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

Hello all. I come to you from the past. The recent past, that is. I’m writing this on Oct. 5. For you, it is Nov. 14, the day that 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 champion is and I don’t. I’m so jealous.

Speaking of jealousy, I was always jealous of awards and Hall of Fame voters growing up. I try to never 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 is the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. And as a voter for the NL Rookie of the Year honors, I’ll be damned if I’m going to vote on something with Jackie Robinson’s name on it and not do my homework.

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

MichaelHarris

The 21-year-old spent 2021 in High-A after being a third-round pick out of high school in 2019. He started this season in Double-A. The Braves promoted him to the majors — skipping Triple-A — as they dealt with some early-season outfield woes. Among them were Ronald Acuña Jr. still recovering from his torn ACL last season and a need to shore up the defense.

Harris more than fit the bill. He played exceptional defense in center field. He rated out well in every advanced metric, sitting 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 bit of a bonus, his bat didn’t really need much time to come around, either. In 114 games (441 plate appearances), Harris hit .297/.339/.514 when the league average slash line is .243/.311/.395. He posted 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 chances. He posted 5.2 WAR on Baseball-Reference and 4.8 on Fangraphs. If you extrapolated his WAR out to a full season of work, he’d be at roughly 7.4. For those less familiar, a general guideline on WAR is that 2-plus is a regular starter, 5-plus is All-Star level and 8-plus is MVP level.

Simply, this was a rock-star all-around performance from a player who didn’t have a ton of experience after high school and probably wasn’t even expected to stick at the big-league level initially upon his call up.

Spencer Strider

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

In all, Strider was 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA (154 ERA+) and 1.00 WHIP (technically 0.995), which are sparkling numbers given the league averages of a 3.96 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Oh, and he struck out 202 batters in just 131 2/3 innings. He didn’t qualify for the ERA title, but if he did, he’d have led in strikeout rate (K/9) by nearly two full punchouts.

If we looked 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, which trailed only six pitchers (Rodon, Ohtani, Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Robbie Ray) and he only made 20 starts.

Man, Strider was so good. but

yeah but.

It’s still “only” 131 2/3 innings of direct impact. I do think starting pitchers are discounted against position-players sometimes too harshly, because a starter with a big workload and excellent run prevention also indirectly helps the bullpen, other starting pitchers (by keeping the bullpen more fresh and allowing the manager to protect the starter by being more aggressive with the bullpen) and even the defense (letting them stay more fresh by striking out more hitters).

I just think in this case Harris was so good that Strider would have had to be this good over a larger number of innings. Maybe if he reached the 155 range it would swing this thing in his direction. Maybe less. All I know is what we actually saw, and I have Harris with more value.

My vote:

1. Harris
2. Striders

I still have a third-place spot and will be taking it equally seriously. I’ll even highlight a good number of extra players who didn’t get serious consideration.

Third place

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

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

Seiya Suzuki, Cubs – Remember his scorching start? Through 18 games, he was hitting .333/.458/.632 with five doubles, four homers, 14 RBI and 13 runs. He fell into a slump and dealt with injury woes, but finished strong. It was a good rookie year in the States, even if not great as a whole.

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

Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene and Alexis Diaz, Reds – The Reds might have a pair of future aces and elite-level closer right here. They’ve all flashed major upside. Unfortunately in this vote, the field is too crowded. If I had five spots, the fight for numbers four and five would be furious between McCarthy, Suzuki, Cruz and these three.

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

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

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

Joey Meneses, Nationals – The 30-year-old career minor-league hit .329/.369/.571 (168 OPS+!), alas, 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 didn’t play enough to get the production needed. I still felt like he deserved a shout out here, though. What a fun story that was buried in the abyss of the 2022 Nationals season.

My vote

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

It was actually pretty easy to slot all three exactly in these spots. Twenty-one of the other 29 voters agreed with my top choice. Still, I wanted to work through it, publicly, because I view it as my responsibility as a voter.

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