2020 MLB Rookie Of The Year: Tony Gonsolin

Baseball America has never had a tougher time picking its Rookie of the Year.

That’s not to say picking the top rookie is ever easy. We choose one overall major league winner across both leagues, so the field is often crowded. We struggle each year to compare the value of pitchers with hitters, and we debate the merits of quick bursts of production versus larger samples of playing time.

And at BA, the final weight we apply to our award is future value. We want our Rookie of the Year winner to appear wise in the decades to come.

While our ROY is based primarily on rookie accomplishment, we also consider the candidates’ potential for future stardom.

The 2009 rookie class is instructive. Chris Coghlan won the baseball writers’ National League award, while BA selected Andrew McCutchen as its Rookie of the Year. Both players had seasons of roughly equivalent value, but nobody would disagree that McCutchen had more long-term value.

Because of the 60-game season in 2020, the degree of difficulty for balancing rookie performance with future value was amplified.

BA has never chosen a position player as its Rookie of the Year who played 60 games or fewer—or a pitcher on the basis of just two months of work. If 2020 were a normal season, every one of our ROY candidates would have received an “incomplete.” See our sidebar for more on the field of candidates.

Sample size matters, especially for rookies, because a month or two is not long enough to get a full reading on a player. Is a great month a hot streak? Is a bad month a sign of a long-term issue or just a dip before an adjustment?

This season, we simply didn’t have as much information as we would have liked.

In the end, we chose Dodgers righthander Tony Gonsolin as our Rookie of the Year. His combination of present performance and future outlook separated him from the field, if just barely.

Gonsolin was late to summer camp in July after testing positive for COVID-19. The setback meant he got a late start and began the season at the Dodgers’ alternate training site. He thinks the test might have been a false positive. Regardless, he was out of rhythm when Opening Day arrived on July 27.

From Gonsolin’s first start on July 31 to the end of the season, he reeled off a string of solid outings. He tallied 16.2 scoreless innings to start the season. Among all pitchers with at least 40 innings, rookies and veterans alike, he ranked 11th in ERA (2.31), fourth in WHIP (0.84), eighth in home run rate (0.39 per nine innings) and ninth in both walk rate (1.4 per nine) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.57). Opponents hit just .193/.229/.289.

Gonsolin keeps hitters from getting comfortable with his plus command and control and his ability to attack different quadrants of the strike zone. He can both elevate and work down in the zone with his mid-90s fastball, while his split-changeup and slider are effective down in the zone as swing-and-miss pitches.

The former shortstop and outfielder turned pro as the Dodgers’ ninth-round pick out of St. Mary’s in 2016. Given what he has shown in the big leagues—he also delivered a 2.93 ERA over 40 innings in 2019—he should be a rotation stalwart for the Dodgers for years to come.

Gonsolin earned Rookie of the Year, even if we wish we had gotten to watch him pitch for a few more months.

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