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Twins Daily 2020 Awards: Rookie of the Year

It was a shortened season, but an official one nonetheless. And so, our panel of 23 Twins Daily writers came together to vote on the annual TD Awards: Rookie of the Year, Most Improved, Best Pitcher, and MVP.

Today we look at the first category, where Ryan Jeffers narrowly edges Randy Dobnak in the balloting.
Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
There is always much to learn for a rookie first entering the big-league ranks, but it's a steeper curve for catchers. They not only participate in games, but are essentially asked to run them. Catchers must signal for and interact with every pitch, and (as framing metrics illuminate) they can impact game outcomes in deeply subtle ways.

Mix in the circumstances that surrounded Jeffers when he joined the Twins in mid-August, and the crash course grows all the more daunting. Think about it: replacing a reigning Silver Slugger (and former Twins Daily Rookie of the Year), on a team battling for first place, with championship aspirations, amidst a sprint of a season just five weeks away from ending.

Jeffers had to gel with a new pitching staff, acclimate to major-league competition, and perform at an extremely high level, despite the lack of any opportunity to sharpen up in minor-league games.

It's a great deal to ask of a 23-year-old who had played 167 games in the minors since being drafted in 2018, including just 24 above Single-A. Jeffers was up to the task.

IMMEDIATE IMPACT

For some context, Mitch Garver had played 508 games in the minors before he debuted in the big leagues. Even Joe Mauer, who rocketed through the Twins system as a No. 1 overall draft pick and No. 1 overall prospect, played 277 games in the minors before first reaching the Show.

Jeffers, a former second-round pick out of UNC-Wilmington, was barely two years removed from being drafted when the Twins called him over from St. Paul's alternate site on August 20th. The front office's decision to tab him as replacement for an injured Garver was somewhat surprising, given the availability of a familiar and experienced option in Willians Astudillo. But it wasn't THAT surprising, if you've ever heard Twins people sing Jeffers' praises.

The young backstop wasted no time making his presence felt. He started in the first game after he was called up, and delivered a go-ahead RBI single in his first MLB at-bat. From that point forward, Jeffers was a mainstay.



A DEPENDABLE WORKHORSE

After Jeffers was called up, Garver made only 21 more plate appearances, the same number as Alex Avila. Minnesota's veteran backstop depth evaporated halfway through the campaign, making Jeffers an absolutely vital asset. He started 18 of the team's final 35 games behind the plate following his promotion, including nine out of 13 at one point while Garver was sidelined and Avila was hampered.

Through it all, Jeffers gained confidence from the pitching staff while proving a reliable battery partner. In 162 innings behind the plate, he was charged with zero errors and only one past ball.

Not only did he grade out well defensively according to these traditional statistics, but by advanced metrics as well. Statcast him had as a 90th percentile pitch-framer, and Baseball Prospectus' FRAA pegged him as above-average. Granted, this is all based on a small sample, but it jibes with the rep on Jeffers from the minors, and what we saw with our own eyes as he smoothly received pitches and stole strikes consistently.

For his part, Jeffers takes a lot of pride in this aspect of his game. "Every pitch is an opportunity for me to change the count," he told our Seth Stohs in a special Twins Daily live-stream recognizing him as Rookie of the Year. "I love making a hitter mad."



Offensively, Jeffers was more solid than spectacular, but that's still an accomplishment on its own from a rookie who specialized in defense behind the plate. He slashed .273/.355/.436 with three home runs in 62 plate appearances, posting a .791 OPS that ranked fifth on the team among players with 50+ PA. The only higher finishers: Nelson Cruz, Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Eddie Rosario.

There was nothing fluky about the rookie catcher's production. He showed excellent discipline, and an ability to crush his pitch. Jeffers generated a Barrel % of 13.9%, higher than any qualified Twin other than Miguel Sanó and Cruz. His average exit velocity was above all teammates save for Sanó, Donaldson, and Garver. Jeffers swung at only 26.7% of pitches outside the zone, which is significantly better than average, and lower than all Twins except LaMonte Wade Jr., Donaldson, Garver, and Avila.

