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Ronald Acuna Jr. tops Juan Soto for NL Rookie of the Year

November 13, 2018

Juan Soto was the brightest spot in an otherwise disappointing Washington Nationals season. But like the team’s season, there was a bit of a letdown to end Soto’s stellar rookie campaign.

Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acua Jr. beat Soto for the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year, it was announced Monday.

Acua finished with 144 votes to Soto’s 89, and the Brave garnered 27 of the 30 first-place votes (Soto had two). The award is voted on by Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler, who finished third, had one first-place vote.

The last three Rookies of the Year in the NL were unanimous selections, but 2018 couldn’t have been more different. Soto and Acua posted similar stat lines in many areas and national pundits considered the race a toss-up.

Soto made his big-league debut in May and played 116 games for the Nationals. He finished the year batting .292 with a .406 on-base percentage and .517 slugging percentage. Soto hit 22 home runs, 25 doubles and 70 RBI.

Acua batted .293 with 45 walks in 487 plate appearances. He hit 26 home runs, 26 doubles, four triples and 64 RBI. He batted leadoff for Atlanta in the second half of the year as the Braves went on to beat the Nationals out for the NL East crown.

Acua was also considered the better defensive player, which may have factored in. According to FanGraphs, Acua saved four runs for Atlanta while Soto posted a minus-5 in the same category. Both play left field.

Soto’s year might be remembered best for how many times he became the first teenager in MLB history to pull off a particular feat. He only turned 20 after the season, making some aspects of his rookie campaign all the more impressive.

Chief among those records was the 79 walks he drew, illustrating both his plate discipline and the respect he already got from opposing pitchers. No teenager drew more than just 60 walks in a season since 1890. He became the youngest player since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989 to draw an intentional walk and finished the season with 10 of them.

Soto also became the first teenager to collect four hits and two home runs in one game, and his on-base percentage and OPS (.923) are the highest a teen has ever posted.

That was one of the characteristics that differentiated him from Acua, who debuted in late April. He only got on base at a .366 clip due to the fewer walks.

Bryce Harper remains the only National to win Rookie of the Year since the team moved to Washington. Harper hit 22 home runs as a 19-year-old the same total as Soto when he won the award in 2012.

Incidentally, Monday was the deadline for Harper to accept the Nationals’ qualifying offer in free agency, which the superstar predictably declined. If Harper signs elsewhere in free agency, Soto’s emergence as an everyday player in the outfield would help the Nationals forge on without him in 2019.

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