It’s one thing to win an award — getting the most support from writers all across North America is no easy feat. But it’s another thing entirely for all 30 voters (two for each American League city) to agree that, of all the rookies in the junior circuit, the same one was inarguably the best.
Other pieces today have, and will, discuss the highlights that defined Kyle Lewis’ season. From his Opening Day bomb off Justin Verlander to his grand slam robbery against the A’s, Lewis had plenty of star turns in 2020. And others will review what we should expect from him in 2021 and beyond. But I want to celebrate this achievement and zero in on the Mercer University product’s impressive company: the list of unanimous Rookie of the Year winners.
In the 74 years of Rookie of the Year voting, and among the 148 winners of the award, just 25 have been unanimous winners. Neither of the two Rookies of the Year who also won MVP (Fred Lynn and our very own Ichiro) were unanimous winners, thanks to two rogue electors picking Rollie Fingers in 1975 and a single, solitary writer selecting CC Sabathia in 2001. But the full list is an impressive group:
Unanimous Rookies of the Year
|Sandy Alomar Jr.||1990||2.4||.290/.326/.418||13.7|
|Craig Kimbrel||2011||2.5||2.10 ERA, 46 SV||19.4|
This is a pretty dang impressive group. Ignoring Alvarez and Lewis, the minimum career WAR of these winners is 12.5, and the median career WAR is 44.3. In other words, that’s a fringe Hall of Famer, or a career above-average starter. (For reference, Kyle Seager’s career WAR is 33.2; Troy Tulowitzki’s career WAR is 44.5). As opposed to the list of regular ol’ Rookie of the Year winners (does Angel Berroa, he of the 1.0 career WAR, ring a bell?), there are no total duds here.
It’s also interesting that, in the last few years, there have been many more unanimous winners, with nine in the last decade after 16 in the first 64 years of voting. Perhaps that’s connected to the rise of advanced statistics, or perhaps that’s due to some simply sublime rookies of late (Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Aaron Judge were all slam dunks based on WAR).
Now, obviously this doesn’t mean that Kyle Lewis is guaranteed to have the career of Mr. Trout, or even Nomar Garciaparra. There’s no real statistical significance of this designation, and Lewis’ popularity amongst baseball writers in 2020 doesn’t help him lay off a curve in the dirt. It does show, however, that Kyle had a great season in this bizarre year, and it serves to confirm what we already know to be true: This guy could be special.