In the long history of the Cincinnati Reds, there have been seven Rookie of the Year winners. Most were in the 1960s, with three different players winning during that decade. For all but one year (1966), the Reds had a winning record when a Red won the award. Four of the seven were All-Stars the same year they won. And every player, except maybe Pat Zachry, became a household name in Cincinnati and across the country. With the Reds having some players on the verge of breaking in — I’m looking at you, Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel — now is a good time to take a look back at other Reds rookies.
The first ROY was a player who would go on to win the MVP award in both the AL and the NL. Frank Robinson played for the Reds from 1956-1965 and won the ROY unanimously in 1956. In 152 games, Robinson went .290/.379/.558, with an OPS of .936, 38 home runs, 64 walks, and 122 runs scored.
Most fans remember Pete Rose as the all-time MLB hits leader and one of the key players of the Big Red Machine. What they don’t remember is while his later years were good, his beginning years were also just as good. In 1963, Rose won Rookie of the Year, with a .273/.334/.371 slash line and an OPS of .705, despite his competitor, Mets second baseman Ron Hunt, leading Rose in nearly every category, including an OPS of .730. But with 170 hits and 101 runs scored in 157 games compared to Hunt’s 143 games, Rose won with 85 percent of the vote.
Tommy Helms was the ROY winner in 1966, and this one may have been a bit of a surprise to baseball fans. Helms had a great season, and he won the award with 60 percent of the vote, even though he led Houston’s Sonny Jackson in only four categories: HR, RBI, SLG, and OPS, and played in 12 less games.
Two years later, a 20-year-old took the baseball world by storm. Despite an impressive rookie season, Johnny Bench won the 1968 ROY by a narrow margin (53%-48%) over Mets pitcher Jerry Koosman, who had a 2.08 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 263.2 (!!) innings. Bench had an incredible season himself, going .275/.311/.433, with an OPS of .743, 15 home runs and 82 RBI.
Pat Zachry became the first Reds pitcher to win ROY in 1976, as a member of one of the most dominant teams in baseball history. In 204.0 innings, Zachry had 2.74 ERA and struck out 143 batters, while walking 83. Six of his 28 games started were complete games, including one shutout. He gave up only eight home runs. Despite those numbers, Zachry ended up tying with Padres’ reliever Butch Metzger for the award, who had 16 saves in 77 games and walked only 52 in 123.1 innings.
Chris Sabo, also known as “Spuds,” beat out Mark Grace of the Cubs for 1988 NL ROY, and did it with his legs. Sabo stole 46 bases that year, well ahead of everyone else in the field. He wasn’t bad at the plate either, going .271/.314/.414 with 11 home runs and 74 runs scored. He quickly became a fan favorite and was a key part of the championship team two years later.
Scott Williamson, the most recent Red to win ROY (in 1999), won with 74 percent of the vote over Marlins center fielder Preston Wilson. Williamson would go 12-7 with a 2.41 ERA in 62 games. He had 19 saves, and gave up only 8 home runs while striking out 107. While it didn’t end well for the Reds that year, Williamson was able to help them go 96-67, one of the team’s best records in the past 30 years.
In 2008, Joey Votto finished in second and Billy Hamilton did the same in 2014. That’s the closest any Red has come to winning ROY since Williamson last won in 1999. Now, the Reds have two potential candidates in the next two years. Could it happen in 2018 or 2019 with #1 prospect Nick Senzel or top five prospect Jesse Winker? It’s more likely Senzel will be in contention in 2019, as the Reds probably hold him back in 2018 to give him more at-bats at Triple-A and manipulate his service time.
But if Winker can get everyday playing time in 2018, he could have an opportunity to win ROY this season. Either way, it will be fun watching these two young players compete for something that hasn’t happened in 19 years.