Gary Sanchez’s rookie year was great, but Michael Fulmer’s season was, well, fuller.
The Yankees catcher finished second to the Tigers pitcher in American League Rookie of the Year voting, receiving four of the 30 first-place votes, 23 second-place votes and two third-place votes for a total of 91 points. Fulmer, who earned 26 first-place votes and four second-place votes, finished with 142 points to win the award. Sanchez was named on 29 of the 30 ballots.
Sanchez hit .299 with 20 home runs, 42 RBI and a 1.032 OPS in 53 games, helping the Yankees back into contention following their trades of Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at the trade deadline and the eventual release of Alex Rodriguez.
“The Yankees had no business being in the postseason push and he helped them get back into the race,” said MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli, who voted Fulmer first and Sanchez second after a lot of deliberation. “If you come up as rookie with the spotlight shining on you and you continue to perform, that’s impressive.”
The biggest — only? — knock on Sanchez was that he played just two months in the majors, while Fulmer joined the Tigers’ rotation on April 29, pitching five full months.
“If Fulmer didn’t have the year he did, I might have voted for Sanchez,” said Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, who had Fulmer-Sanchez atop his ballot. “What Sanchez did was remarkable, but he just didn’t make an impact for a long enough period of the season.”
Although comparing statistics for hitters and pitchers can be tricky, the wins above replacement (WAR) numbers helped at least one voter make his pick. Sanchez’s WAR (wins above replacement) was 3.0, while Fulmer’s was 4.9.
“WAR ended up being in Fulmer’s favor,” said Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald, who voted Fulmer first. “Then add in that he was there all season, I didn’t see anything statistically that told me Sanchez was better than Fulmer, so I went with the guy that had been there all year.”
Sanchez was barely a thought in anybody’s mind for the first two-thirds of the season thanks to an underwhelming spring — he hit .091 (2-for-22) with zero RBI in 14 exhibition games — which cost him a chance to open the year as Brian McCann’s backup.
He went on to hit .282 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI in 71 games at Triple-A before being called up at the beginning of August to kick off the Yankees’ late-season youth movement.
Fulmer finished the season 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 26 starts, throwing 159 innings. The 23-year-old former Mets prospect — he was traded to the Tigers in the 2015 deal for Yoenis Cespedes — opened the season with a 6.52 ERA in his first four starts, but a stellar 10-start stretch from May 21-July 17 saw him go 7-1 with a 0.83 ERA, establishing him as a top candidate for the award.
The righthander stumbled a bit over his final 12 starts, going 2-5 with a 4.12 ERA. One could argue he was average at best during the 16 starts surrounding his incredible run, but his numbers during those 10 starts — about one-third of a starting pitcher’s season, the same percentage of games Sanchez played — vaulted him to top rookie honors.
Like Fulmer, Sanchez’s season finished on a down note, as he hit .114 with one home run, four RBI and a .448 OPS in 41 plate appearances over the final 10 games.
“I didn’t hold it against Sanchez that he was only up for that amount of time; I was looking at the overall contribution,” Drellich said. “He did taper off at the end of the year; his last 40 at-bats were pretty bad, it as just a question to me of who gave the better overall contribution. I felt that was Fulmer.”
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Sanchez is the 172nd rookie to hit 20 or more home runs, though none did so in as few plate appearances (229) or games played (53) as the 23-year-old.
Three rookies have won the award in recent years with fewer than 100 games played, including Carlos Correa (99), Wil Myers (88) and Ryan Howard (88), though they all played at least a half-season.
The only player to win with a season similar to Sanchez’s was Willie McCovey, who won National League rookie honors in 1959 despite playing only 52 games. McCovey hit 13 home runs with 38 RBI, a .354 average and 1.085 OPS in his abbreviated rookie campaign, receiving all 24 votes. (Voters didn’t begin listing more than one name on their ballots until 1980.)
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Sanchez longer,” Ghiroli said. “It was an easy 1-2 regardless of the order. It was a really interesting race.”
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News