By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst

What better way to get your week started than to bet in the MLB futures markets? We’ve discussed World Series championsMVP possibilities and Cy Young candidates. Now, let’s analyze the Rookie of the Year.   

As we’ve discussed, FanGraphs WAR has been a reasonably good indicator of end-of-season awards. Rookie of the Year is no exception. 

Here’s a look at some past winners:

Even when first place didn’t have the highest fWAR, every situation can be explained away (e.g. Shohei Ohtani pitching and hitting). The question now becomes how to best predict who will have the highest fWAR.   

Obviously, rookies have fewer data points available compared to their veteran counterparts. The good news is that Statcast data (which I explained how to use to find betting value) now includes the Minor Leagues. Groups such as Baseball America and Sports Info Solutions take average and maximum exit velocity to come up with a power grade, then also take sprint speed to come up with a running grade. These grades are categorized into groups on a scale from 20-80. On the low end of the scale, 20 indicates skills that are barely major-league level; 80 is absolutely elite.  

It’s worth noting that, unlike in other sports, Major League Baseball does not classify a rookie as a player simply competing in his first year. Instead, anyone with fewer than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days of non-September service time is considered a rookie.

For instance, Tampa Bay Rays‘ outfielder Randy Arozarena made his MLB debut during the 2019 season and became a household name during the 2020 postseason. But starting in 2021, he still had fewer than 130 regular-season at-bats, making him a rookie. He won American League Rookie of the Year honors last season.

It’s important to remember that some players can have an added edge of notoriety from a previous season or postseason. While not as impactful as Arozarena’s edge, Braves pitcher Spencer Strider did have one good outing in 2021 against the Mets.   

Combining this analytical scouting with this season’s Statcast data and any potential major league data before this season, here are four rookies with Rookie of the Year betting value, all odds courtesy of FOX Bet. 

American League 

Spencer Torkelson: +1200 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $130 total)

When it comes to rookies, there may be less patience during a slow start, so there is risk here. Among the rookies with enough at-bats to qualify, the Tigers’ first baseman is dangerously close to the bottom ten with a strikeout rate of 29.8% and a batting average of .179. But, few rookies possess as much strength, highlighted with a raw power grade of 70.

Also, as we’ve discussed, it’s a good idea to look for hitters with a large difference between expected batting average and actual batting average, as it often indicates an uptick is coming. Torkelson’s difference ranks 10th highest (0.053). Especially with a high walk rate, his improvement could grow like gangbusters.

Adley Rutschman: +2000 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $210 total)

Even though the Orioles’ catcher made his big-league debut in mid-May, his raw power gets an impressive 65 grade out of 80. 

Of the top 100 prospects listed by FanGraphs for 2022, he is the only one whose future value — derived partly from his power and speed numbers — gets a 70 grade. No one else finished better than 65. However, by being behind by roughly a quarter of the season, does Rutschman have enough time to catch up to other rookies? 

Though he does not have enough at-bats to calculate his Statcast sprint speed, he already has a 0.1 fWAR. Growth will not be linear, but predicting a charge may be prudent with his potential. At these odds, there is some value in betting on Rutschman now.

National League 

Alek Thomas: +1000 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $110 total)

It’s interesting that the current favorite — Cubs’ outfielder Seiya Suzuki — does not currently lead the N.L. in fWAR. While Suzuki’s impressive numbers in Japan suggest he has the highest ceiling within the rookie class, Alek Thomas is off to a hotter start.

The Diamondbacks‘ outfielder has a power rating of 55 and a speed rating of 60. These are solid numbers. He already has an on-base percentage of .354 with a decent strikeout rate of 18.8%. Perhaps most impressively, Thomas’ expected batting average ranks in the top 70 among all major leaguers.

While he was only called up on May 8th, meaning his sample size is smaller than many other rookies, if Thomas can continue putting the ball in play and using his speed to beat out grounders and turn singles to extra bases, voters will notice.

Joey Bart: +4000 at FOX Bet (bet $10 to win $410 total)

More love for catchers! Remember the criteria a player must meet to be considered a rookie? The Giants’ catcher has pushed the limit with more than 100 at-bats during the 2020 campaign, but with Buster Posey still playing last season, Bart largely remained in the minors until this season. 

His strikeout rate may be an alarming 45.3% and his speed rating coming in is a paltry 30, but his power rating is a stellar 60 and the xBA–BA difference ranks 17th (0.025) among the top 50 rookies in at-bats. 

He may be off to a rocky start, but Bart should get better, and he is in the right situation. 

Like any futures market, Rookie of the Year bets are subject to health and organizational decisions about how long that player will keep getting opportunities. But, adding volatility only makes the market less efficient, so there’s value to finding the right wunderkind and backing him now. 

Happy betting!

Edward Egros is a sports analytics broadcaster/writer, a sports betting analyst, a data scientist and an adjunct professor of statistics at Pepperdine University. These passions have led him to become a cold brew aficionado. Edward previously worked in local television, notably at the Fox affiliate in Dallas covering the Rangers, Cowboys and high school football.  Follow him on Twitter @EdWithSports. 

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