Tuesday, June 22, 2010
FanGraphs: Best rookie class ever?
By Pat Andriola, FanGraphs
While Rookie of the Year is usually a humble award relative to the MVP and Cy Young, the race for this year’s title may be just as exciting as those for the other major awards around baseball. Mike Fitzpatrick recently called the rise of 2010’s young crop of big league players a "Rookie Revolution," but do the numbers match the hype? Indeed they do.
Compared to past seasons, MLB has seen an upshot in production from first-year players that is relatively unprecedented. First-year batters have amassed 9.0 wins above replacement thus far this season, and if they attain as many plate appearances as they’ve averaged since 2002, are on pace for 35 WAR for the season, which would beat the 2008 record of 27.6 by a significant margin. If rookie pitchers reach their same inning pitched total as last year, they’ll put up 37 WAR, tops since 2002.
While you've no doubt heard about the two big names in this class, it's not just Stephen Strasburg and Jason Heyward making waves. Detroit’s Brennan Boesch is slugging an absurd .617 on the season, best among all rookies in baseball. His teammate, Austin Jackson, is hitting .308 with ten stolen bases in eleven tries and playing quality defense in center field. Third baseman David Freese of the Cardinals and first baseman Gaby Sanchez of the Marlins may be older rookies, but their numbers are not very amateurish. Freese is hitting .306/.370/.425 and Sanchez has an .819 OPS. Mets first baseman Ike Davis has impressed New York with his glove, but his eight homers have also helped an offense that has needed power. Like Davis, Rangers first baseman Justin Smoak hails from the 2008 draft class, and like Ike has hit eight dingers on the year. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has been solid in his forty games in Chicago, hitting .266 with very good defense.
Rookie pitchers are even threatening their bat-wielding counterparts on the mound. Besides Strasburg, Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake was the first player since Xavier Nady to go directly to the major leagues from college, but his 3.02 ERA and 4.06 FIP have certainly proved his worth thus far. Leake has competition within the NL Central, as Jamie Garcia of the Cardinals has put up 1.8 WAR and a 3.19 FIP while striking out 7.50 per nine innings. Meanwhile, Neftali Feliz of the Rangers has lit up radar guns around baseball with his 100 MPH fastball, but his 2.90 FIP and 2.87 ERA are just as exciting.
Incredibly, all of the players listed have a bunch of competition on the way. The Giants recently called up star catcher Buster Posey, who has hit .303 in twenty games so far, and the Indians called up catcher Carlos Santana, who has serious power behind the plate. The Pirates called up third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick of the 2008 draft. Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton was on pace for sixty homers in the minors this year, and the nineteen-year-old hit a grand slam for his first big league homer in Miami after being called up last week.
While we don’t know if this is the best year for rookies of all time, it certainly is on pace to be the greatest in recent memory. Luckily for us, we don’t just get one year of these guys either. Baseball will be blessed with these players for a long time.
Pat Andriola is a writer for FanGraphs.