July 23, 2003
I was thinking about the leading contenders for this year's Rookie of the Year awards and I was struck by how many good rookies there are this season.
I mean, there have been quality rookies throughout the history of baseball, but for every 2001 - when Albert Pujols won in the NL, Ichiro! won in the AL, and guys like Roy Oswalt, Adam Dunn, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano and Jimmy Rollins all had nice rookie years - there is a year like 1992 - when Eric Karros won the NL award by hitting .257/.304/.426 and Pat Listach won the AL award with a .349 slugging percentage.
This year's crop of rookies appears, at least at this point in the season, to be a very solid group, with a lot of outstanding performances and an especially impressive amount of depth.
Let's take a look at some of the top rookies so far...
(A player is a "rookie" if he came into the season with no more than 130 at bats and/or 50 innings pitched at the major league level)
AB AVG OBP SLG EqA
Hideki Matsui 399 .301 .358 .454 .291
Rocco Baldelli 383 .303 .332 .444 .276
Ty Wigginton 372 .274 .327 .425 .264
Angel Berroa 330 .282 .338 .461 .275
Scott Podsednik 308 .308 .384 .416 .288
Ken Harvey 303 .257 .305 .416 .245
Mark Teixeira 285 .260 .342 .477 .280
Eric Munson 271 .236 .313 .435 .267
Jody Gerut 240 .275 .332 .500 .288
Lyle Overbay 227 .273 .365 .405 .263
Marlon Byrd 225 .298 .368 .409 .278
Jason Phillips 210 .319 .397 .476 .303
Reed Johnson 196 .311 .369 .464 .285
Hee Seop Choi 170 .229 .364 .441 .283
That list is really long and it's leaving off quite a few guys (like Bo Hart) who are putting up good numbers in limited playing time.
To put those performances in some context, when Karros won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1992, he had a .270 Equivalent Average (EqA) as a first baseman, the most "offensive" position. Of the 14 guys I listed there, 10 of them have an EqA above .270, including 3 everyday centerfielders and an everyday shortstop.
No one is having a rookie year like Pujols in 2001, but it's a very deep group and several of them are near the top of their respective positions offensively. Among American League rookie hitters, Rocco Baldelli and Hideki Matsui have gotten by far the most attention, but Angel Berroa and Mark Teixeira are quietly having similarly good seasons.
Baldelli started very fast, hitting .368 in April and .314 in May, but slowed down quite a bit after that, hitting .255 in June and .257 so far in July. Meanwhile, Teixeira started very slow offensively and didn't get much playing time at first, but has really been hot lately, slugging .507 in May, .529 in June and .508 so far in July. Like Teixeira, Matsui started slow, but his season numbers are very solid thanks to an incredible June, when he hit .394/.484/.673 in 104 at bats. Berroa has had 3 good months out of 4, including a very nice .327/.382/.592 June.
If the season ended right now, I think the choice for best AL rookie hitter would be a tough call. Do you go with the left fielder (who has also played some CF) who has a .291 EqA over an everyday centerfielder with a .276 EqA? Or do you go with the everyday shortstop with a .275 EqA? Or maybe you go with the guy with a .280 EqA who has filled in all over the diamond, spending time at 1B, 3B, LF and DH. It's a tough call, and that's not even mentioning Jody Gerut and Reed Johnson, who have both been very good, but in less-than-everyday playing time.
The crop of NL rookie hitters isn't nearly as impresssive. Ty Wigginton has the most playing time of any rookie hitter in the league, but his hitting hasn't been particularly good, although it also hasn't been bad either. Marlon Byrd started slow and had some injury problems, but he has been playing very well lately as Philadelphia's starting centerfielder. He's got his OBP up to .368 and is now their leadoff man. Hee Seop Choi started very fast, got hurt and has struggled to find playing time all season, although his overall numbers are still very solid.
The best rookie hitter in the NL this season has been Scott Podsednik. Podsednik gradually started to get playing time early on and, after the Brewers traded Alex Sanchez to the Tigers, Podsednik became their everyday centerfielder. He has done a great job, hitting .308 with a .384 on-base percentage, while adding in 20 steals and solid defense. Besides Podsednik, the most overlooked rookie hitter in the NL is Jason Phillips, a former catcher who has taken over as the Mets' everyday first baseman. Phillips is hitting .319/.397/.476, which is good for a .303 EqA - the best of any rookie in baseball. He only has 210 at bats so far though, and his defense at first has been pretty rough.
Jason Davis 118 4.72
Jae Weong Seo 113 3.83
Jeriome Robertson 107 4.56
Jeremy Bonderman 105 5.38
Horacio Ramirez 104 4.17
Brandon Webb 103 2.45
Mark Hendrickson 101 5.17
Claudio Vargas 99 3.55
Jesse Foppert 85 5.53
Dontrelle Willis 84 2.67
Billy Traber 72 4.38
Kyle Snyder 71 4.29
Matt Roney 68 3.69
Kurt Ainsworth 66 3.82
Zach Day 65 3.44
Jerome Williams 64 2.83
Oscar Villarreal 58 2.62
Brad Lidge 58 2.34
Francisco Rodriguez 52 3.12
Lance Carter 48 4.10
Mike MacDougal 43 3.98
Another deep group.
