Julio Rodriguez is Making History as Baseball’s Best Rookie

The Seattle Mariners have a budding superstar on their hands with J-Rod.

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 4: Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners points into the stands after hitting a two-run home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres July 4, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

There have been a lot of incredible players who have played Major League Baseball over the years, but there has only been one in the history of the game who has hit 15 home runs and stole 20 bases in their first 81 games.

Julio Rodriguez just accomplished the feat for the first time on Monday, when he hit an absolute moonshot off Sean Manaea for his 15th career home run.

Rodriguez is looking like the favorite win the AL Rookie of the Year this season and could also find himself playing in the Midsummer Classic as a rookie All-Star. Let’s dive into the season of one of the game’s most exciting young stars.

Rebounding From Slow Start

Adjusting to MLB pitching for the first time is hard enough as is, but it is only made more difficult when you are 21 years old and haven’t seen a pitch above Double-A. The Seattle Mariners were convinced that Julio Rodriguez could make that adjustment though, which is why they let him break camp with the big league club in the first place.

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The learning curve was certainly steep for Rodriguez, who had an abysmal start to the season where he hit just .205/.284/.260, with no home runs and a 62 wRC+. Everything changed though when the calendar shifted to May, as Rodriguez began to blaze the trail for a potential Rookie of the Year campaign.

In May, Rodriguez hit .309/.339/.527, with six home runs and a 152 wRC+. The young slugger cut his strikeouts drastically, going from a 37% K rate in April to a 25.2% clip in May. June brought similar success to Rodriguez, as he hit seven more home runs and posted a 162 wRC+ in the month.

Since the beginning of May, Rodriguez is hitting .297/.352/.560, with all 15 of his home runs. Across that span, Rodriguez’s 164 wRC+ is tied with Pete Alonso for the 10th-best mark in the game. Rodriguez has posted a 2.8 fWAR over his last 61 games played. That is the eighth-best mark of any position player since May 1st.

If we were to sum up Julio Rodriguez’s game in one word, that word would be TOOLS.

One look at his Baseball Savant and it is clear the type of gifted athlete J-Rod is. Despite being in the 57th percentile in Outfielder Jump, Rodriguez finds himself in the 93rd percentile in Outs Above Average, thanks to his incredible sprint speed that ranks in the 97th percentile.

Rodriguez an average exit velocity of 92.1 MPH, which is nearly four miles per hours faster than the MLB average and ranks in the top nine percent overall. Rodriguez is also in the top-8 percent of the league when it comes to HardHit%, as his 50.2% mark ranks among the best in the game today.

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Rookie of the Year Favorite

Through the first half of the 2022 season, the AL Rookie of the Year race seems to be a two-man battle. It’s either going to be Julio Rodriguez or Jeremy Pena.

Pena has arguably been more valuable based on a per game basis. Despite playing in 20 less games this season, Pena’s 2.7 fWAR trails Rodriguez by just two decimal points. Still Rodriguez has just about every statistical edge over Pena and is on a tear right now that could extend for a remainder of the season.

Rodriguez leads all AL rookies in the following categories: home runs (15), runs scored (47), RBI (43), stolen bases (20), SLG (.489), wOBA (.355) and wRC+ (140). Pena is second in a lot of those categories and could certainly catch Rodriguez in the race by season’s end, but I wouldn’t count on it.

All-Star Case

According to Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, Julio Rodriguez has been third-most valuable outfielder in the American League this year, trailing only Aaron Judge (4.0) and Mike Trout (3.7).

Let me say that again for the people who may have missed that. The Mariners 21-year-old rookie has been better than every outfielder in the American League not named Judge or Trout.

That is utter insanity.

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Rodriguez is quickly proving he belongs in that upper-echelon of the league and deserves to receive that recognition with an All-Star bid in his first season.

In 2017, Judge made the first All-Star appearance of his career and would go on to win the Rookie of the Year Award for the American League. Five years prior, Mike Trout did the exact same thing, making his first All-Star bid before taking home that ROY hardware after the season.

We are now 10 years removed from Trout’s Rookie of the Year campaign and five removed from Judge’s. Considering what he has done in the first 81 games of his career, Julio Rodriguez looks to be following their footsteps this season.