Coming into this season, Gunnar Henderson was the consensus favorite to win A.L Rookie of the Year. But after a slow start at the plate over the first two months of the season, Henderson began to slip down the rankings. He had a batting average just over .200 by the end of May and was struggling to make consistent contact. As soon as June rolled around, something clicked for him.
He finished the month with an absurd slash line of .320/.354/.640 with 6 home runs and he hasn't slowed down since then. Flash forward to August and Henderson is right back where he started, in the driver's seat of the A.L Rookie of the Year race.
Stats are prior to beginning of play on August 22
Gunnar Henderson should win the AL Rookie of the Year
A Look at the Numbers
After Henderson's unreal performance against the A's in the series finale, Henderson's slash line for the season has risen to .249/.331/.484. He's crushed 21 homeruns and has 61 RBI's over the course of the season, with 6 stolen bases as well. He's tied for the team lead in homeruns, he has the second most RBI's, the most runs scored, and he leads the team in OPS.
Henderson has also been extremely impressive defensively, even after a slow start to the season. According to Baseball Savant, Henderson falls in the 69th percentile in outs above average, and he has consistently flashed the leather this season.
Henderson has proven to be a legitimate 5-tool player. He ranks in the 86th percentile in sprint speed, 89th percentile in arm strength, and 91st percentile in average exit velocity. The only area of Henderson's game that has struggled this season are the strikeouts. He ranks in the bottom 21st percentile in strikeout percentage, but he counters this by also having an elite eye at the plate. This can be seen through his walk percentage sitting in the top 76%.
Gunnar also leads the Orioles in WAR (wins above replacement). He currently has a WAR of 4.1, with the next closest Orioles hitter having a mark of 2.9 (Adley Rutschman). Ever since his rough start to the season, Gunnar has been the best all-around player on the roster at just 22 years old.
How he compares to the field
Along with Henderson, there have been a few other A.L rookies who are having great seasons. Josh Jung of the Texas Rangers was leading the pack earlier in the year but suffered an injury which will cause him to miss the majority of the rest of the season.
Jung was having a fantastic offensive season, with 22 home runs and 67 RBI's through 109 games. He had a very impressive OPS of .813 and an OPS+ of 118 before he got hurt. Jung accumulated a WAR of 2.3 through 109 games while Gunnar reached 4.1 in just 113 games.
Masataka Yoshida has also been mentioned in the Rookie of the Year race thanks to his highly productive first season in the U.S. Yoshida played in Japan from 2016-2022 before signing with the Red Sox this past off season. Yoshida has handled the adjustment extremely well, slashing .297/.352/.465 in his first season.
But, Yoshida has just 13 home runs compared to 21 from Henderson and his OPS+ is 117 compared to a 124 OPS+ for Henderson. Although their offensive seasons are comparable, Henderson has the clear edge over Yoshida defensively.
Yoshida has been one of the worst defenders in baseball while playing left field (which isn't a demanding position). He ranks in the bottom 5% in outs above average with -6 this season. Yoshida also has a WAR of just 1.4 this season which is roughly 1/3 of what Henderson has reached this year.
Red Sox teammate Triston Casas is also having a very productive rookie season. Casas started the season slowly but has really picked up the pace over the last couple months. Casas is slashing .253/.353/.483 this season with an OPS+ of 122. Casas has been showing off his power recently with 20 homeruns on the year.
He also displays great plate discipline, leading to 55 walks this season. But, similarly to Yoshida, Casas has been a liability defensively at first base this season. He has -10 outs above average, which puts him in the bottom 2%. This poor defense has led Casas to accumulate a WAR of just 1.3 this season.
It's abundantly clear that Henderson has had the most well-rounded season of any A.L rookie. Henderson looks like a superstar in the making, and unless his production takes a major drop off, he should be receiving his first award at the major league level. Henderson would be the 7th Oriole to ever win Rookie of the Year, and the first since Gregg Olson in 1989.