When the 2020 MLB season started White Sox center-fielder Luis Robert was the clear-cut favorite to take home the American League Rookie of the Year according to most pundits, and even most sportsbooks. According to Vegas Insider, Bet MGM listed Robert as the favorite with 4/1 odds to take home the honors before COVID-19 shut down baseball in March.
The eventual winner Kyle Lewis wasn’t even in the discussion. When the votes came in this month, the BBWAA writers tasked with deciding this award were unanimous in their selection of the Mariners’ outfielder with all 30 members distributing their first-place vote to Lewis.
Luis Robert garnered 27 of the 30 second-place votes and finished with 83 points in the voting process.
So, how did Kyle Lewis come out of nowhere to steal the American League Rookie of the Year from Luis Robert, and more importantly, did the BBWAA writers get it right?
It didn’t take Luis Robert long to show why he was the early favorite for the honor, in just his third major league game he crushed a 419-foot bomb against Twins’ starter Kenta Maeda for his first career home run and proceeded to get red-hot for the White Sox.
Robert hit 10 home runs, eight doubles, scored 22 runs and drove in 24 runs in his first 121 at-bats through the month of August. A .298/.356/.660/1.015 batting line was good enough for a whopping 171 wRC+ as he helped fuel the White Sox surge to the top of the American League.
Lewis started the season hot for the M’s as well, slashing .286/.393/.490/.883 with six home runs and 23 RBI in August. The Seattle center-fielder was hitting at a high clip but wasn’t producing the same power numbers that Robert was putting up in Chicago.
With Robert out-slugging Lewis in the month of July and August, and the White Sox surging to the top of the American League in the standings, the advantage was still Luis Robert’s when it came to the American League’s top rookie in 2020.
After a monstrous first 33 games of the season in July and August, Luis Robert did what many rookies do, hit a wall. Well, he didn’t just hit the wall, but rather crashed into it headfirst.
Actually, this attempt at a slide into third base perfectly summarizes Robert’s September struggles.
In his final 23 games, Robert slashed just .136/.237/.173 (11-81) with just one home run and 32 strikeouts. Yeah, it’s a small sample size, but that’s a paltry 34 percent strikeout rate.
Meanwhile, Lewis was in a slump of his own down the stretch, a key piece of the argument that was apparently overlooked completely by the BBWAA writers who selected Lewis unanimously. Lewis tried his best impersonation act to Robert’s 11-81 tail-spin with an 11-75 skid of his own in his final 22 games.
Lewis slashed .147/.270/.280 with just three home runs, finishing with a wRC+ of just 59 in the final month of the season.
Did they get it right?
Before I get into my opinion on the voting results, here’s how the two stacked up against each other in 2020.
|Luis Robert, CWS||Slash Line||HR||RBI||Runs||2B/3B||SB||wRC+||fWAR|
|Kyle Lewis, SEA||Slash Line||HR||RBI||R||XBH||SB||wRC+||fWAR|
When it comes to the question of whether or not the BBWAA voters got this one right, I think that this is a two-pronged answer. The fact that Lewis won the award unanimously was wrong.
When you examine both of their seasons, they both had incredibly strong starts and then both of them came crashing down to earth down the stretch. I feel like Lewis’ skid down the stretch doesn’t stick out in the minds of many because, well, the Mariners suck. Seattle was a losing team that plays on the west coast in the late time slot. Outside of that region, everyone was asleep when Lewis was hitting .150 in the second half of the season.
On the flipside, all eyes were on the White Sox and Luis Robert’s September slump this season. Which begs the question, what the hell was Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News thinking when he completely left Luis Robert off of his ballot? Is pot legal in Texas?
While Lewis’s final slash line, wRC+, and fWAR looked better than Robert’s, Luis Robert matched Lewis in home runs and topped him in RBI, doubles, triples, and stolen bases.
Oh, yeah, and Robert won the American League Gold Glove in center field, the same position that Lewis plays. The only thing clear here is that both of them were really good, and the wide-margin in voting was completely unwarranted.
A Rivalry is Born?
The 2020 season is in the past, but Luis Robert and Kyle Lewis are now going to be paired together when talking about the top young outfielders in the American League.
They battled neck-and-neck this summer for the American League’s Rookie of the Year honors, and they’ll be battling each other for individual honors for years to come. ESPN is even featuring the two phenoms on their Monday Night Baseball broadcast during baseball’s opening week in 2021.
Kyle Lewis won round one this season, but Luis Robert will surely be looking to top the Mariners’ youngster in 2021.