Royals

Royals’ Cheslor Cuthbert is making a case to be AL Rookie of the Year

Cheslor Cuthbert is making a growing case for a postseason honor.
Cheslor Cuthbert is making a growing case for a postseason honor. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The conversation began with a question, lobbed to Royals manager Ned Yost, about Danny Duffy’s dark horse candidacy for the American League Cy Young Award. It quickly segued to another Royal with a growing case for a postseason honor.

“Is it too early to start the conversation (for Duffy and the Cy Young)? Yeah, probably,” Yost said this weekend at Target Field. “Is it too early to start the conversation of (Cheslor) Cuthbert for Rookie of the Year? Yeah, I don’t think so on that one.”

The caveat, of course, is that it is still August and so much can change over the final 45 games of the season. Case in point: Cuthbert’s 0-for-6 day on Sunday in an 11-4 victory over the Twins.

But perhaps Yost is right. Back in May, Cuthbert was a 23-year-old third baseman thrust into full-time duty after a season-ending knee injury to Mike Moustakas. On Sunday, he entered the final game of a three-game series batting .301 with 10 homers and a .795 OPS in 84 games. The numbers include a blazing July and a .336 batting average since the All-Star break.

As a result, Cuthbert has planted himself firmly in the race for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. The case for Cuthbert? Here is it — with the stipulation that things could change by late September.

▪ Entering Sunday, Cuthbert ranked third among American League rookies in batting average, behind Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim and Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin; he ranked fourth in on-base percentage, behind Kim, Naquin and Texas’ Nomar Mazara.

▪ He ranked fifth in homers (10), first in doubles (18) and fifth in Weighted Runs Created Plus, an advanced metric compiled at FanGraphs.com. In all, Cuthbert has been worth 1.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs’ version of the stat.

In fact, Cuthbert ranks fifth among American League rookies in WAR, a statistic that attempts to combine offense, defense and base running. But according to advanced metrics, Cuthbert actually ranks negatively in defensive WAR, despite a deep catalog of superb plays.

The Royals haven’t featured a Rookie of the Year winner since shortstop Angel Berroa claimed the award in 2003. And in the end, Cuthbert could have steep competition in Naquin, Kim, Mazara and Minnesota’s Max Kepler.

The favorite, in fact, could be Tigers starter Michael Fulmer, who lowered his ERA to 2.25 on Sunday after throwing a shutout against Texas.

Still, Cuthbert is trending upward, even after a nine-game hitting streak was snapped on Sunday. As the day began, he was hitting .336 with a .383 on-base percentage since the All-Star break.

And yes, his candidacy has a vote of support from his manager.

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