Was 2010 The Year of the Rookie?

Looking back to last season, it’s easy to be struck with the embarrassment of riches that was the crop of rookie talent. Particularly in the National League, where Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward gave us tantalizing glimpses into the future, it seemed that youth ruled the day. Some have even hung the moniker “Year of the Rookie” on 2010. Have they done so appropriately?

If we cull the list of first-year position players to those that put in more than 150 At-Bats and put up better than a 105 OPS+, we’ve got a list of rookies that outperformed the general playing field enough to raise eyebrows. The players that stepped forward last year – other than Stanton and Heyward – were Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Danny Valencia, Ike Davis, Jon Jay and Pedro Alvarez. Though the list is a little uneven, even the worst of the group could easily become strong regulars on good teams.

So far so good. Let’s run the list for every year since 1901. A little help from our friends produces the following line graph. Using 105+ OPS+ and 150 ABs as our cutoffs, here are the position-player rookies by year (click to embiggen):

Year of the Rookie indeed. Two-thousand-and-ten tied for having the second-most excellent rookie position players of all time, and fell only one rookie short of 1909’s record nine such men. While the names of the true YoR may not strike a familiar chord in our modern ears, it did produce Hall of Fame Red Sox outfielder Harry Hooper. The year 1986 gave us John Kruk, Will Clark, Wally Joyner and Ruben Sierra, and so deservedly ranks among the three best rookie crops of all time.

Some of the valleys make sense, but it’s hard to make any hard and fast rules from them. Nineteen-forty-one produced zero rookies that meet our criteria, ostensibly because of the war, but then 1943 was an excellent year for rookies. Before 1920, the league was smaller and it might make sense that there were so many zeroes in that era. But then 1909 might beg to differ. The late 1960s were known for their pitching, but that shouldn’t go against our year of the rookie idea.

In fact, in order to truly decide upon a year of the rookie, we’ll have to run this for pitchers as well. There’s also a hole in the search: players that debuted but retained their rookie eligibility by playing for a short time are not represented here. Adding pitchers, which we will try to do early next week, will get us closer to determining the true Year of the Rookie, though.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


62 Responses to “Was 2010 The Year of the Rookie?”

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  1. Cory says:

    WHERE IS POSEY???

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  2. ElJimador says:

    um, Posey? Or are you defining “rookie” differently than MLB does and not counting him as a first year player because of his <20 AB cup of coffee in '10?

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    • ElJimador says:

      ’09 I meant.

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    • Matt says:

      “There’s also a hole in the search: players that debuted but retained their rookie eligibility by playing for a short time are not represented here.”

      Sometimes, it helps to read.

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      • eckmuhl says:

        Even so, that is a pretty significant “hole” in the player search. Either you are a rookie, or you’re not. If you aren’t going to include all true rookies in the data, why run this little experiment at all?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        It’s really hard to run a search for players that played less than 150 ABS the year before. Perhaps I should insert “true” in the title? I’ll work on it.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        No, because Posney was a true rookie. What a pointless post. “it’s too hard to be accurate” is a terrible excuse.

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  3. Telo says:

    OPS+… what is this, ESPN?

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      No reason not to use WAR here.

      If a catcher hits for a 104 OPS+ over 600 PA’s, he doesn’t count, but if a DH/1Bman hits for a 105 OPS+ for 150 PA’s, he *does* count??

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      • Telo says:

        Me likey this logic. But my point was, anyone writing for a baseball site whose primary focus is on advanced statistics should know better than to use OPS/OPS+ for anything when we have wOBA and RC+. It’s kind of baffling.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        This is valid. I’ll re-run it with WAR. Wanted to focus on bat alone and then arm alone, but I guess I could have used other stats still.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        WAR is not a rate type statistic. Many rookies bat occasionally and then become regulars or just become regulars one day when some other player implodes. Is this their fault? The next year… yes! they should have proven themselves in those 150 PAs, but in the first year, it could just be uncertainty that keeps them out in the beginning of the year.

