Patience Pays

Right now, the top of the MLB position player WAR leaderboard looks like this:

Justin Morneau, +4.4
Robinson Cano, +4.3
Carl Crawford, +3.8
Alex Rios, +3.4
Adrian Gonzalez, +3.3

Besides all having excellent first halves of the 2010 season, and generally being high quality players all around, these five have something else in common – they were all pretty awful in their first trip around the big leagues.

To illustrate the point, here’s their WAR per 600 PA for something equivalent to their “rookie year” – several of these guys had half seasons in several different years, so I’ve combined those into one “year” and then extrapolated the number to an equivalent of one full season’s worth of plate appearances.

Morneau, 2003-2004, +1.1 WAR
Cano, 2005, +0.2 WAR
Crawford, 2002, +1.3 WAR
Rios, 2004, +2.1 WAR
Gonzalez, 2004-2005, -2.3 WAR

Morneau flashed some power, but didn’t hit for much of an average or draw enough walks to be useful at the start of his career. Cano didn’t walk and couldn’t field his position. Crawford was excellent defensively but couldn’t hit. Rios was like Crawford, but with even less power. And Gonzalez was just all kinds of terrible.

Of the five, only Crawford came up at a really young age. The rest were 22 or 23 and were coming off successful stints in the minors, offering hope that they could contribute right away. Pretty much across the board, they came up and stunk up the joint at the plate. Crawford and Rios were able to rescue themselves a little bit with their athleticism on defense, but none of them were able to quickly translate their minor league success at the plate to the big leagues.

I said all of this to say don’t give up on talented young players who struggle in their first taste of the majors. Whether its Justin Smoak, Matt LaPorta, Michael Saunders, or even Mike Stanton, patience is a virtue. Writing off a young player who doesn’t hit immediately upon arrival is a great way to get burned – just ask the Rangers whether they’d like to have Gonzalez back right now.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

22 Responses to “Patience Pays”

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  1. PJ says:

    Especially with Mike Stanton…..He’ll get his but I don’t think it’s gonna be this season. Still a golden pick up in dynasty/keeper leagues

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  2. Bronnt says:

    Honestly, did anyone really expect Stanton come up and have immediate success? He’s 20 years old and strikes out too much. The Marlins didn’t necessarily rush him, since he didn’t have much more to prove in the minors, but he struck out at a higher rate than Adam Dunn in AA. He still needs a bit more refinement. If they thought he was the piece that would make the difference between being in the playoff race and a fourth-place finish, then they were well ahead of themselves.

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  3. Jon says:

    Whom did Texas trade A-Gon for? I seem to recall him being part of a package.

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    • spindoctor says:

      It was a multi-player deal, turned out awful for the Rangers:

      January 6, 2006: Traded by the Texas Rangers with Terrmel Sledge and Chris Young to the San Diego Padres for Billy Killian (minors), Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

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  4. philosofool says:

    Smoak’s best comp that I can find right now is Jim Thome, 1993. Same height, same age, same position, same K%, same BB%, same number of home runs through approximately 200 PA. BABIP differences are the only things that really separate the two. Rookie sluggers with 14% BB? That could easily evolve into one of the best hitters in the game.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    Of course the lis of players that struggled simarlarly and are out of baseball must be 50+ times as long as these 5 dudes.

    That begs the question, what is different with these guys?

    My guess would be “overall talent”, since none of them are a ‘Ryan Ludwick’ type.

    This is an interesting topic, with all of the recent call-ups (Valvarez, etc and send-downs (Maybin, etc).

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  6. supermets says:

    I have an unrelated question about wRC+.

    Tony Gwynn Jr (and I’ve found other examples) has a wOBA of .316 this year. His wRC+ is 103. Does that mean the league average wOBA is below .316? That seems odd. Am I wrong about how wRC+ is calculated?

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    • Not David says:

      Park adjustments.

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      • supermets says:

        ah. thanks. So wRC+ is park adjusted, but wOBA isn’t?

        Also, another wOBA question. In 2009 Shane Victorino had a line of .292/.358/.445 for a wOBA of .354. In 2010, he has a line of .245/.319/.451 for a wOBA of .347.

        By his line, 2009 is much better with a small difference in slugging but a huge advantage in 2009 for OBP. Why is the wOBA difference so small?

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Baserunning. He was a pretty good 25/33 on the paths last season. He’s a scintillating 16/17 so far this season (scaling that to last season’s PA, it’s 36.5/38.8)

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      • supermets says:

        Thanks! I knew there had to be another reason

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      • Toffer Peak says:

        wOBA, as its name suggests, is pegged to league OBP. Since league OBP is down to .329 from last years .333 could this also have an effect if wOBA hasn’t been recalculated for this change in league hitting?

        Also for reference Victorino’s “batting isolated” wOBA at Statcorner is .338 this year compared to last year’s .363.

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  7. Samuel says:

    I think Wieters is the guy that should be listed here first.

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  8. TedWilson says:

    It’s called scouting. I assume the patience message is directed towards the numbers geeks.

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  9. TedWilson says:

    For the record, Stanton will vastly outperform the geeks projections this year. Note that I am saying this as he has but 1 HR in +50 ABs and he with his .300 OBP.

    Watch this guy, he will start mashing soon, very soon. He won’t have a pretty avg, but he will be productive. He will stick.

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    • spindoctor says:

      He will stick – they didn’t bring him up to send him right back down – but this season won’t be very pretty.

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  10. Duff Soviet Union says:

    It’s a bit harsh to lump Rios in with these other rookie “failures” isn’t it. 2.1 WAR isn’t great, but it’s about average right?

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      It seems like his definition of “stinking up the joint” is pretty harsh. Posting a WAR of around 1 or 2 doesn’t seem so bad to me.

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