It will be interesting to see how the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BWAA) awards the American League Rookie of the Year (ROY) title this season. One player that has entered the picture is Gary Sanchez, the hot-hitting catcher for the New York Yankees. Sanchez entered Tuesday with an OPS of 1.108, good enough to contend not just for the ROY award but for the MVP award. However, the catch is that Sanchez has very limited playing time this season and that has pushed a familiar debate back into sports talk.
After all we don’t have to look all that far back to find a case where outstanding rookie averages were ignored due to a low sample size. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers missed about 45% of last season in the NHL with a collarbone injury. Despite having the best offensive averages among rookies and despite actually being third in the league with those same averages, McDavid didn’t win the Calder Memorial Trophy.
The argument against him was clear: “45 games do not equal a full season” (Gina Duffy, TheOdysseyOnline).
McDavid, according to many, did not prove that he could keep his stellar play up over the long grind of the NHL season. Therefore, someone that did prove that, Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks, got the award instead.
How much of a season one has to play to get an award like the Calder Memorial Trophy is debatable and, because it’s not something that can be logically deduced, there will be variance. There is plenty of room for subjectivity, and I don’t take serious issue with Duffy’s opinion. But for me, playing at least 50% should be required with anything lower than 66% hurting your chances and requiring big-time numbers for redemption.
The McDavid issue is a dead horse now except for comparisons. It’s interesting that Sanchez, who was only called up in early August, is being pushed as an AL ROY candidate when, at a maximum, he can only play about one-third of the season. For instance, Bryan Hoch, writing at MLB.com, headlined on Tuesday: “Sanchez meriting serious AL ROY consideration.” Hoch sub-headlined: “First-year catcher’s meteoric start transcending small sample size” (September 13th).
“In the remarkable six weeks or so that propelled the Yankees back into the postseason chase, perhaps Sanchez’s greatest accomplishment is this Baby Bomber deserves a place in the discussion. Despite not playing regularly until August, Sanchez’s numbers rank alongside the AL’s best newcomers.”
Of course, the elephant in the room is that Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers has played all season. The pitcher has compiled a 10-6 record with a league-leading 2.76 ERA.
His numbers and Sanchez’s numbers aren’t finalized since there are a few weeks left in the season for them to improve or decline. However, I’ll just assume for the sake of debate that they won’t change significantly.
If you apply the Connor McDavid precedent, then you could simply state that “getting called up in August doesn’t equal close enough to a full season.” Likewise, you can go in reverse and say that McDavid should have won the Calder because the “First-year forward’s meteoric start transcended small sample size.”
However, ultimately I think that Sanchez will not win the AL ROY unless the BWAA are really struck by pinstripes. In the meantime, I expect everyone who opposed McDavid winning the Calder is likewise to oppose Sanchez winning the AL ROY, if they comment on the latter matter at all.
When it comes to the opposite position, I do actually think you can oppose Sanchez while lamenting McDavid missing out without contradiction. After all, a potential third of a season for Sanchez isn’t the 55% of the season that McDavid had. Furthermore, Fulmer’s accomplishments with the Tigers are a matter that can be evaluated on their own.
Lurking behind all this is a bit of a political issue that has to do with sports writing as a whole. It’s strange that Sanchez is generally being pushed as a candidate for the ROY despite a “small sample size” while McDavid was drawn back for that exact reason. My conclusion: it’s easier to pick a fight with the Edmonton Oilers’ fanbase than it is to pick a fight with the one that belongs to the New York Yankees.