The MLB awards season is upon us, folks. Last week, I put out the case for Norichika Aoki as a potential dark horse candidate for the NL ROY award over the trio of front-runners: Bryce Harper, Wade Miley, and Todd Frazier. I thought there was a pretty good case to be made for the Milwaukee Brewers ex-NPB vet, but what if leadoff abilities like AVG, OBP, and baserunning aren’t your average voters’ cup of tea?
Well, how about just plain ol’ home run power then?
Allow me to present Wilin Rosario, rookie catcher for the Colorado Rockies.
Between the injuries to star players like Troy Tulowitzki, and unconventional experiments to the starting rotation conceived by former manager Jim Tracy, life in the Rockies’ organization wasn’t exactly what you’d call fun in 2012. That said,the team can at least look to its new backstop as a beacon of hope in the future.
The reason? That Rosario showed more power than any of his peers. The 23-year old was a September call-up in 2012, and his three homers in 57 PA was only a taste of things to come. This season, the baseball world finally got to witness the extent of the backstop’s power: Rosario not only led the Rockies in home runs this past season with 28, but he also led the entire NL rookie class, and the rest of the catchers in the league in it as well. Impressively, he accomplished that feat in less plate appearances than both Harper and Frazier, and – if you happen to like counting numbers – drove in more runs than both players.
On top of that, the .270 batting average that Rosario put up is in line with both Harper (.270) and Frazier’s (.273). He only struck out at a marginally higher rate than the Frazier as well (23.2% vs. 22.2%), making his only real weakness – a sub-par OBP (.312) – something much more forgivable. Rosario tops the NL rookie leaderboards in ISO (.260), slugging (.530), ranks third in wOBA (.356) and second in OPS (.843) behind fellow rookie backstop Yasmani Grandal (who would be a great ROY candidate if only he had more playing time).
More importantly, Rosario is better in every one of those offensive statistical categories than both Frazier and Harper. So what holds him back?
As with the case of Aoki, it’ll be the (lack of) defense that keeps the Rockies’ backstop from being considered for the top spot among his peers. Rosario’s skills on defense is quite poor – so much so that the team was taking playing time away from him despite his excellent offensive production. The rookie committed 13 errors in 2012, by far and away the most among all catchers in the bigs in 2012; his 21 passed balls on the season not only led all backstops in the MLB, but also established a new, dubious franchise record in Colorado.
Was he a better offensive tool than the other NL ROY candidates? There’s a good case for it. On the glove side of things, however, it’s not even close. Ultimately, Rosario’s 1.8 WAR suggests that the bat came out on top in terms of providing value for the Rockies, and it’s for his superior offense that I think he ought to be considered as a dark horse candidate for the NL ROY. It’s rare for any catcher in the league to hit for that much power; that Rosario led all of his peers in homers in his rookie season should not be overlooked.