On both sides of the ball, Jeffers look like a comfortably seasoned MLB veteran. For that reason, he was our pick for Twins Rookie of the Year – but only by the slimmest of margins.

OTHER CANDIDATES

As you can see in the ballot results below, Jeffers actually received fewer first-place votes than Randy Dobnak (12-to-9) but managed to narrowly edge him in overall points, 50-to-48. That's about as close as it gets. (Twitter was a little more decisive.) Either one would've been deserving. Why did Jeffers get the nod?



Part of it is recency bias, I'm sure. Dobnak was sensational over the first half, and on a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year path, but his play cratered after that and he was in the minors when the regular season concluded. Jeffers, meanwhile, came along right around the time Dobnak dropped off. He was a fixture the rest of the way and into the playoffs.

There's also the fact that, unlike Jeffers, Dobnak wasn't an entirely new commodity. We'd already seen him look great over 28 innings in 2019. Novelty makes an impression.

But really, speaking as a Jeffers-first voter, I think it comes down to this: While Dobnak ended up having a good year in a year where many pitchers had good years – on the Twins, and across the Central divisions generally – Jeffers came up and outperformed most others in a lackluster lineup. His comparative edge in OPS+ (118) to Dobnak's ERA+ (108) is telling. And, while Dobnak's performance may have been above-average on balance, there's no downplaying the extreme and dramatic plunge that stamped his ticket. It doesn't negate his outstanding early performance, but it does cast serious doubt on the sustainability.

Others who deservingly received votes: Jorge Alcala, Brent Rooker, and Cody Stashak. (Had we polled people after the playoff series, Alex Kirilloff might've received a down-ballot vote or two.)

THE BALLOTS
Here’s a look at the ballots from our 23 voters.

Seth Stohs: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Nick Nelson: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Randy Dobnak
John Bonnes: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Tom Froemming: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Andrew Gebo: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Randy Dobnak
AJ Condon: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Brent Rooker
Cody Christie: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Jorge Alcala
Cody Pirkl: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Ryan Jeffers
Cooper Carlson: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Jeremy Nygaard: 1) Jorge Alcala, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Ryan Jeffers
Lucas Seehafer: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Ryan Jeffers
Matt Braun: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Cody Stashak
Matt Lenz: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Cody Stashak
Matthew Taylor: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Matthew Trueblood: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Jorge Alcala
Nash Walker: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Jorge Alcala
Nate Palmer: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Brent Rooker
Patrick Wozniak: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Derek Wetmore: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Steve Lein: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Ryan Jeffers, 3) Jorge Alcala
Renabanena: 1) Randy Dobnak, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Ryan Jeffers
Ted Schwerzler: 1) Ryan Jeffers, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Brent Rooker
Thiéres Rabelo: 1) Jorge Alcala, 2) Randy Dobnak, 3) Ryan Jeffers

POINTS
Ryan Jeffers: 50
Randy Dobnak: 48
Jorge Alcala: 35
Brent Rooker: 3
Cody Stashak: 2

How would your ballot look? Leave a comment and make your case.

Previous Twins Daily Rookie of the Year Winners
2015: Miguel Sano
2016: Max Kepler
2017: Trevor Hildenberger
2018: Mitch Garver
2019: Luis Arráez

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15 Comments

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theBOMisthebomb
Oct 13 2020 05:37 AM
Looking at the previous five years of winners, only Hildenberger is out of the mix. You'd think these guys could win a playoff game.
    • h2oface, jrod23 and bighat like this

It passes the eye test. I recall watching Dobnak pitch - even when he was winning games and getting people out - and the word that comes to mind is 'anxiety.' He doesn't miss many bats, and the 'pitch to contact' leaves little room for error. If he wore down or batters started figuring him out, the feeling was still the same - how will he survive this inning/this game?

