Kris Bryant is living up to the hype in his first season with the Cubs. But Joc Pederson is also having quite an impact in his first full year in L.A. Which young star deserves to be the NL Rookie of the Year?
Rogers: Kris Bryant is giving Cubs an all-around boost
If the case for National League Rookie of the Year comes down to home runs, then outfielder Joc Pederson has a distinct advantage over third baseman Kris Bryant right now. Heading into Wednesday's game, Pederson has a nine-homer lead, but Bryant did cut into it with his first multihomer game in Monday's 4-2 Cubs win, though Pederson responded with a ninth-inning blast of his own.
Pederson's 19-10 lead in that category also means his OPS is much higher, but there is more to Bryant's game than just home runs. And there should be more to the award than just the long ball.
Bryant's batting average is 30 points higher, though their on-base percentages are similar, as Pederson has walked more. But should a player who could finish with an average below .250 win an award? Pederson is hitting .248, well below Bryant's .278 average.
Bryant has played in 10 fewer games than Pederson but has driven in six more runs and scored as many as his Dodgers counterpart.
Bryant also has outperformed many expectations at a premium position on defense, and maybe his best unknown attribute is his ability on the basepaths. Multiple scouts have been amazed by his quick first step, overall speed and his baseball intelligence. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has noticed as well.
"You saw the hits, but his impact, to me, was with his legs today," Maddon said after a recent game. "Fabulous, a fabulous job on the bases."
Bryant had stretched a routine single to center field into a double, helping the Cubs win that game, something he has done more than once this year with his legs. He's also 5-for-6 in stolen bases; Pederson is just 2-for-7.
"I try to be a complete player," Bryant said. "Just playing hard and hustling, just that type of player who earns the respect of my teammates."
If hustle and attitude play a part in winning rookie of the year, Bryant should probably be leading right now. And though Pederson is ahead of Bryant in the all-important home run race, that could look a lot different come September. The 2014 minor league home run leader (43) and 2015 spring training leader (nine) hasn't gone on a tear yet.
Instead, he has been a consistent singles and doubles hitter. In fact, Bryant became the first Cubs rookie since 1928 to record two hitting streaks of 12 or more games, and he did it within the first three months of the season.
Bryant is an all-around player who will put up plenty of gaudy statistics but might lose the rookie home run race to Pederson. Is that enough to lose rookie of the year honors? It shouldn't be.
Saxon: Joc Pederson's youth just what Dodgers needed
Baseball is enjoying a nice influx of young talent lately, and a lot of it is winding up on the North Side of Chicago. Kris Bryant is one of the game's best young players, certainly a leading rookie of the year contender.
Not long ago, people would have viewed him as the favorite. Bryant is batting 30 points better than Joc Pederson. Voters, however, have become more sophisticated in this era -- baseball's information age -- and Pederson is the choice based on his superior on-base percentage and slugging and, crucially, his elite defense at a premium position.
Balls that were falling for bloop hits or doubles a year ago are getting swallowed up by Pederson's glove, helping support the Dodgers' staunch pitching.
"It's not so much those unbelievable catches against the wall, but more ones in those little seams in the gap that are a little short, that seemed like they dropped so much more last year. He gets to a lot of those balls," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The numbers match the eyeball test. Pederson has five defensive runs saved this season, second-most among National League center fielders behind Arizona's A.J. Pollock. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Pederson has 16 good fielding plays, tied for second behind Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton among NL center fielders. The same measures indicate that Bryant is an adequate to slightly below-average third baseman.
One has to be a bit more discerning to distinguish Pederson from Bryant at the plate. Both players are selective, powerful hitters with a tendency to strike out in numbers that would have been frowned upon in an earlier era.
The numbers indicate Pederson is a little more advanced than Bryant. Among rookies with at least 100 plate appearances, Pederson leads in on-base percentage (.393), is fifth in slugging (.551) and second in OPS (.944). Bryant's numbers are similar, but lagging Pederson's in all those measures. Pederson's 19 home runs are five more than any other rookie in baseball and nine more than Bryant among NL rookies. Pederson's 50 walks are fourth in baseball.
If you're reaching for intangibles, Pederson is precisely what the Dodgers needed as their roster has tilted toward aging and expensive veterans in recent seasons. He has given fresh legs to an organization that has struggled to produce elite homegrown talent. He is the first in what the Dodgers hope is a vanguard of young talent, including shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias. The Dodgers cornered the market for a long time on the rookie of the year award, but their last was Todd Hollandsworth, who capped a five-year Dodgers run on the trophy in 1996.
Pederson has been compared by his Triple-A manager to a young Jim Edmonds because of his ability to make game-changing catches, and his violent and powerful left-handed swing. He has already had his signature moment, an over-the-shoulder catch at the center-field wall that took a game-winning extra-base hit away from San Diego Padres slugger Justin Upton. As the saying goes, there is a lot of baseball left to be played, but Pederson is hands-down the most impactful rookie in the league through the first three months.