The big name receiving the bulk of the attention is obviously Dontrelle Willis, who has taken over the baseball world by storm the past 2 months. Dontrelle has been excellent this year and was even chosen to the all-star team after pitching only 82 big league innings. However, to be quite honest, Dontrelle Willis, as good as he's been, has not even been the best rookie starting pitcher in the National League so far this year. That honor belongs to Arizona right-hander Brandon Webb.
IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG
Webb 103 2.45 89 29 8 .211
Willis 84 2.67 80 27 3 .248
Willis' only real edge is his 9-2 record, compared to Webb's 7-3 mark. But, as any intelligent baseball fan knows, a pitcher's win-loss record is far from the best way to judge him. Webb has pitched more innings with a lower ERA, he's got a slightly better K/BB ratio (3.1/1 to 2.9/1) and he's holding opponents to a batting average that is nearly 40 points lower than Willis.
That's no knock against Dontrelle Willis, because he is having a great rookie season and he is an extremely exciting player to watch. I have seen him pitch 6-7 times already this season, simply because I make it a point to watch the Marlins when he's on the mound. That said, the fact that the media has grabbed hold of a certain player and hyped him endlessly is nothing new, nor is the fact that they are ignoring another rookie playing the exact same position who is having an even better season than the guy they are hyping.
How many times have you seen a feature on Brandon Webb on ESPN? I'm gonna guess the number is pretty close to zero, whereas Willis is featured on ESPN on what seems like on a daily basis. He's an exciting player and I have no problem with him being heavily talked about and I don't even have a problem with style over substance (to a certain degree), but Brandon Webb should be getting the credit he deserves too, and that's not happening, at least not yet.
Beyond Webb and Willis, who are both having excellent rookie seasons, there are several other rookie starters having very nice years. Jerome Williams has been nearly as impressive as both Webb and Willis, although in fewer starts. I watched Williams toss a complete-game against the Cardinals two weeks ago and came away extremely impressed (although I was a little upset Felipe Alou let him throw 127 pitches). Williams is 5-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 10 starts so far. That said, he has yet to give up a homer in 63.2 innings pitched and that's simply not going to continue much longer.
Jeriome Robertson, Jason Davis, Jae Weong Seo and Horacio Ramirez are all putting together very solid years, while pitching a lot of innings. They are all already over the 100-inning mark and have kept their ERAs in the 3.75-4.75 range. Even Jeremy Bonderman has had quite a few quality stretches after getting off to a horrible start.
In addition to the rookie starters having nice seasons, there are a ton of rookie relievers having good years. Last year's playoff-hero, Francisco Rodriguez, got off to a slow start, but has a 1.38 ERA over the last 2 months and his season ERA is down to 3.12. K-Rod has 50 strikeouts in 52 innings pitched and has limited opponents to a .177 batting average.
Mike MacDougal has had some very rough patches, particularly this month (9.95 ERA), but he has generally done a nice job as Kansas City's closer this year. He is 24/30 (80%) in save opportunities and had a 2.59 ERA prior to the all-star break. Speaking of the All-Star Game, no discussion of rookie relievers is complete without everyone's favorite all-star...Lance Carter! Who? Exactly.
Carter somehow got selected for the All-Star Game, despite a 4.05 pre-break ERA (which has since risen to 4.10). He has 16 saves on the year, but has also blown 6 saves. Still, a 4.10 ERA isn't bad for a rookie asked to close ballgames for most of the year.
Brad Lidge and Oscar Villarreal also deserve some recognition for the jobs they have done in the bullpen for Houston and Arizona. Villarreal is 6-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 58.1 innings of work and has already appeared in 52 games. Lidge is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 57.2 innings, while appearing in 50 games. Lidge has been one of the more dominant relievers in baseball, striking out 10.3/9 IP while limited opponents to a .171 batting average. He and Octavio Dotel (2.56 ERA, 10.4 Ks/9 IP, .170 OAVG) make one nasty right-handed setup combo, and when you get past them, you get to face Billy Wagner and his 11.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.
In all, I'd say Matsui, Baldelli, Berroa, Teixeira, Podsednik, Webb, Willis and maybe Seo, Lidge, Rodriguez and Phillips are having what I would call Rookie of the Year caliber seasons at this point. That's not to say they would all win the award in other years, just that, in an average year, they would all be in the running.
Of course, as Pat Listach can tell you, a nice rookie season doesn't equal a nice, lengthy major league career. As for which of this year's rookies is headed for the best career? Who knows, although I bet Rich Harden and a few other guys not in the running for this year's awards will have something to say about it.
Link of the Day:
This is something I have been thinking about doing for a while now. Basically, there are a ton of awesome websites out there, many of which are featured in my links on the left side of this page. I visit quite a few of those sites on a semi-regular basis, but I don't always get a chance to give them the "plugs" that I think they deserve. So, what I am going to do (for a little while, at least) is have a featured "Link of the Day." I might feature a site with a really great article currently posted on it or a blog of a team that is making headlines or, most likely, just one of the many great websites that I enjoy. Today's link...
Florida (Penny) +160 over Atlanta (Ortiz)
Philadelphia (Padilla) +150 over Chicago (Wood)
Colorado (Chacon) +175 over Los Angeles (Brown)
Baltimore (Ponson) +185 over New York (Clemens)
Tampa Bay (Zambrano) +180 over Boston (Mendoza)
Kansas City (May) +120 over Minnesota (Radke)
Total to date: + $740
W/L record: 178-179 (1-2 yesterday for -65, and under .500 for the first time in a while.)
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