 

I sort of expected the same from Jeffers, at least at bat. From the start, the word used (solid) described him. In looking up the first full year of catchers in MLB, his stats (adjusted for at bats) look remarkably similar to Gary Carter's first year with the Expos. In 503 AB, Carter had 136 hits, 58 runs, 17 HR, 68 RBI and went .270/.360/.416 for an OPS of .776. Multiply Jeffers 55 AB by 9 and you would get 135 hits, 45 runs, 27 HR, 63 RBI, and he went .273/.355/.436 for an OPS of .791. 

Yes, I know about projecting the small sample size over 162 games, but for now, it's all we can do with 2020. If Jeffers has a career similar to Carter's, I suspect he and the Twins will be perfectly fine with that.

What really sticks out to me is how much rookie quality we had this year.Jeffers looks long term at this point (of course Garver did last year), Alcala and Stashak willl continue to be BP arms and just get better.Rooker proved he belongs and Kiriloff had one game to impress - both hasten the talk about shaking up the current OF configuration.And Randy was really the story at the end of last year and first half this year.But I do think scouting caught up with him and he probably does not have a big career ahead of him - he might be the next Hildenberger.I can't wait for Duran, Lewis, Larnach to show up. 

    • arby58 likes this

We should have the best hitting catcher tandem in the league next year. Jeffers displayed raw power in his years in the minors so I expect him to hit a decent amount of HR's next year. Garver has been to consistent at the plate throughout his career not to think his bat won't return although I think 2019 was probably an anomaly in regards to home runs. 

 

Should be an exciting rookie of the year contest next year with all the talent coming up. A few have the potential to put in a bid for American League Rookie of the Year, not just the Twin ROTY.

 

    • DocBauer likes this

Pretty impressive crop of rookie performances this year. It speaks well to the organization that these players are called up and look ready to compete and perform on the big stage right away. Looks like the voting is spot on. I would pick Jeffers over Dobnak if not for performance then by the size of the hole he had to fill. Jeffers did a really nice job; better than I expected. Congrats Ryan Jeffers.

    • DocBauer likes this
Jeffers. Alcala. Dobnak.
Alcala stepped up. I am optimistic about his role coming out of the pen. But my vote would go to Jeffers.

I will admit that I am BIASED toward Dobnak, for good reason, he is my Son.  The only question I would pose to anyone that Voted or is commenting.  Can you say without a doubt that the Twins are Central Division Champions without Randy? I noticed that some did not even have, the Pitcher that tied for most Wins on the team, on their ballot. OH well.  As Randy likes to say, I can only control what I can control. 

 

    • by jiminy, mikelink45, Dman and 4 others like this

I will admit that I am BIASED toward Dobnak, for good reason, he is my Son. The only question I would pose to anyone that Voted or is commenting. Can you say without a doubt that the Twins are Central Division Champions without Randy? I noticed that some did not even have, the Pitcher that tied for most Wins on the team, on their ballot. OH well. As Randy likes to say, I can only control what I can control.

With how close it was, I don’t think we win the division without Randy and/or Ryan.

We don’t use pitcher wins very often here since it’s so heavily linked to run support and wins can be erased by the bullpen (see Maeda’s no hitter bid).

Baseball reference has Randy at 0.4 WAR and Ryan at 0.3. It’s certainly a close call between the two.
    • mikelink45 and AceWrigley like this

I still would like to see Dobnak battling for a spot next year.Love how he approaches games and attacks batters.

 

As for Jeffers, this makes complete sense.Seemed like he wanted in The Show the second he was drafted.Just watching him come up through the minors, from a complete fan perspective, he came off as a player who was only putting in his time at each level.Didn't seem to have room for any BS.Just battled, improved, hit dingers, and advanced.He looked like a major leaguer with a chip on his shoulder from the start.

I agree with the outcome on the balloting, but would like to just make a few comments on the mostly ignored Jorge Alcala, who got votes on 21 out of 23 ballots, including some first place votes (and zero love from Nick Nelson).

