A Look at the AL Rookie Race

Well, we’re about six weeks into the season so it’s time to take a look at the Rookie of the Year races. Today, we’ll begin with the American League before following up with the National League on Tuesday. Rookies were considered based on a minimum of 50 plate appearances, four starts, or 10 relief appearances. Last year’s AL Rookie of the Year award went to A’s closer Andrew Bailey, followed by Elvis Andrus (Texas) and Rick Porcello (Detroit).

Austin Jackson | CF | Detroit: The 23-year-old Jackson is certainly the top rookie hitter right now. His line of .370/.420/.508 is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the league – but it’s also quite a bit better than anything he’s ever posted in the minors. Toss in a well-publicized (and enormous) BABIP of .511 and you have the makings of someone that’s going to take a large slide in the second half of 2010. He does deserve credit for recently cutting down on his strikeouts, with just five in his last 10 games. His wOBA of .416 certainly gives Jackson a huge lead on any other rookie hitter in the American League.

Scott Sizemore | 2B | Detroit: Sizemore’s solid start to the ’10 season was overshadowed by Jackson’s great start. The second baseman has been stumbling recently, though, and his triple-slash line is down to .241/.319/.337. After slugging 17 homers and stealing 21 bases in the minors last season, Sizemore has just one long ball (.096 ISO) and zero stolen base attempts in his rookie season in the Majors. He currently has a wOBA of .299. He’s not going to gain any value from his defense, either.

Justin Smoak | 1B | Texas: It’s been a slow start for Smoak on offense. The former first round pick is currently hitting just .196/.303/.411 in 17 games. Given his struggles with the batting average, though, his wOBA of .314 is better than you might think it would be (the MLB average is .326). Smoak has a solid walk rate at 13.6% and his strikeout rate is reasonable at 16.1%. Despite his misfortune with the balls in play (.178 BABIP), the power has been there, as seen by his .214 ISO. It’s a slow start to be sure, but the signs point to Smoak’s overall numbers getting much better as the season progresses.

Reid Brignac | IF | Tampa Bay: Brignac, 24, has seen time at both second base and shortstop in 2010. He’s hitting a respectable .294/.339/.466 in 21 games. He also has a wOBA of .346. He’s not a big home run threat, but Brignac has shown gap power and has an ISO rate of .172. He’s been quite aggressive at swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (almost 20% more than average) but he’s making above-average contact, which has helped to keep his strikeout rate to 15.5%. It has definitely hurt his on-base rate, though, as his walk rate is just 4.8%.

Lou Marson | C | Cleveland: You have to feel a little sorry for Marson. Not only is he adjusting to a new team and a new league as a rookie, but he also has top prospect Carlos Santana breathing down his neck. Marson is currently hitting .203/.261/.266 with a wOBA of .249, so he’s not exactly doing his part to keep the full-time catching gig in Cleveland. The right-handed hitter is batting just .163 against right-handed pitchers. His strikeout rate of 26.6% is far too high for someone with an ISO of just .063.

Mitch Talbot | RHP | Cleveland: The 26-year-old Talbot finally earned a shot at the big leagues in 2010 after posting some solid numbers in triple-A over the past three seasons. The right-hander has a shiny 3.43 ERA but his xFIP is currently 4.94. There is also some significant concern over his strikeout rate of 3.66 K/9, as well as the K/BB of just 0.84. That is not going to help a pitcher succeed over a full season. Talbot has survived this far thanks to a solid ground-ball rate of 52% and a BABIP of .234. American League hitters are making contact against him 93.5% of the time (average is 80.8%).

Wade Davis | RHP | Tampa Bay: Again, we have a rookie pitcher whose overall numbers are not quite as good as the ERA (3.18) would suggest. Davis’ xFIP currently sits at 4.81 and his walk rate has been high at 4.76 BB/9. His strikeout rate is below the league average at 6.62 K/9. He’s also a fly-ball pitcher. On the plus side, he’s allowed just 27 hits in 34.0 innings (.253 BABIP). If we look at his pitch type values, we see that his fastball has been good, but his secondary stuff has not been overly effective.

