Why Braves’ Michael Harris II deserved NL Rookie of the Year honors over teammate Spencer Strider

Date:

Hello all. I come to you from the past. The recent past, that is. I am writing this on October 5. For you, it’s November 14, the day the results of the MLB Rookie of the Year voting are revealed. Hopefully you just witnessed a wild and memorable October and November with the 2022 MLB Playoffs. You know who the champ is and I don’t. I am so jealous.

Speaking of jealousy, I was always jealous of awards and Hall of Fame voters growing up. I never try to shake that feeling because now that I have the privilege, I take it incredibly seriously. The players deserve it, the fans deserve it and, frankly, with this award, the name demands it.

It’s the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. And as a voter for the NL Rookie of the Year award, I’ll be damned if I go vote for something with Jackie Robinson’s name on it and don’t do my homework.

Below is an explanation of my ballot, with two Braves at the top in Michael Harris II (who won the award on Monday night) and Spencer Stepper.

Michael Harris

The 21-year-old spent 2021 in High-A after being a third round of high school in 2019. He started this season in Double-A. The Braves promoted him to the majors—skipping Triple-A in the process—because they were dealing with some outfield issues early in the season. Among them were Ronald Acuña Jr. who was still recovering from his torn ACL last season and had to strengthen the defense.

Harris more than fit the bill. He played an exceptional defense in midfield. He scored well in every advanced measure and was at the 93rd percentile in outs above average and 86th percentile in outfielder jump. He had nine defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive WAR.

As a bonus, his bat didn’t really take much time to get around either. In 114 games (441 at bats), Harris hit .297/.339/.514 while the league average slash is .243/.311/.395. He put down a 134 OPS+ and 136 wRC+.

Even in just over 2/3 of a full season, Harris had 27 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 64 RBI, 75 runs and 20 steals in 22 opportunities. He posted 5.2 WAR on Baseball-Reference and 4.8 on Fangraphs. If you extrapolated his WAR to a full season of work, he would be about 7.4. For those less familiar, a general guideline on WAR is that 2-plus is a regular starter, 5-plus is the All-Star level, and 8-plus is the MVP level.

Simply put, this was an all-around rock star performance from a player who didn’t have much experience beyond high school and probably wasn’t even expected to initially stay at major league level upon his call-up.

Spencer Stepper

Strider had a rock star performance in his own right. He started the season as a long reliever and was moved to the rotation on May 30. He coughed up five runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings that day. There would be a few other bad trips the rest of the way, but those were outliers.

Overall, Strider was 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA (154 ERA+) and 1.00 WHIP (technically 0.995), which are sparkling numbers considering league averages of a 3.96 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Oh, and he struckout 202 batters in just 131 2/3 innings. He failed to qualify for the ERA title, but if he did, he would have led in strikeout rate (K/9) with nearly two complete punchouts.

When looking at pitchers with at least 100 innings, Strider’s 38.3 K% dwarfs the rest of the majors (Carlos Rodon is second at 33.4 with Cristian Javier at 33.2 and Shohei Ohtani at 33.1) . He reached double digits in strikeouts six times, trailing only six pitchers (Rodon, Ohtani, Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Robbie Ray) and made only 20 starts.

Man, Strider was so good. But.

Yes, but.

It’s still “only” 131 2/3 innings of direct impact. I do think that starting pitchers are sometimes judged too harshly against position players, because a starter with a lot of workload and excellent run prevention also indirectly helps the bullpen, other starting pitchers (by keeping the bullpen fresher and letting the manager protect the starter by being more aggressive with the bullpen) and even the defense (keeping them fresher by getting more batters out).

I just think Harris was so good in this case that Strider should have been so good for a greater number of innings. If he reached the 155 range, maybe the thing would swing in his direction. Maybe less. I only know what we actually saw, and I have Harris with more value.

My voice:

1. Harris
2. Stepper

I still have a third place spot and will take it seriously for a while. I’ll even highlight quite a few additional players who haven’t been given serious consideration.

Third place

Brendan Donovan, Cardinals – Donovan was an invaluable asset to the Cardinals, starting games as first, second, third, shortstop, left field, right field, and designated hitter. He batted for average and reached at a high clip. He posted 4.1 WAR in 125 games. I’ll see if anyone convinces me they had a better case as I go through the rest of the names.

Jake McCarthy, Diamondbacks – Sometimes less than 100 games with great production is enough to get it done with this award, but not this year. Still, McCarthy deserves mention. He hit .287 with 16 doubles, three triples, eight homers, and 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts.

Seiya Suzuki, Cubs Do you remember his scorching start? In 18 games, he hit .333/.458/.632 with five doubles, four homers, 14 RBI and 13 runs. He fell into a slump and struggled with injuries, but finished strong. It was a good rookie year in the United States, even if it wasn’t big As a whole.

Oneil Cruz, Pirates – He is like a unicorn and a beast combined. It’s amazing to see Cruz’s physical abilities as he probably hits the hardest ball and unleashes the hardest pitch – yes, including pitchers – in any given game. He’s also still a bit of a work in progress and isn’t quite at the award-winning level yet. “Yet” is the operative word.

Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene and Alexis Diaz, Reds – The Reds may have a few future aces and elite level closer here. They’ve all made big upward flashes. Unfortunately, the field is too crowded for this vote. If I had five spots, the battle for numbers four and five would be raging between McCarthy, Suzuki, Cruz and these three.

Christopher Morel, Cubs – Exciting rookie year with flashes of some pretty strong power-speed combo upside.

Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman; Cardinals – Yepez gave them a power influx early in the season, finishing with 12 homers in 75 games. Gorman hit 14 home runs in 89 games. Both were modestly good, but they line up behind their teammate.

Jack Suwinski, Pirates – He had a three-homer game and hit 19 in 105 games.

Joey Meneses, Nationals – The 30-year career minor-leaguer batted .329/.369/.571 (168 OPS+!), unfortunately it was only in 55 games. He still had 14 doubles, 13 homers, 34 RBI and 33 runs. He was huge on a rate basis, he just wasn’t playing enough to get the production that was needed. However, I still felt like he deserved a shout out here. What a fun story that was buried in the abyss of the 2022 Nationals season.

My voice

1. Michael Harris, Braves
2. Spencer Strider, Braves
3. Brendan Donovan, Cardinals

It was actually quite easy to place all three of them exactly in these spots. Twenty-one of the other 29 voters agreed with my first choice. Still, I wanted to go through it publicly, because I see it as my responsibility as a voter.


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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