Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson has won Rookie of the Year for the American League, per an announcement from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Tanner Bibee of the Guardians placed second while Triston Casas of the Red Sox placed third.
Henderson got to make his major league debut last year as a September call-up, just a couple of months after his 21st birthday. Despite his young age, he held himself incredibly well. His 25.8% strikeout rate was a bit above average, but he also drew walks at a 12.1% clip. His .259/.348/.440 batting line last year resulted in a 128 wRC+, indicating he was 28% above league average in that time. That call-up gave him a chance to get a taste of the majors while maintaining rookie status, since he didn’t get to 130 at-bat or 45 days on the roster.
The O’s came into 2023 looking to firmly stamp out their rebuild and make the postseason for the first time since 2016. Henderson’s first full season helped them do just that, as he hit 28 home runs and stole 10 bases. His walk rate dipped to 9%, though that was still above league average. His .259/.348/.440 batting line translated to a wRC+ of 123. He split his time between shortstop and third base, getting strong grades at both positions. FanGraphs considered him to be worth 4.6 wins above replacement while Baseball Reference had him at 6.2. The Orioles, meanwhile, won 101 games and took the top spot in the American League East.
The award is surely gratifying for Henderson and the O’s in and of itself, but there are other implications of this news. The new collective bargaining agreement contains measures designed to combat service time manipulation through the prospect promotion incentive, or PPI. Top-two Rookie of the Year finishers who were Top 100 prospects on at least two preseason lists at Baseball America, ESPN and MLB Pipeline are automatically credited with a full service year. That won’t apply to Henderson, who was up all year and earned a full service year regardless, though he was the #1 prospect on all three of those lists.
But players with PPI status can also earn extra draft picks for their clubs if they have less than 60 days of service time to start the season and earn a full service year the traditional way, as Henderson did, while also appearing on those preseason prospect lists. Players in that camp who finish in the top two in Rookie of the Year voting or top three in Cy Young or Most Valuable Player voting during their pre-arbitration seasons earn a bonus pick after the first round for their club. That means the O’s, who are already loaded with young talent, will get a valuable extra pick in next year’s draft.
Bibee and Casas also had strong seasons, but not enough to catch Henderson. The former made 25 starts for the Guards with a 2.98 earned run average, 24.1% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate. He wasn’t promoted until late April but will earn a full service year by getting second place in this voting. But since he didn’t get that service year the traditional way, the Guards won’t get a bonus draft pick. Casas hit 24 home runs and walked in 13.9% of his plate appearances, leading to a .263/.367/.490 batting line and 129 wRC+. He was in the majors all year, so the voting won’t impact him from a service time perspective, but he falls just shy of getting the Red Sox a bonus pick.
Henderson was a unanimous selection, per the full vote tally from the BBWAA, getting all 30 first-place votes. Bibee got 20 of the second-place votes while Casas got six. Other players receiving votes were Josh Jung of the Rangers, Yainer Diaz of the Astros, Masataka Yoshida of the Red Sox, Edouard Julien of the Twins and Anthony Volpe of the Yankees.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.