Corbin Carroll, to the surprise of the absolutely no one, was announced on Monday as the National League Rookie of the Year Award winner following a historic season. He earned all 30 of the first-place votes to become the first Arizona Diamondbacks rookie to be given the honor.

Carroll wasn’t the only unanimous winner for the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. In the American League, Gunnar Henderson of the Baltimore Orioles claimed the prize to become the first in their franchise to win since Gregg Olson in 1989.

The podium for the rest of the NL included Kodai Senga of the New York Mets in second and James Outman of the Los Angeles Dodgers finishing third.

My ballot for the NL Rookie of the Year Award:

  1. Corbin Carroll, Arizona Diamondbacks
  2. Nolan Jones, Colorado Rockies
  3. Kodai Senga, New York Mets

Here’s why:

Before filling out my ballot for National League Rookie of the Year on Oct. 2, the day after the regular season ended, I pretended to fill out my ballot with a little less than three weeks remaining on the calendar. I took a cursory dive into the statistics on September 13 to see if my inklings from the year were correct. In spite of the data, I wanted to avoid making my final decision before all 162 games were played.

Head and shoulders above the rest of the rookies all season long was Carroll. The numbers at any point in the season made it quite apparent he was the runaway winner. He hit 24 home runs and stole 54 bases, becoming the first to reach those numbers in a rookie season. A dominant first half earned him selection as a starter for the NL in the All-Star Game. After an injury scare that cost him a few games during the summer, Carroll’s production at the plate slowed slightly in July and August before surging again in September. On the bases, the 23-year-old sped up, stealing two more bases in the second half than the first in 17 less games (28 to 26). A lack of arm strength (1st percentile) removed all his value defensively despite his range being in the 85th percentile, but his performance on offense was more than enough to earn my first-place vote.

From that point in my perfunctory process, James Outman and Kodai Senga were the next two that came to mind in September. The stats also supported them as among the best this season. Others like Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Andrew Abbott, Brandon Williamson, Javier Assad, Sal Frelick, Eury Pérez, Bobby Miller, Patrick Bailey and Francisco Álvarez all made strong impressions throughout the year, especially in performances against the Colorado Rockies. As for the beat in Denver in which I work each season, a trio of rookies impressed, each in their own unique way: Nolan Jones, Ezequiel Tovar and Brenton Doyle.

One name stood out that I was surprised to see when searching for ROY candidates. Spencer Steer had numbers similar to, if not better, than Outman. Steer led the NL rookie class in RBI and was just shy of an .800 OPS. Wins-above-replacement docked him heavily for defense, but he was playing a new position. That position was first base and, granted, Steer wasn’t any better at his primary position in the minors, third base. His flexibility on the field allowed his manager to find more playing time for the likes of De La Cruz, McLain and 2024 NL ROY candidate Noelvi Marté, not to mention 2021 NL ROY Jonathan India when he returned from injury in September. Steer was a dark horse for my third-place vote.

Had I stopped there on September 13, I would have missed a lot in the final 15-17 games of the season.

What happened next was unexpected. That didn’t matter because the task wasn’t trying to make a prediction; rather, it was to make an evaluation once the season concluded. From September 14 until the final day of the regular season on October 1, Nolan Jones posted the best offensive numbers of any player in Major League Baseball. Did these 17 games make Jones the second best rookie in the NL? No. Did it elevate his candidacy and round out his resume? Absolutely.

Jones finished the season with a .931 OPS, best among all rookies in MLB with at least 150 plate appearances. In the NL, it easily bested Carroll (.868), McLain (.864), Steer (.820) and Outman (.790). When taking park factors into consideration, Jones’ 138 OPS+ also topped Carroll (132), McLain (129), Steer (119) and Outman (112).

The 25-year-old didn’t make his debut with the Rockies until May 26. (He was actually promoted to Colorado on April 12, only to be optioned back to Triple-A Albuquerque on April 16 without having entered a game.) Because of this, he played only 106 games in the Majors this season. That’s just under two-thirds of the 162-game slate. However, his 424 plate appearances were 84% of what’s needed to qualify for the batting title (3.1 PA per 162 games). Regardless, missing that amount of time put him at a disadvantage when compared to those rookies who played all six months.