 

Called up mid-season and with essentially no MLB experience outside of a cup of coffee in 2019, Jorge Alcala was arguably the Twins 4th or 5th best reliever in 2020. He brought some seriously velocity into the bullpen with a fastball that touched triple-digits and a slider that cooks along faster than some of our pitcher's fastballs. he settled in quickly and had some dominant performances (and a few hiccups). He showed he was a guy who could pitch in higher leverage situations but also give you 2 good innings in the middle of the game. He's definitely going to be slotted into the bullpen next season from Day 1 and makes the possible loss of Trevor May much easier to sustain.

 

3rd place is probably right for him, since he only threw 24 innings, but he looks like a weapon out there and he's going to get a lot of Ks both with that fastball that he can elevate and a slider that is going to force a lot of hitters to guess at sooner than they're ready to make a swing.

 

Jeffers is my pick for Twins Rookie of the Year; he played great and we needed him to step up. His development has been terrific to follow (and I say this as a guy who was on the Rortvedt train) and his ability to adapt to MLB quickly and thrive is especially important since there was no minor-league ball this year. Jeffers still got to develop and play against serious competition and I think it can only help him for next year.

 

Dobnak started out strong and held the rotation together with Maeda while other guys worked through injuries or ineffectiveness, but he fell apart late. It will be interesting to see whether that was just a pandemic fluke or if guys just started to figure things out against him, or maybe he had something nagging that in a normal year gets him 15 days on the IL to rest something minor. Who knows? He'll compete for a spot in the back of the rotation next year, and that's great.

    • arby58 likes this
Photo
stringer bell
Oct 13 2020 12:47 PM

 

I will admit that I am BIASED toward Dobnak, for good reason, he is my Son.  The only question I would pose to anyone that Voted or is commenting.  Can you say without a doubt that the Twins are Central Division Champions without Randy? I noticed that some did not even have, the Pitcher that tied for most Wins on the team, on their ballot. OH well.  As Randy likes to say, I can only control what I can control. 

From what I have seen, you can be very proud of your son. He seems to be a class act who takes the frustrations and struggles that occur in stride. His story is a good one and he has a great future.

 

Undoubtedly, Randy has been a good contributor so far. He faces the challenge of adjusting after the league has adjusted to him. I wish him well, not only as a Twins fan, but also as someone who cheers for those that have faced uphill climbs to reach their goals.

    • Danchat and Weave like this

 

I will admit that I am BIASED toward Dobnak, for good reason, he is my Son.  The only question I would pose to anyone that Voted or is commenting.  Can you say without a doubt that the Twins are Central Division Champions without Randy? I noticed that some did not even have, the Pitcher that tied for most Wins on the team, on their ballot. OH well.  As Randy likes to say, I can only control what I can control. 

 

Even if you weren't biased you would have a pretty good point.With Hill and Baily out and Pineda still serving his suspension Randy filled a hole early that no else really could.I mean the number of bullpen games played was scary enough as it was.His solid early performances were one of the few bright spots early in the season.If he hadn't faded down the stretch I think he wins this hands down.Even with the fade he still might deserve it more than Jeffers but fair or not it is a what have you done lately that in most remembered so on that score I think Jeffers did enough to get there.

 

Randy was a fortunate find for the Twins and I hope he continues to dominate for many years.

    • AceWrigley, bighat and Weave like this

I can agree with Jeffers as ROY but would put Alcala second and Dobnak third. However, all have a good future. I hope Randy can bounce back next year (I think the team may have given up on him too soon) but a lot will depend on how many of our starters we keep and/or bring in. It used to be when a starter had troubles, a team would use him in relief for a bit but I don't think that happened with Randy.

I can agree with Jeffers as ROY but would put Alcala second and Dobnak third. All have a good future. I hope Randy can bounce back but it will depend on how many starters we keep and/or bring in. I think the team gave up on him too soon. Usually when a starter has trouble, you have him pitch in relief for awhile but I don't think that happened. We'll see 

 

Sorry this was repeated but I never saw the first note go thru


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