With Rookie of the Year being tied to draft pick compensation, I am much more interested in tracking Bobby Witt Jr. with respect to the award than I normally would be. Remember that Melendez will not be eligible since they did not promote him to start the season. I also saw an article on Vegas odds for ROY a little over a week ago, which was talking about Adley Rutschman being added to the mix at 20:1 to start. Then Witt Jr. had a great weekend series, and I thought it was time to see just how he was setting up against the competition.
According to the Vegas odds (as of May 19th), Bobby was 4th in ROY at +700 behind Jeremy Pena, Julio Rodriguez, and Joe Ryan. That was before a Minnesota series where Witt added 4 doubles, a triple, and a home run to his resume. Among AL rookie position players, Bobby now sits tied for second in WAR with the aforementioned Rodriguez at 1.2 WAR. Jeremy Pena is still in the lead a full win ahead of Witt and Rodriguez. I want to focus on these three first, then I will take a look at the pitcher situation.
Jeremy Pena is playing well above what anyone thought he would be. His 148 wRC+ is more than he had at ANY level of the minors. All of his rest of season projections have him coming back down in all three slash-line categories. That is not to say he cannot maintain this pace, but his history makes it unlikely. The current plus rest of season has his WAR landing somewhere between 4 and 4.5 for the full season, which would be an excellent rookie campaign. Defensively he is excellent, and that will likely remain the case.
Julio Rodriguez is hitting well so far at a 120 wRC+, but this is actually below projection for all but one system on Fangraphs. He has also underperformed his defensive expectations thus far being just a bit above average, when he is expected to be a very good center fielder. That means his projected rest of season plus current WAR is in the range of 4 to 4.8, so very similar to Pena.
Bobby Witt is off to the slowest start of the three being barely above league average at 107 in wRC+. That rough April is in the past though, and he is climbing as of late. Like Rodruguez, all of the rest of season projections have him hitting better except for one that matches the current 107, and he is also expected to continue being a very good defender. That puts his projected plus current at 3.4 to 4.3, a tiny bit behind the other two, as well as the largest spread in expectation.
WAR will not decide ROY by itself but based on this I would say we have ourselves an interesting race shaping up, and again the top three spots all get a reward under the new CBA. Now for the pitchers. Joe Ryan is the one pitcher, in the odds makers eyes, that has a solid shot in the AL. So far for the Twins he has made 8 starts and has a 2.28 ERA, which is pretty solid. His FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all agree that he should not be expected to maintain that. His HR/FB rate is very low, and he is stranding well over 80% of runners, which is hard to do consistently. He also just doesn't strike that many batters out, which makes that even harder. He is off to a good start and must be considered, but I would put him well behind the three hitters in likelihood.
There are only a couple of other AL rookie starters off to much of a start and they are well behind Ryan, so that is pretty much your rookie of the year race currently. Rutschman is taking a more Bobby Witt beginning to the season than Jeremy Pena. He is currently hitting .167/.286/.233, so he may eventually start hitting and join the fray, but for now he is nowhere near the leaders.
Bobby Witt Jr. is starting to really hit, and that hitting may benefit the current Royals, as well as the future Royals if he can keep it up and finish in the top 3 in ROY. Right now, it is looking fairly likely that he can do just that.