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      • Ryan says:

        If you’re going back all the way to 1901, the best tools to analyze data would be BR’s OPS+. If this was from 2002 on, then yeah, they could have used RC+ or WAR with UZR. It’s not that hard to figure out.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Ryan, we *do* have WAR going back to 1901. This is one thing that makes fangraphs awesome. http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=10&type=6&season=2010&month=0&season1=1901&ind=1

        If your concern is that you don’t trust pre-UZR defensive stats, it’s easy enough to just eliminate the “fielding” column from the WAR calculation. My point was that OPS+ is clumsy, and playing time and positional adjustment should be taken into account.

        Also, fangraphs staff should think about implementing a “rookie” button on the leaderboards, similar to the position buttons.

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      • Telo says:

        @Ryan

        Why would you use OPS+ when you have wRC+? wRC+ is just like OPS+ except instead being conceived with the false implication that one point of OBP and SLG are equal, it uses the linear weights of each PA.

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  4. AK707 says:

    Your post is invalid as long as it fails to acknowledge posey. Also, why stop at position players when it comes to rookies in ’10? We have these things called pitchers.

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  5. Carlos Baerga says:

    Chris Johnson. 341 AB, 123 OPS+

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  6. FairweatherFan says:

    The fact that you write a post titled “Was 2010 The Year of the Rookie?” and entirely fail to mention the 2010 NL ROY who lead his team to the first world series championship San Francisco has ever seen is incredibly embarrassing.

    But then again, this is Eno Sarris, the same guy who wrote the 2011 Giants preview, chock full of factual errors and incorrect assessments.

    The real question here is: Is it the Fangraphs statistical community as a whole that hates the Giants, or just Eno Sarris?

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    • Carlos Baerga says:

      I believe it’s the statistical community as a whole, but I wouldn’t sweat it too much…they hate the Astros too.

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    • Telo says:

      Meh, don’t get too “me against the world” here. I’m guessing his omission of Posey isn’t because of a secret hatred of/vendetta against the Giants. I think he just gets wrapped up in the writing as opposed to the substance sometimes. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Thanks? I don’t remember the factual errors in my Giants post. Also, the Giants are my second-favorite team, I live in the Bay Area, and I watch them almost as much as the Mets.

        Maybe I’m just a self-hater.

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      • Telo says:

        Didn’t mean to imply anything about your Giants recap. Didn’t read it

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      • Nate says:

        @Eno — multiple in your Giants preview you referred to them having a terrible defense, when every defensive stat says that they were one of the top 2 defenses last year. That’s one example of what people mean by factual errors.

        And obviously for this analysis, approximations like leaving out players with bit debuts can only be made if they make no substantive change to the results. In this study, that clearly is not the case, so you’ll have to go back and try again. Simplest solution is to initially filter all player-seasons through a min AB threshold, then find the rookie seasons.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        False. I never ONCE said anything about their defense other than the fact that Huff owns an aging glove. That’s it. And if you’re talking single players you’ll need more than a one-year UZR.

        In the comments I said Burrell is a black hole defensively and if you look at multiple year UZRs, it’s true.

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      • FairweatherFan says:

        @Eno

        I’m not one to throw accusations like this around lightly, but either I have Alzheimer or you edited your article and are now claiming you never said those things.

        I didn’t just make up the terrible defense statement, and neither did the other poster in this thread. I had no reason to single you out – I have no idea who you are. Reading your article now it seems very balanced and neutral. So why did I get this knee jerk reaction to the original posting?

        Neither did either of us make up the “fundamental flaw” that you had mentioned, except that it’s not there anymore – either.

        Whats the deal ?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Let me assure that I did not edit the article. If I make an edit, you can find it in the posts.

        I’m glad you’re willing to listen! If anything set people off, it was the ‘fundamental flaw’ comment, which is still there in my intro and refers to the offense. Perhaps I should have backed off that comment, but I don’t respect the Giants offense really. Sandoval is iffy and Huff could easily go in the tank. Freddy is a light stick… anyway, I don’t think it’s rocket science to say the offense isn’t the strength.

        The defense thing came up in the comments, and there was some real snowballing there. You see that there’s about three posts worth of comments, right? By the time you’re at the end of those, you have a different idea of what I wrote, I bet.

