Judge, Bellinger's ROY cases undeniable

Yankees, Dodgers sluggers both enjoyed a monster first season in Majors

November 9th, 2017

What today's announcement of the winners of the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards lacks in sheer suspense, it makes up for in historical significance. It's rare when rookies of the ilk of the Yankees' and the Dodgers' come along. It's rarer still when they come along simultaneously.

That's what made 2017 so special, and the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which will announce the winners at 6 p.m. ET today on MLB Network, is expected to honor the special feats of Judge and Bellinger with voting that, in both the American League and the National League, could very well be unanimous.

If that is the case, it's no slight against the other Rookie of the Year finalists -- the Red Sox's and the Orioles' in the AL and the Pirates' Josh Bell and the Cardinals' in the NL. Judge and Bellinger simply put themselves on another level this year, and they did it unexpectedly.

Bellinger would be the second consecutive Dodgers player (joining teammate ) and the 18th overall to win the award named after the most famous Dodger of them all. Judge would become the Yankees' ninth winner, giving them the second-highest total of any team, but he would be their first since Derek Jeter in 1996.

The award has been given out in each league since 1949, and only three times since have two players swept the balloting in the same year: 1987 (Benito Santiago and Mark McGwire), 1993 (Mike Piazza and Tim Salmon) and 1997 (Scott Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra).

Hoping to become the third player to win the Rookie of the Year Award and MVP in the same season, Judge came into 2017 facing serious questions about his viability as an everyday player after hitting .179 with a strikeout in exactly half of his 84 at-bats at the tail end of '16. The list of men 6-foot-7 or taller who had a significant Major League career is, ironically, a short one, so it was fair to wonder if opposing pitchers would generally be successful exploiting Judge's expansive strike zone.

The strikeouts did come a rookie-record 208 times in 2017 -- Judge even set a record for most consecutive games with a strikeout in a single season, at 37 -- but it's safe to assert that he more than made up for the K's.

Judge broke McGwire's rookie record with a league-leading 52 home runs, and he broke Ted Williams' rookie mark with 127 walks. His OPS (1.049) was the second-best all-time for a rookie, trailing only Shoeless Joe Jackson's 1.058 in 1911. Judge's 8.2 WAR was the most valuable player in baseball -- rookie or otherwise. Mr. "All Rise" was the reason the Yankees rose to AL Wild Card status, and he went on to help them reach Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

"We can honestly say we are in this spot because of him," said of Judge late in the season. "That's what an MVP is."

So the suspense with the 25-year-old Judge rests not with the AL Rookie of the Year Award result but in the AL MVP Award voting. The winner of that award, for which Judge, the Astros' and the Indians' are the three finalists, will be announced Thursday night. Judge is also a candidate for Esurance MLB Award for Best Major Leaguer, which will be announced live on MLB.com and MLB Network on Friday.

Bellinger's rookie year might not have been quite at the level of Judge, but it was undeniably awesome. Bellinger didn't crack the Dodgers' Opening Day roster, and even he figured he wouldn't join the club sooner than September. But injury intervened and a need arose, and Bellinger arrived on April 25. From that point forward, a Dodgers club that started out 9-11 put up a .669 winning percentage, and Bellinger had some huge hits in the epic World Series against the Astros.


In the regular season, the 22-year-old Bellinger set an NL rookie record with 39 home runs, and he led Los Angeles in RBIs (97) and slugging percentage (.581).

"Everything that came this year," Bellinger said, "has been kind of crazy."

The competition for rookie hardware likely doesn't end here for Judge and Bellinger, whose remarkable seasons each ended in seven-game postseason losses to the World Series champion Astros. A head-to-head duel for the overall top rookie in the Majors is expected when the candidates for Best Rookie in the Esurance MLB Awards are announced.

Not to be totally overlooked, Benintendi showed a lot of growth as 2017 progressed, finishing with a solid .271/.352/.424 slash line, 20 homers and 90 RBIs. He led the Sox in OBP. Mancini was a revelation for the O's, making the club as a bench bat and turning in a .293/.338/.488 slash line with 24 homers and 78 RBIs. In the NL, DeJong rescued the Cardinals midseason, coming up in May and posting a .285/.325/.532 slash line with 25 homers and 65 RBIs. Bell, meanwhile, had a big impact on the Pirates, with a .255/.334/.466 slash line, 26 homers and 90 RBIs.

In another year, any of those four guys might have had a better Rookie of the Year case. But 2017 was the year of Judge and Bellinger, and today is a day to celebrate their rise to stardom.