We might never have seen a rookie class like this

September 10th, 2022

The latest Rookie of the Year poll among MLB.com staff had a clear theme atop the National League results: the Atlanta Braves. With Spencer Strider receiving 31 first-place votes to lead the polling and Michael Harris II receiving 11, we saw a pattern that very likely will resurface in the BBWAA voting results for the award in November.

There’s a chance the teammates finish top-two for the award, and fellow Braves player Vaughn Grissom, who received votes in the MLB.com poll, could theoretically end up top-five as well. And regardless of hardware, the output alone from Braves’ rookies across the board has been particularly notable.

Here are three ways the Braves’ rookie class may be unprecedented.

Teammates receiving many votes

If Strider and Harris finish first and second for Rookie of the Year, in either order, of course, it would be the eighth time that has happened since the award began in 1947. The last time should ring a bell for Braves: it was in 2011, when Craig Kimbrel won unanimously and Freddie Freeman finished second.

While there have been seven prior instances of teammates finishing first and second for Rookie of the Year, some additional context is helpful. Prior to 1980, writers’ ballots consisted of listing just one choice for the award in their league (or MLB-wide, for the first two years). Since then, writers have ranked a top three. This is worth noting because it has lengthened the list of names receiving votes, added variation and significantly changed the way results look for second place onward.

Of those seven instances, just three have come since the voting changed – the 2011 Braves, 1989 Cubs (Jerome Walton first, Dwight Smith second) and the ‘84 Mariners (Alvin Davis, Mark Langston).

The other four were the 1975 Red Sox (Fred Lynn, Jim Rice), 1963 White Sox (Gary Peters, Pete Ward), 1960 Orioles (Ron Hansen, Chuck Estrada/Jim Gentile tied) and 1957 Phillies (Jack Sanford, Ed Bouchee).

As for potentially having three of the top five finishers, that’s happened four times, but just twice when including the winner. The 1953 Cardinals had Harvey Haddix second, Ray Jablonski third and Rip Repulski tied for fourth. The aforementioned ‘60 Orioles had the only three receiving votes. The 2006 Marlins had winner Hanley Ramírez, plus Dan Uggla third and Josh Johnson fourth. And the ‘08 Reds had Joey Votto second, Edinson Volquez fourth and Jay Bruce fifth.

On a team of defending champs

This isn’t just a team with an impressive rookie class. It’s a team that just won the World Series, too. That made us curious: Have any of the previous teams to go 1-2 or have three of the top five for Rookie of the Year been defending champs, or even coming off of a postseason appearance?

Just one of the teams mentioned above was in the postseason the year prior: those 2011 Braves, who lost to the eventual World Series champion Giants in the NLDS.

Let that soak in for a moment. If Braves finish top-two for Rookie of the Year, Atlanta would be the first reigning World Series champion to do this. The same goes for three of the top five.

In fact, only seven players have won the award while on the reigning champ. The last was Steve Sax on the 1982 Dodgers, so it’s been a while. The others: Pat Zachry (1976 Reds), Tom Tresh (1962 Yankees), Frank Howard (1960 Dodgers), Tony Kubek (1957 Yankees), Bob Grim (1954 Yankees) and Gil McDougald (1951 Yankees).

The Braves aren't an up-and-coming rebuilding team with exciting young talent – they're a reigning World Series champion that just gained sole possession of first place in their division … with exciting young talent.

Producing a lot of WAR

Beyond awards history, the Braves lead all MLB teams in WAR, per FanGraphs, from rookie pitchers and rookie hitters. How rare is that? Just three teams in the divisional era (since 1969) have led the Majors in both WAR from rookie pitchers and hitters in the same season: the 2021 Rays, 2007 Red Sox and 2006 Marlins. These Braves are currently on track to join them.

Strider leads all rookie pitchers with 4.5 WAR and Harris leads rookie batters with 4.4. If they each finish with at least 4.5 WAR, the Braves would be the fourth team to have two such rookies in a season since 1900, joining the 1963 White Sox (Peters, Ward), 1924 Pirates (Glenn Wright, Kiki Cuyler) and the Federal League’s 1914 Chicago Whales (Al Wickland, Dutch Zwilling). Of those, only the White Sox duo was comprised of a pitcher and a hitter.

What’s next

Whether it’s in November’s Rookie of the Year results or the end-of-year leaderboards, this Braves rookie class is already en route to making plenty of history. And who knows what kind of rookie postseason feats await Strider, Harris and Grissom in October.