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Unsung Hero of the Year: Josh Rojas

Rojas just edged a close battle, in his first full season as an everyday major-leaguer

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Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 during a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

This was definitely among the tightest battles in the history of the ‘Pitties. Rojas emerged victorious, but took only 31% of the vote, among the smallest tallies ever by a winner. There was a four-way battle for the position, with the other three contenders all getting more than 20% each. Merrill Kelly came closest, in terms of pushing Rojas, with the final result in doubt all the way until I close the poll this morning. But Joe Mantiply also had his supporters, and No Award was in the running too. Here’s how the voting broke down.

The award therefore goes to Rojas, who went from occasional utility guy to lead the team in plate appearances at the age of 27. That included starting games at five different positions: second base, third base, shortstop and both corner outfield positions, showing a degree of versatility that was very helpful. His 103 OPS+ represented a breakthrough at the plate (his career MLB figure prior to that was just 51, albeit over only 227 PA), and was the best by any Diamondback hitter in 2021 with enough PA to qualify. He’ll still be earning minimum wage next season, and is under team control through the end of the 2026 season, so figures to be a cog as the team looks to rebuild from their current trough.

Not too bad for “a minor league over achiever that is old for his level.” Sorry, Jack: you had to know this was coming, that being the assessment at the time of the trade. Jack wasn’t along - just one of the few on the record! I think most of us regarded him as the least important piece of the Grienke trade, which also brought the team Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin. But in 2021, the other three all had their share of issues. Beer’s season was ended after just ten PA by injury, while the pitchers had ERAs of 7.79 and 10.69 respectively and were unable to command a roster spot. But by the end of 2020, Steven said in Rojas’s review, “I have a feeling Rojas is going to see a large amount of ABs.” That proved spot-on.

I don’t want to go into too much depth on Rojas’s season, not least because Curtis will be reviewing that when Josh’s spot comes up for our series, in the New Year. But a couple of points are worth making. There’s no doubt Rojas felt the physical grind, a situation not helped by his utility role limiting his down time. He said, “I have to get those reps every day at whatever spot I’m playing that day. If I was playing the same position, once a series or twice a series, I could take a day off from doing early work.” That may have played into struggles at the plate down the stretch. After his season OPS hit a high of .838 on August 21, Josh hit just .200/.254/.262 over his final 130 AB, a .515 OPS.

Indeed, physical ailments may well have been a factor, sapping Rojas’s power in particular - he had no home-runs at all in that time. While it was a dislocated finger which led to Josh spending time on the Injured List from July 24 until August 10, it was the player’s left shoulder which proved to be more of a nagging concern. He had been “bothered” by it through much of the season, and in early November, underwent surgery to clean up the AC joint, a similar procedure to the one David Peralta had in 2019. Mike Hazen said rehab had been an option, but “The surgery is jumping in front of that.” Rojas should be ready to go for 2022, and at this point, there’s no reason to think he’ll be any less busy next year.