Brian Matusz | LHP | Baltimore: Matusz has quietly gone about his rookie season, in part because Baltimore just isn’t getting much attention while wallowing in the AL East cellar. The lefty’s xFIP currently sits at 4.80 and there is some concern over his extreme fly-ball tendencies; his ground-ball rate is just 26.6%. That clearly has to improve if he’s going to succeed in the American League. His walk rate is solid at 3.12 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is good at 7.36 K/9. Matusz has given up 46 hits in 40.1 innings, but he’s been hampered by a BABIP of .353.

Neftali Feliz | RHP | Texas: You don’t see many 22-year-old closers, so Feliz is a bit of a rarity. He’s been quite successful since claiming the role and has converted nine of 10 save opportunities. Feliz has a strikeout rate of 9.72 K/9, but his walk rate is even more impressive given his age and experience: 1.62 BB/9. Like with Matusz, the low ground-ball rate of 23.3% is troubling. According to his pitch type values, Feliz’ fastball hasn’t been quite as dynamic as it was in ’09 but he has positive values for all three of his offerings (heater, curveball, change-up).

Predictions

The Next Big Call-up: Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
2010 First Half Star: Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit
2010 Second Half Star: Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas
2010 Overall AL ROY: Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

28 Responses to “A Look at the AL Rookie Race”

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  1. odbsol says:

    Is BABIP something that normalizes during the year? i.e. if a player’s 1st half BABIP is .400 but the league average is .300, would you expect it to correct through a 2nd half BABIP of .200?

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      No, one would expect a .300 BABIP in that case. Just because one rolls a five on a dice ten times in a row does not make it any more or less likely on the next roll.

      Jackson’s BABIP wouldn’t regress to .300, anyway, probably more like .350, due to his speed. That said, it’s more that we’ll expect .350 from here on out, with the .511 already behind him, rather than expect .300 from here on out for a year-total of .350.

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    • jar75 says:

      No, I don’t think you can expect that. He may go through a run where he hits at a .200 BABIP level, but I would assume that he’s closer to league average the rest of the way out (maybe a bit higher given his speed and ability to hit line drives).

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    • ToddM says:

      That’s not how BABIP (or any statistic, really) works.

      What you’d expect for the second half is a BABIP closer to a player’s norms (players do vary in speed and line drive frequency, for example, which affect BABIP), and an average for the season at the midpoint between whatever’s on the record so far and what is expected.

      For example, Austin Jackson’s sitting around .510. In the minors, it looks like he posted about a .370 BABIP over several years. Thus, given that about 1/5 of the season is in the books, you’d expect a weighted average of about .400 or so for the full season.

      This is assuming, of course, that he hasn’t learned something along the way that has established a higher expected BABIP. In any case, over .500 is completely unsustainable.

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    • Steve C says:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=9848&position=OF

      Just take a look at the ZiPS ROS and Update. If I am not mistaken ZiPS does a pretty good job at accounting for any possible change in true talent and regression to the mean.

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  2. jo_illy says:

    This must have been written before Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game and lowered his xFIP to below 4

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  3. ToddM says:

    That’d be true if Braden hadn’t used up his rookie eligibility in 2007. The guy has over 300 innings in the majors.

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  4. dizzle says:

    Is Austin Jackson really that fast? I think that he’s an above average speed guy that has good instincts, kind of like Curtis Granderson. Jackson’s minor league speed score isn’t “burner” fast.

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      He’s pretty quick. He also hits more groundballs than Granderson did, giving him a shot to beat them out. He’s not a burner but he’s plenty fast.

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  5. Austin jackson has an xBABIP of .352 at the moment, which would bring his slash line down to (if we assume all lost luck hits were just of his singles)
    .258/.316/.358

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  6. bobrob2004 says:

    Interesting on the xBABIP and the .258/.316/.358 slash line with lost luck on Jackson. Can someone show me how that’s calculated?

