Hey everyone! Welcome to Daily Field Notes, present by The Greatest Show on Dirt Baseball Podcast!
Because sports are hard to keep up with, mostly because our bosses aren’t cool with us catching last night’s Oakland A’s game during that meaningless 8:00am project management meeting, we decided to write some words that will help you keep up with things so you don’t get fired and have to live under the bridge in a refrigerator box.
This is our first edition, so thanks for stopping by! Here we go.
The National League Rookie of the Year race.
In the National League, it’s a race to the finish between two guys that aren’t old enough to buy a case of Miller High Life on a Friday night. Ronald Acuña Jr, the Atlanta Braves stunningly athletic outfielder, wasn’t born until December of 1997. He doesn’t know what Y2K was, and might not know the sound of a dial tone, but post All-Star break he has hit the ball harder than everyone in the National League and has led the Braves to a 7.5 game lead in the NL East since he started batting lead-off July 20th. His second half numbers stand out more than a horse driving a car down the freeway:
3.6 fWAR: 1st in NL
.707 Slugging: 1st in NL
196 WRC+: 2nd in NL
.371 Isolated Power: 1st in NL
18 HRs: 1st in NL
I’ll stop listing. You get it. He probably has a bedtime, and he’s been the best hitter in the National League since the All-Star Break. He also set the Braves franchise record for lead-off home runs hit with 8, surpassing the great Marquis Grissom.
Look at Marquis in those Expos colors!
Bring back the Expos, MLB!
Acuña is outperforming his first half. He’s getting better as the season goes on. Like a fine whisky. The impressive thing about this is that pitchers will figure out these young hitters, and often times they’ll slump as the season goes. But young Ronald cares not for the slump. He’d rather adjust and keep his 430-foot home runs.
The most recent pitcher who couldn’t figure Acuña out: Max Scherzer. Acuña was just a homer shy of a cycle through three at-bats against Mad Max on Friday.
Now, Juan Soto. The other NL Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s 19. He’s not allowed to go into some places because he’s so young. He probably needs his mom to co-sign on a car loan if he needs a new ride. He could be on his parents’ insurance plan for six more years! Every car I’ve ever owned in my life, save two, have been/are older than Juan Soto. He’s a pup.
Also, he’s got eyes that Benjamin Franklin would be proud of. In all of baseball, with 300 plate appearances being the benchmark, he is 4th in on-base-percentage. The guys ahead of him: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. Ever heard of ‘em? Two former MVP’s, and if Mookie and his 9.2 fWAR keep doing their thang, then they’ll be three MVPs. Yeah, more big names in this mix than burgers at In-N-Out. That’s just the company that Juan Soto keeps.
Juan Soto’s stat line: .303/.417/.534. 20 home runs, 91 strikeouts, and 71 walks.
Look at those walks. Take your pitches, Childish Bambino!
Now, let’s meet Juan Soto’s other friends.
Tony Conigliaro and Bryce Harper. The only two guys since baseball has been played, which is like, when polio was a thing and people climbed telephone poles to make phone calls like on Green Acres, to have hit more home runs in a season as a teenager than Mr. Soto. Hey, there’s Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr. and Mel Ott. Just some players who are all-time greats. Those are the only teenagers ever to have hit 13 or more home runs. They all hit less home runs than Soto, and none of them topped Soto’s current OPS of .951. And none of them got on base as often as Soto.
Juan Soto has the eye of a veteran. The talk of the town is how he can lay off pitches most guys his age hack away at. Hell, most pitches anyone would take a hack at. Calm in the box, and an advanced feel for hitting. “The early recognition of the type of pitch …” Trea Turner said. That’s what Juan’s got.
The stuff you can’t teach. That’s what allows him to hit home runs to all parts of the park. Seriously, look at this FanGraphs chart. All those black dots are home runs, and they are nice and evenly spread like a Funfetti cake with cream cheese icing all nice and smooth on top. He drives the ball to left-center like a righty. And, oh, no other teenager has created more offense than Juan Soto. Soto’s value is at 30.1 runs right now. That nearly doubles the rookie season of his teammate with the good hair, and bests Conigliaro by about 11 runs. (This is a FanGraph’s stat, FYI.)
The most bad-ass part of this whole Juan Soto thing is how fast he moved through the system. Like Cole Trickle at the end of Days of Thunder, Juan got promoted three times in one month, the third of which was as a National against the NL Champ Los Angeles Dodgers.
Juan started the 2018 season in Class-A. Played 16 games. Racked up a 1.300 OPS and launched five home runs in 16 games. Then went to Class-A advanced and tore that place up with a 1.256 OPS and seven home runs in 15 games. Then after playing eight (8!!!) Double-A games, he got the call up to the bigs. He skipped an entire level! And hasn’t skipped a beat!
Juan Soto is rare! He’s basically Big Foot, or an alien-built pyramid off Ancient Aliens. Seeing a 19-year old productive player is quite enigmatic. If you go to Baseball Reference and do a player search, you get to pick the years you want to include in your query. The seasons go all the way back to 1871! That was 37 years before the damn Model-T! Go ahead and look up all the dudes who were 19 and had at least 300 at-bats and power that Flux Capacitor all the way back to 1871. Know how many guys you get? Twenty-Three. That’s it. In 147 years, twenty-three 19-year-olds have been productive enough to have over 300 at-bats in a single season. Only eight of them have had a bWAR over 2.5. Only four over 3. Juan Soto will probably be the fifth to finish with a 3 bWAR or higher as a 19-year-old. So in 147 years, there will have been FIVE like Juan Soto.
And out of this rarity came a kid who did his best to carry the Nationals when Bryce Harper was struggling and key pieces were hurt. He did a damn good job, too. The Washington Nationals are in good hands.
The NL Rookie of the Year race is one of the best we’ve ever seen. And I realize these guys are young, and they might not amount to much beyond Kevin Maas, but damn it these guys are fun to watch!