MLB awards watch: Has Mariners’ Kyle Lewis leapfrogged White Sox’s Luis Robert for AL Rookie of the Year?

For much of the 2020 season, the frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year has been the incredibly impressive center fielder Luis Robert. When we turned the calendar to September and the wunderkind was hitting .298/.348/.612 with excellent defense and baserunning — not to mention playing for one of the best teams in the league — it seemed a foregone conclusion. 

With just a few days left in the season, that’s long since fallen by the wayside. Robert has company and he’s probably been overtaken, assuming the voting body is paying close attention (and I sincerely trust it is). 

Kyle Lewis of the Mariners heads to Wednesday hitting .272/.376/.461 (140 OPS+) with 11 homers, 28 RBI and 36 runs. I also believe he is now the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. 

Robert has let him back into the race by hitting just .090/.205/.136 in September. He’s struck out 27 times in 66 at-bats. He has just one extra base hit. It’s been a rough go. 

The season line for Robert is down to .225/.297/.444 (good for a power-heavy 105 OPS+). Though Robert has eight steals to Lewis’ three and eight doubles to Lewis’ three, they are tied with 11 homers. Lewis trails Robert by two RBI, but Lewis has six more runs scored than Robert. Lewis has 10 more hits and 14 more walks despite only 15 more plate appearances. 

Even when it was clear Lewis was having the better offensive season several weeks ago, it wasn’t a blowout and Robert made up for it elsewhere. Robert’s insane range in center field along with good baserunning helped him to stay superior in WAR. Sure enough, by Baseball Savant’s “outs above average” metric, Robert is the second best defensive center fielder in baseball at five (trailing only Jackie Bradley). Using Baseball Info Solutions’ “defensive runs saved,” Robert leads all center fielders with nine. 

Lewis is no slouch, though. He’s at two outs above average and one defensive run saved. While Robert is an elite defender, Lewis is merely “above average.” 

Given that center field is a premium defensive position, does the gap in defense in Robert’s favor make up for the gap in offense that favors Lewis? 

Also, though Robert has more stolen bases than Lewis, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the superior baserunner. Robert has taken the extra base 44 percent of the time compared to 56 percent for Lewis. 

Add it all up and the WAR advantage for Robert has disappeared. 

Baseball-reference has Lewis at 1.8 compared to Robert’s 1.7. On Fangraphs it’s 1.9 for Lewis and 1.6 for Robert. 

The White Sox are cruising into the playoffs with ease while the Mariners likely miss the postseason, again. For some, this will matter in the vote. It shouldn’t. The award is supposed to go to the best rookie in each league. How the teammates of the rookies perform does not matter. 

Robert absolutely should get credit for his insane defense in center field, but Lewis is a good defender, either just as good on the bases or better, and a clearly better hitter in 2020. It’s only a 60-game season, so there’s time to flip this thing once again with a huge close by Robert while Lewis falters, but right now it looks like Kyle Lewis should be the AL Rookie of the Year. 

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