His first three games with Colorado came at first base before the arm strength of the former Cleveland Guardians third baseman became a noticeable weapon in the outfield. Over the course of his 93 games played in the outfield, Jones racked up an astonishing 19 outfield assists, most in all of MLB. His 0.22 assists-per-nine was the highest in the modern era (since 1901) for an outfielder with a minimum of 700 innings played. It bested a recorded set in 1918 and became the first instance of at least 0.20 assists-per-nine since Roberto Clemente in 1961. Thanks to Baseball Savant, we can unequivocally say his arm strength (98.9 mph average) is the best in the sport today.

Outman was much better in the outfield in terms of range. He also played a much more demanding position in center field. More defensive metrics prefer Outman’s overall abilities as an outfielder than Jones, but not all, and the difference is nowhere near the difference between the two NL West rivals in the numbers offensively.

Most of the counting stats give Outman an edge, naturally, as he played 45 more games than Jones. Outman had 70 RBI while Jones had 62. Outman also had many more opportunities with runners in scoring position, 152 to 100. While Outman did well with his chances driving in 46, Jones drove home 47 by batting .434 (33-for-76) with RISP, the highest RISP average in the Majors since 2013. Jones stole more bases, walked at a higher rate, struck out at a lower rate and towered above Outman in all three of the slash stats: batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The Rockies corner outfielder also did something we’ve rarely seen in baseball history for a rookie: 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Yes, Carroll and Anthony Volpe of the New York Yankees also accomplished this in 2023, but both did so with the advantage of being on the Opening Day roster. Jones accomplished his 20/20 season in 106 games, something only four players — none of whom were rookies — had ever achieved in such short order.

For me, Jones was behind Carroll as the second-best position player in the National League. Onto the pitchers.

It was impossible to say any rookie pitcher could match Senga this season. The 20-year-old Pérez was electric during his 19 starts for the Marlins, but he fell short of Senga’s 10.93 strikeouts-per-nine and 2.98 ERA. Pérez did have a lower WHIP and a better strikeout-to-walk rate. Both finished the year with a 142 ERA+, but Senga did it over 10 more starts and 75 more innings.

It’s a similar story for Miller, who improved his numbers during the final four starts of his season with the Dodgers. He twirled seven innings of two-run ball in his Coors Field debut, striking out nine and walking none in his penultimate start of 2023. In the end, the 24-year-old made seven less starts than Senga and finished with a 116 ERA+.

It was down to Senga and Jones for the second-place vote. Jones was measured at 4.3 bWAR and 3.7 fWAR; Senga was 4.5 bWAR and 3.4 fWAR. Nearly a tie overall with a very slight edge for Jones. Time to look for a tiebreaker. 

Senga should receive votes for the NL Cy Young Award, especially as ballots go up to fifth-place and are not limited by three places as with the Rookie of the Year Award. In the Senior Circuit, his 2.98 ERA was second-best and his 202 strikeouts finished eighth. He’s one of only 18 rookies in the modern era to reach 200 strikeouts and the fourth Japanese-born pitcher on the list to do so following the likes of Yu Darvish (2012), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007) and Hideo Nomo (1995). Spencer Strider struck out 202 and came away with second-place in 2022. The last eight rookies from this elite group finished no lower than fourth in NL ROY voting.

Even more rare than a rookie striking out 200 batters: a rookie hitting 20 homers and recording 20 stolen bases. Jones’ feat is only the 16th occurrence of a rookie flashing such power and speed prominence. Before this year’s votes were announced, six players from this group won the award for top rookie, with two that finished in second and two that came in fourth-place since 1987.

Combined with those 19 outfield assists, Jones became the first rookie to go 20/20/19. Since Willie Mays accomplished this feat in 1955, only five others, including Jones, had ever achieved such statistical diversity. Ultimately, this tiebreaker is what sealed my ballot. 

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