the first since his teammate, José Abreu, won it in 2014.