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    • THT has a calculator. From there, I create a park-neutral, team/defense-neutral adjustment using the royals as the baseline lol. It’s not completely perfect, but it works. I just plug and go from there

      just search THT calculator

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  7. Mlbfan2010 says:

    reliever tyson ross? another A’s pitcher rushed to the majors, skipping AAA like andrew bailey.

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  8. tommybones says:

    My money is on Smoak. He’s looked much better than his numbers so far. Great approach at the plate, makes solid contact and has legit power. The AVG will rise once the BABIP adjusts.

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  9. bballer319 says:

    Is there any widely available historical info on babip; such as the highest season ending babip recorded with 400 or 500 minimum at bats? Even an average +/- standard deviation would be nice, but I haven’t found anything. This could help clue in for potential roy production. i.e. If the highest season babip for a player such as Jackson (based on age, speed score, etc) was .370, then in order to get to .370 to finish, he would have to hit xx. That just seems an easy thing to do and would be approximately reliable in terms of long tail constraints.

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  10. jklender says:

    The most interesting thing about Jackson to me is that his BABIP has remained extremely high from the start — and even increased recently. He has used the whole field, put a lot of pressure on defenders with his baserunning skills (lots of infield hits and hustle XBH’s), and has shown good gap power. Above all, he has stayed within himself and thus far has not tried to hit balls out of the park or otherwise force things he’s not really capable of doing.

    It’s a given that the BABIP will normalize at some point, but over the course of the season I’m not sure his overall numbers will be affected as drastically as some predictions indicate. Fundamentally he has been a very impressive hitter thus far, so while there is always a regression to the mean, it would take a lot more to fall completely off the cliff.

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    • ToddM says:

      The question is, does Jackson have an exploitable hole in his approach that pitchers will recognize and abuse at some point this year. I’m a Tigers fan, I’ve seen 80+% of his PA, and other than swinging and missing on a seemingly random (but pretty high) number of pitches, I haven’t seen anything yet.

      I think he’s at least 50/50 to hit .300, although, if he does end up right at .300, it won’t be a particularly impressive triple slash, maybe 300/350/400.

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    • BJsWorld says:

      How can a drop of 150 points (or so) in BABIP not drastically effect his numbers? That’s a huge variance. As for his power – it’s never developed. The kid topped out at 13 bombs in 2007. Jackson has always been about projection, not performance. As a result we shouldn’t be surprised that he isn’t swinging for the fences.

      He certainly has the ability and tools to be a respectable ML CF’er. Right now he is just playing crazy good. He will regress. An OPS above 750 this season would have to be considered a solid campaign given his age and minor league track record (2500 PA’s in the minors with a career OPS of 766).

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      • jklender says:

        I guess I don’t agree that his BABIP is going to drop that much, for some of the reasons I mentioned and considering how long it’s already sustained at an unsustainable level. I figure like others said above, probably somewhere around .400 in the long run.

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  11. straightdrive says:

    Brett Cecil anyone?

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  12. Chris says:

    Any bold predictions for Jesus Montero should Johnson stay / go back on the DL?

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  13. Jishwa says:

    I have nothing positive or intelligent or introspective to contribute, so i’ll just simply say…

    Go Orioles! Can’t wait to see what Brian Matusz can do over the whole year once he gets more polished, which he already is quite a bit more than most his age.

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  14. jklender says:

    I will say Smoak and Sizemore probably have the most room for improvement. Sizemore’s ceiling isn’t very high though.

    Matusz and Feliz should be solid all year. Davis I like, but haven’t seen enough of.

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    • Personally, I see the AL ROY going to Matusz or Smoak. The AL ROY for 2010 wont be nearly as interesting as the NL ROY, which could feautre Strasberg or Chapman on top of Heyward, Davis and maybe Castro

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