Juan Soto, the Rookie of the Year Award, and an under-performing season from the Washington Nationals.
Perhaps the brightest spot of the Washington Nationals 2018 season was the emergence of Juan Soto as an everyday outfielder capable of big offensive production. The 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact since his elevation to the major league club back in May.
Not only did Soto provide an offensive spark for a reeling Nationals lineup, but he also flashed his leather making outstanding defensive plays all summer. With his three NL Rookie of the Month awards, there were moments over the course of the season when the Rookie of the Year award seemed to be a matter of merely sticking the ballots in the box.
But Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuña Jr. had something to say about that.
Braves manager Brian Snitker shuffled his lineup after the all-star break and gave Acuña the leadoff spot. Since then, the Braves’ rookie sent what had already been an outstanding season into the stratosphere, including a stretch when he homered in five straight games, including three consecutive home runs on the first at-bat of those games. To make it even more special, two of those games were part of a doubleheader.
But the truth is that both players had very similar seasons, once the final out of the regular season was recorded.
At the end of the regular season, both players had spent almost the same time in the majors – Soto had only seven more plate appearances – and ended with very close numbers in most offensive categories. Soto hit for .292 while Acuña hit for .293; Acuña edged Soto in home runs with 26, only four more than his 22; and Soto beat Acuña in RBIs, with 70, six more than Acuña’s 64.
Throughout the season, Soto appeared to be a bit more conscious at the plate, drawing more walks and striking out less than Acuña. Acuña had a better slugging percentage, with .552 over Soto’s .517.
Both players posted identical figures for Wins Above Replacement at 3.7.
As the regular season drew closer to an end, the national narrative started shifting more in favor of Acuña given the Braves push for postseason play. Once the Braves secured their first division title since 2013 – eliminating the Nationals in the process – Soto’s contribution may have faded in comparison to Acuña’s in the eyes of some voters.
With such close numbers, a narrow vote should be expected. But in a team sport, wins are what matter most, and the Braves’ NL East title may just reward Acuña with the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2018.
Either way, we the fans will be rewarded with these young players’ amazing feats for years to come.
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