Early August is when we start to see a waning; we’ve already seen it here at WFNY. Training camp starts and football takes over. We had a full day yesterday of nothing but Browns content, which is great for the site because Browns fans are some of the most passionate around, but it does pull away from Tribe coverage. That being said, I’m here today to start a movement, a campaign, nay…a revolution: Oscar Mercado should be the AL Rookie of the Year and I’m here to explain it.
My love for Mercado is well documented. I’ve gone on the record and called him “the right-handed Michael Brantley only faster”, which is still accurate and I won’t hear otherwise. Aside from the return to form of Jose Ramirez, Mercado is the second biggest addition to the roster to this point in the season. Yes, the trade for Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes was a coup and reshaped the outlook of the team for this year and the future, but they haven’t done enough in Indians uniforms to unseat Mercado as the biggest additions. His defense in center, while shaky at times, has helped reshape and relax those worried about those kinds of things. His presence in the two-hole has had a similar impact to Brantley’s move there in 2017-2018. Putting a player with his contact profile and abilities after Franciso Lindor and ahead of Carlos Santana made the lineup much more formidable to opposing pitchers and lengthed the start of games, which has helped because Cleveland has an ungodly record when scoring first.1
Mercado has meant more to his team than any of the other candidates, so you will always have the emotional side covered. But let’s see how he matches up against some of the other contenders and prove as to why Mercado should be the winner of the most prestigious award given to players with no major league experience.
The big names: Yordan Alvarez and Vlad Guererro Jr
Mercado is currently eighth in wRC+ amongst AL qualified rookies, behind bigger names such as Yordan Alvarez and Vlad Guererro Jr, so let’s poke holes in those two. Alvarez doesn’t have 200 plate appearances in the majors yet, so while he has been hitting the hide off the ball is a loaded Astros lineup, he has the benefit of a smaller sample size pillowing up his numbers. Guererro, impressive af in the Home Run Derby right here in Cleveland, has been disappointing in Toronto. Thought to be the next Mike Trout, Vlad Jr has failed to live up to those expectations. It should also be mentioned that while these two have produced better at the plate, Mercado has done better on the basepaths, nine stolen bases to none for either two, as well as play much better defense than the two bigger bats.2
Fast starters: Daniel Vogelbach and Brandon Lowe
Big Beefy Bat™Daniel Vogelbach got off to a blazing start, helping Seattle Mariners fans get ahead of themselves and think that they were contenders. Then the wheels fell off: Mitch Haniger tatered himself in the no-no zone with a foul ball and ruptured a testicle and STILL hasn’t returned, their entire pitching staff is 29th in WAR, the other myriad injuries have taken chunks of seasons away from players like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Felix Hernandez and others. But let’s get back to Vogelbach. He leads all AL rookies in home runs (26), runs scored (59), and RBI (67) but his season cratered once the heat got on. In 77 second-half plate appearances, Vogelbach has only six home runs and a wRC+ of 83. Unless he finds a way to adjust to the league pitchers, he is out of contention.
Brandon Lowe is another who started out hot. At 2.5 fWAR, he leads all AL rookies, and his 16 home runs and 49 RBI put him in the top five in both categories. By most measures, he had been subject to the Tampa Bay rejuvenation machine, along with Yandy Diaz, Austin Meadows, and Avisail Garcia. But a lower leg injury, specifically a right shin contusion, has slowed his progress on what was mounting to be a breakout campaign. Lowe has just now started to field grounders after missing almost two months of time. Can he heal up and make up enough ground to overtake Mercado? I selfishly say no.
Is Mercado the best rookie in the AL? Probably not. Alvarez is a better bat overall and is peaking at the right time for voters, Vogelbach has better numbers over the course of the season, but I can’t count out Mercado. He has meant too much to this team in terms of not only wins and losses but production. Mercado alone is not responsible for the team’s turnaround, but I always come back to this: from the start of the season until Mercado was called up full time, the Indians had the second-worst offense in wRC+, 24th ranked offense by fWAR, and ranked 26th in runs scored over that same course of time. Since his call up and subsequent lock in the second lineup spot, the Tribe is the eighth-best offense in fWAR, 11th in wRC+, and rank 12th in runs scored in the majors. Mercado has done the most to help recharge one of the best teams in the league. Plus he can cover ground in the outfield like few others, like this game-winning catch just yesterday.