Gary Sanchez for AL Rookie of the Year

I don't need to tell anyone here about how good Gary Sanchez has been since he was called up in August. Sanchez is currently in the middle of the best start to a major league career ever. He's hitting .333/.411/.738 in his first 44 games. He currently leads all MLB players in history in WAR/game (Mike Trout is #2)

Sanchez is receiving serious consideration for the AL Rookie of the Year. I think he is a clear choice. There are three arguments against voting for him as far as I can tell. Below, I will give the best version of each of those three arguments, and argue that they are all dead wrong.

Argument #1: Gary Sanchez hasn't played enough games

Sanchez has played just 44 game so far, and will end the season around 60 games. If he wins, Sanchez would win ROY with the fewest games played ever. Many will argue that 44 games is not enough to give Sanchez the award versus a player who played closer to a full season of games.

This argument would only be valid if we had to project Sanchez's remaining games in order to justify placing him over a comparable rookie. That argument might go like this, "John Smith had a 6 fWAR season in 162 games. Gary Sanchez had 3.3 fWAR in 44 games, on pace for 12 fWAR. Therefore, Gary Sanchez is a better player, because he would have surpassed John Smith with only 36 more games, therefore Sanchez is the Rookie of the Year over John Smith."

I actually think this argument is defensible, but that is not the argument you have to make to vote for Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is leading all AL rookies in WAR. The two closest players, Carson Fulmer (2.5 fWAR. 24 starts, 148 innings) and Tyler Naquin (2.2 fWAR, 108 games) are the next closest two. Sanchez could play his remaining games below replacement level and still have a more valuable season. 

There is no reason that playing games alone should make a player the Rookie of the Year. The Yankees chose to keep Gary Sanchez in the minors for the first 2/3 of the season. Had they called him up in May instead, and Sanchez played poorly until a crazy hot streak in August, he would still be a more valuable player.

Argument #2: Michael Fulmer has been really good! 

No, he hasn't. Michael Fulmer has started 24 games and pitched 148 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.03, FIP of 3.88, and xFIP of 4.00. He has struck out only 7.26 per nine, which is 11th worst among qualified AL pitchers. He's sitting at 2.5 fWAR/4.7 bWAR/3.1 WARP. 

But wait, 4.7 bWAR is more than Sanchez's 3.3 fWAR/3.2 bWAR/3.1 WARP! bWAR is calculated using ERA and innings pitched, while fWAR and WARP are calculated using fielding-independent numbers. The discrepancy is pointing to a pretty clear conclusion: Fulmer is getting lucky. He's been an above average pitcher who hasn't had that many balls fall in.

If Fulmer were succeeding by allowing a lot of weak contact or infield flies, the low ERA relative to FIP might be defensible. His 11.2% Infield Fly rate is fifth among rookies and 16th among AL starters, and his RS/9 (total runs scored including unearned runs) is all the way up at 5.45 RS/9, ninth among qualified rookies, and 40th among all AL starters. The guy allows a ton of runs, because he allows a ton of normal contact. Better pitchers strike hitters out, or allow weak contact that fielders can easily turn into outs. There is no evidence that his only above-average FIP and xFIP are the result of Fulmer's skill as a pitcher. The guy is an above-average pitcher getting lucky.

Good rookie? Sure. But there is nothing special about Fulmer's rookie season that requires voters to vote for him as the game's best rookie.

Argument #3: 60 game ROYs are unprecedented

Every time someone breaks a barrier, that action was unprecedented. It is fallacious to argue that any unprecedented decision is invalid. Gary Sanchez is having the best start to a career ever, so logically if someone is going to break this barrier, it makes sense for Sanchez to do it. However, just how unprecedented would it be? Let's look at the ROYs with the lowest number of games played

(all WARs in bWAR for convenience)

  • 1978: Bob Horner, 89 games, 2.1 bWAR, 42 g/WAR
  • 2005: Ryan Howard, 88 games, 3.1 bWAR, 28 g/WAR
  • 2013: Wil Myers, 88 games, 1.9 bWAR, 46 g/WAR
  • 2016: Gary Sanchez, 44 games, 3.2 bWAR, 14 g/WAR

And I'll add one more for fun:

  • 2007: Geovany Soto, 141 games, 3.3 bWAR, 43 g/WAR

Sanchez's season isn't over, but he's already heads and shoulders in front of the other guys, and has games left to play. He's hitting much better than Ryan Howard's .288/.356/.567 debut, while playing a good defensive catcher. In fact, he's equalled Geovany Soto's full season of value. 

Sanchez's amazing start to a baseball career is unprecedented. He won't finish with as many games as the other winners, but he's not that far off, and has played far better than the other short-season ROY-winners. We don't have to lower any ROY standards to say he is the best rookie of 2016.