Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Best Starts of All Time

In researching a new blog I invariably uncover far too much to include in one article. As I sat down to write my latest, about the most promising starts that rookies have had, I realized that there have been simply too many great rookie seasons to include in one blog. So I am splitting the topic into three blogs, namely: best starts by a rookie who was not a pitcher, most promising starts by a rookie pitcher, and biggest (rookie) busts of all time. Here comes the first. Keep in mind that I am just talking position players here – no pitchers – and that all these guys went on to have fine careers – or else they would be appearing in the upcoming famous flops article.

This year's highest achieving rookies are all three first basemen – Freddie Freeman (18 home runs and a .291 average) of the Braves, the Angels' Mark Trumbo (26 home runs and 80 RBIs) and Eric Hosmer of the Royals (.287 with 15 homers). Nothing all that impressive. I think a pitcher will probably win it this year.

Just recently called up to the show, however, are Brett Lawrie, the Jays' rookie third baseman (about whom Rick has written a couple of times) who is off to a great start and Jesus Montero, a highly-touted catcher the Yankees just debuted. Montero didn't do much his first three games but he belted a pair of home runs on Monday. Maybe one of those guys will win the Rookie award next year.

How about last year? Well, Jason Heyward of the Braves, who hit a 3-run home run in his much anticipated debut, ended up with 29 doubles, 18 homers, and 91 walks, but he struck out 128 times. NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, the Giants' rookie catcher, hit .305 and belted 18 home runs.

And now ... here are some rookie standouts from recent years, going from most recent to longest ago. (Don't worry, I won't go back to the 1890's like I often do.)

Dustin Pedroia, who had started with a .191 average and just two home runs in 31 games in 2007, hit .317 with 39 doubles in 2008, his first full year.

In 2007 Ryan Braun hit .324 and had 34 home runs and 97 RBI in just 113 games. Troy Tulowitzki had 33 doubles, 24 homers, 99 ribbies, and a .291 average.

In 2006 Marlin rookie shortstop Hanley Ramirez had 46 doubles and 17 home runs and hit .292, but he struck out 128 times. Phillie sensation Ryan Howard, who'd hit 22 homers in 88 games in his debut, belted 58 and added 149 RBIs in 2006.

In 2001 each league had a star. Ichiro Suzuki led the AL with a .350 average based on 242 hits, won a Gold Glove and led the league in stolen bases with 56. In the senior circuit Albert Pujols hit .329, had 194 hits, 37 home runs, and 130 RBIs. Now that's a rookie season! He was the first rookie Cardinal named to the All-Star team since 1955! Who was that 1955 Cardinal rookie sensation? Okay I won't keep you hanging, it was Luis Arroyo, who had one other good year – for the Yanks in '61.

In 1999 Carlos Beltran had a great all around season batting .293 while scoring 112 runs and knocking in 108. He stole 27 bases and hit 22 home runs. The year before Todd Helton of the Rockies ripped 37 doubles, 25 home runs, had 97 RBIs and hit .317.

In 1998 Todd Helton of the Rockies had 37 doubles, 25 home runs, 97 RBIs and hit .315.

In 1997 Boston rookie shortstop phenom Nomar Garciaparra had 209 hits including 44 doubles, 11 triples, and 30 home runs.

In 1993 Dodger Mike Piazza batted .318 with 35 homers, 112 RBIs and a .561 slugging percentage.

In 1987 Oakland's Mark McGwire, who was still the size of a normal human being in his rookie year, led the American League with 49 home runs and 118 RBIs.

In 1964 Dick Allen of the Phillies had 38 doubles, 29 homers, 99 ribbies, and a .318 average.

In 1953 Harvey Kuenn had 34 homers, 144 RBIs and a .322 average.

In 1950 Boston's Walt Dropo hit .322 and had 34 home runs and 144 RBIs.

In 1939 Ted Williams had 185 hits for a .327 average, 31 home runs, 145 RBIs and walked 107 times. (He wouldn't swing at a bad pitch even if he could hit it even as a rookie.)

In 1936 Joe Dimaggio scored a whopping 132 runs and knocked in 125, hit 44 doubles, 15 triples, 29 home runs, and hit .323.

In 1926 Pittsburgh's Paul Waner hit 35 doubles, 22 triples, and had a .336 average.

My Top Ten (Offensive) Rookie Seasons:

2007 Ryan Braun
2006 Ryan Howard
2001 Albert Pujols (and Ichiro Suzuki if he was actually a rookie)
1997 Nomar Garciaparra
1993 Mike Piazza
1975 Fred Lynn and Jim Rice
1953 Harvey Kuenn
1939 Ted Williams
1936 Joe Dimaggio

Controversy!

To qualify as a rookie a player must have had no more than 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on the active roster in a previous season. Ya, but ... Hideo Nomo (1995), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) had starred in the Nippon Professional Baseball League and Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Sam Jethroe had played lots in the Negro Leagues. Should any of them have won? I say no.

And now for some fun;

Who had the most consecutive Rookie of the Year winners on the same team?

Well, the Senators/Twins went on a pretty good run between 1959 and 1967. Bob Allison (30 home runs) won in '59 and Albie Pearson won in '60. (They were still the old Washington Senators then). In 1964 Tony Oliva heralded great things for the Twins with 32 homers, 94 RBIs and a .323 average. And in 1967 Rod Carew won it.

Very impressive, but not consecutive. Amazingly, from 1992 to 1996 the Los Angeles Dodgers had a record five consecutive rookies of the year. They were Eric Karros, Mike Piazza (see above), Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth.

Which club had the best rookies at the same position? Well it's sort of a tie.

In 1975 the Red Sox had two outstanding new outfielders. Fred Lynn, who was terrific defensively, hit .331 and had 47 doubles, 21 home runs and 105 RBIs. Fellow rookie Jim Rice hit .309 and had 22 home runs and 102 RBIs.

In 1958 Orlando Cepeda of the Giants won the NL Rookie of the Year Award after going 25, 96, .312. And the very next year the Giants had a real problem because that year's Rookie of the Year was Willie McCovey, another Giant first baseman! He hit 13 home runs in just 52 games and batted .354. No DH. What to do?

Hope you enjoyed this look at outstanding rookies, stay tuned for great young hurlers and famous flashes-in-the-pan.

1 comment:

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Great stuff as usual Will. Some Rookies of the Year (ROY's)did not have career years for that first one but later became household names for their play.
I do not agree with your assessment of the rookie rules. A player in the MLB can not have any minor league (or other league, no matter where or what) stats count towards their career. Ichiro played nine years in Japan, since he was 18 yrs old. His stats for the MLB are the only ones that count. So... I think he as well as others (e.g. Jackie Robinson) should have been considered for the ROY honor as they were. They qualify for the ROY with MLB stats. I don't have a problem with this.