Yes, there are a few days left in the regular season. Sure, there are some playoff spots to work out. But we’ll leave those pressing matters for later in the week and begin today with our in-season postseason awards.
Thursday, the MVPs. Wednesday, the Cy Young awards. And today, the rookies of the year.
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop
It would be so cool to be able to pick Trea Turner, the Washington Nationals shortstop-of-the-future-but-center fielder-of-the-present, on less than half a season’s work. And in so many years, he’d have a compelling case. In just 66 games through Sunday, Turner has generated 3.1 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs, which would put him among the league leaders if he had played a full season. His straight-up slash line is incredible: a .336 average, .356 on-base percentage and a .558 slugging percentage that is right in line with the Cubs’ Kris Bryant (.559) and is better than Anthony Rizzo or Yoenis Cespedes. Heady stuff.
But Seager’s case for this award is unassailable, and not just because he happened to be in the majors from opening day. Seager is not just the best rookie of this year, but he’s both a legitimate candidate for the MVP award and, by some measures, is producing one of the best seasons for a rookie ever.
His straight-up raw stats provide enough of a resume: .313 average, 26 homers, 72 RBI and 103 runs scored. Throw in a .523 slugging percentage and .894 on-base-plus-slugging while splitting time between being the Dodgers’ second- and third-place hitter, and he’s not just racking up stats to outpace Turner, who has played 85 fewer games.
Seager’s MVP case is clear, too: He carries a WAR of 7.6 into the season’s final week, a number that ranks behind only Bryant (8.3) in the N.L. But fans of WAR as a way to evaluate players’ overall contribution – and Seager certainly benefits from playing a prime defensive position, and playing it well – will enjoy the historic scope of Seager’s rookie campaign. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels set the standard in 2012 with a 10.3 WAR (again, according to FanGraphs). To find another rookie season that tops Seager’s in WAR, you have to go back to Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies – in 1964.
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers right-hander
This is a much more muddled picture than the National League’s, and honestly, it’d be great to pick Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. He did, after all, make history by reaching 19 homers more quickly than anyone ever. He is, after all, hitting .322 and slugging .709 with a 1.103 OPS through Sunday, extraordinary numbers for a player making his major league debut, even if they come in just 47 games and 204 plate appearances. Sanchez should also get some credit for helping reshape the attitude of an entire fan base, which – in a season in which the Yankees almost certainly won’t make the playoffs – heads into the winter with more optimism than at any time in the last five years.
But handing Sanchez the award based on these two incredible months would be a disservice to Fulmer, who stabilized Detroit’s rotation when Justin Verlander was struggling, when Anibal Sanchez was banished to the bullpen, when Jordan Zimmermann got hurt and was terrible.
On July 17, Fulmer beat the Kansas City Royals with eight innings of two-run ball, raising his record to 9-2 and dropping his ERA to 2.13. The Tigers had won 12 of his 14 starts – essential in keeping them in the A.L. Central race, given their record as a team at the time was just 48-44.
Fulmer’s second half hasn’t been as dominant. Yet even as Verlander has found his old self and reclaimed his place as Detroit’s ace, Fulmer is 11-7 with a 2.95 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .226 batting average while allowing just 1.086 walks and hits per inning pitched over his 155-2/3 frames.
The entirety of that contribution to a team that enters the final week of the season still contending for a playoff berth outweighs not only Sanchez’s explosion, but the full season of Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin (slugging .528, but sitting against most lefties) and others.