Miguel Andujar’s losing AL Rookie of the Year could lead to a strong 2019 season. An MVP season, to be exact.
Yes, I know I’m the zillionth fan to say that. I also know nothing can be done about it.
More importantly, if I know Andujar, he will take being robbed of the glory personally. The man is fearless at the plate, always looking for an extra-base hit. He even set a team record for most doubles in a season with 47, breaking Joe DiMaggio‘s previous mark of 44.
And as a rising second-year player, Miguel Andujar will be expected to build off of his strong rookie campaign. Sure, he had a great season at the plate, but the usual question remains. Will he get better, or was 2018 the best we will see from him offensively?
Not only will Andujar be better in 2019, but he will be way better. When push comes to shove, so long as he prepares accordingly, he will enter himself into the AL MVP conversation and make those who voted against him think twice about doing it again.
A rookie season to remember
On numbers alone, Miguel Andujar had a fine rookie campaign. Besides his ungodly amount of doubles, he posted a decent line of .297/.328/.527. Andujar also slugged 27 home runs with 92 RBI, both of which led all rookies. From a pragmatic standpoint, all signs pointed to either him or teammate Gleyber Torres being named AL Rookie of the Year.
Now, let’s take a look at the man who beat both out for AL Rookie of the Year: Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani. The man turned 24 in July, just a year older than Andujar, and also had a solid 2018. Ohtani appeared in 104 games as a hitter, mostly at DH, and hit .285 with 22 home runs and 61 RBI. As a pitcher, he made 10 starts and was 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA.
Here’s the catch. Where Andujar played a full season, Ohtani only made two pitching appearances after June 1. As a hitter, he sat out most of June and had several days off to protect his health. He later suffered a sprained UCL in his pitching elbow that was first treated with PRP injections and then Tommy John surgery. As a result, he will not pitch at all in 2019.
But numbers aside, there is one reason Ohtani did not deserve Rookie of the Year over Miguel Andujar. Though 2018 was Ohtani’s first year in MLB, he spent five years as a two-way star for Japan’s Nippon-Ham Fighters. When push comes to shove, is he really a rookie?
A historical double standard
This is not the first time such a double standard has burned a New York Yankees rookie. It wasn’t that long ago one Hideki Matsui came to the Bronx in 2003 after a decade with Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants. Matsui hit 332 home runs over that stretch, so fans got excited when the Bronx Bombers signed him.
Naturally, Matsui fell to Earth just a tiny bit as a 28-year-old rookie. He only had 16 homers but made up for it with a .287 batting average and 106 RBI. Like Miguel Andujar, Matsui was also a doubles machine with 42 two-baggers. Other former Japanese stars like Hideo Nomo, Kaz Sasaki, and Ichiro Suzuki had all won Rookie of the Year their first MLB seasons. Matsui would be no exception despite the controversy, right?
As Dr. Perry Cox once sang so beautifully on Scrubs, “wrong!” Matsui lost the AL Rookie of the Year race by two first-place votes to Kansas City Royals shortstop Angel Berroa, who had a far inferior season. Berroa also hit .287, and had 17 home runs with 73 RBI. He also stole 21 bases. All he had Matsui beat on were homers and steals, but that was enough to bring the hardware home.
It was later discovered two voters, Jim Souhan and Bill Ballou, had left Matsui off their ballots entirely because of his years in Japan. Naturally, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ripped them both.
Well, the same thing has happened to Miguel Andujar 15 years later, albeit with some key differences. The Boss is still probably spinning in his grave. Ohtani has the trophy, and nothing more can be done.
Or can there?
The ultimate payback
Matsui came back with a vengeance in 2004, hitting .298 with 31 home runs and 108 RBI. He finished 24th in AL MVP voting and while that’s not the best, the man called “Godzilla” in Japan had arrived. Miguel Andujar is in a prime position to have a similar sophomore season.
Instead of focusing so much on extra-base hits, perhaps he should devote some more attention to his launch angle. 27 home runs is already a lot for a rookie, so what’s five to 10 more? Even if the Yankees wind up trading him for a pitcher this winter, Andujar can still use this approach. Andujar’s 2019 team is irrelevant. This is an instance where he must show why he is the better overall player than Ohtani.
A wise man once said in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, “When you kill a king, don’t stab him in the dark. Kill him where the whole court can watch him die.”
Now, I’m obviously not calling for Miguel Andujar to go that far with Ohtani. That will send him upstate to Attica as opposed to, hopefully, Cooperstown. Rather, he should better himself both at the plate and in the field. Ohtani isn’t going to do anything besides DH next season, so he’s basically picking up where he left off from a hitting standpoint. By improving himself as a player, Andujar will show just why denying him Rookie of the Year was a mistake by having an MVP-level season.
That’s what Matsui did in 2004, and he later developed a reputation as a dangerous power hitter on the MLB level. Angel Berroa, on the other hand, never again saw the glory of his rookie season. He hit .262 with just eight homers and 43 RBI and was out of MLB by 2010.
Miguel Andujar’s story will end differently, and that is a promise.