        I did not edit the article.

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      • Giants 162-0 says:

        Eno,

        You say the Giant are your 2nd fav team… However, you also mention the Mets are your 1st fav team. Herein lies the truth: You are actually a Dodger fan by default, and thus actually hate the Giants. Here is the Logic:
        The Mets’ colors are black orange blue and white. The giants colors are black and orange. The Dodgers are blue and white. The Mets were the expansion team in NY to make up for the loss of the move of the Giants and the Dodgers, and thus they use colors from both teams. As such, the Mets essentially took on Dodger fans that didn’t use their justified “fan free-agency” and go be evil empire fans. you are a mets fan, which means u share a team with dodger fans, which means you sympathize with dodger fans,THEREFORE you hate the Giants. It all makes sense now.

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  7. mattinm says:

    Did all the “Where’s Posey?!?” read the final paragraph and just disregard where he mentions that players with previous playing time, even if retaining rookie status, are omitted? I’m guessing it’s for sanity more than anything, because I’m just guessing that the rookie cutoff has changed throughout the years.

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    • Telo says:

      So, you’re saying he threw Posey out of the discussion because of 17 PAs in ’09?

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      • Erik says:

        No. Getting that data is incredibly difficult. The rookie threshold has changed multiple times over the course of history. Hell, before the introduction of the Rookie of the Year award, there wasn’t any “rookie” designation.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        @Erik has it right. I guess “it’s really hard” is not really a good excuse, but it’s all I got.

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      • Telo says:

        The point isn’t whether it’s difficult or not to get the information… the point is that if you have to completely ignore someone like Posey, a ROY, because he had a measly 17 PAs the year before, then it basically invalidates the entire piece, since its aim is to try to find out “Which year had the best rookies”.

        The choice to throw away “players that debuted but retained their rookie eligibility by playing for a short time are not represented here” was a horrible one. Why not run a query for all player’s FIRST seasons with 150 or more ABs? Or something to that affect. Use a new standard for rookie and define it. Which is essentially what he did by saying “rookie = the first season you ever have an AB in the bigs”… except that was just dumb.

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    • AK707 says:

      I could have sworn that last paragraph wasn’t there when I read this the first time. Oh, and I can’t buy that 17AB in ’09 is a “sanity” exclusion.

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    • SKob says:

      Omitting players with previous playing time is the stupidist disclaimer I’ve ever heard. When you leave the NL ROY out of the discussion in an article titled – Was 2010 the Year of the Rookie – you need to re-evaluate how you wrote the article so you don’t look like a moron!

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    • Carlos Baerga says:

      Yep, I did. I rescind my earlier comments.

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  8. PiratesHurdles says:

    Neil Walker also just misses due to 36ab in 2009, he easily made the OPS+ cut at 118.

    Jose Tabata put up an 102 OPS+ also worth mentioning.

    No doubt 2010 was a fantastic year for rookies in MLB (particularly the NL).

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  9. Jason says:

    um… you missed a pretty impactful player. The NL Rookie of the year.

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  10. Mac says:

    Well, this is one of those odd, cherry-picked stat articles, but let’s see what there is to see. The most enlightening pattern I see on that graph is that there is a large amount of oscillation. Common sense: if in one year a whole flood of quality rookies come up to The Show, then the next year there will be less talent in the minors and more young talent in the majors.

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  11. Eno Sarris says:

    I’ll revamp this for Tuesday. Using wRC+ or WAR, and including all rookie-eligibles. Thank you for your feedback.

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  12. Ian says:

    Tough to exclude Austin Jackson’s 102 OPS+ in 675 PA’s, plus his amazing defence in CF, from any exceptional rookie list, particularly when he’s the 21st ranked position player in the AL in 2010, from a Fangraph’s WAR perspective…that’s a phenomenal rookie season.
    I am with much of the other feedback – either change the title of the article, or change the metrics involved…I’m not a fan of excluding fielding prowess…it might not have the impact of hitting or pitching, but it’s still a significant dimension.

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  13. theperfectgame says:

    If you apply 2 filters to your massive original data set, it should become pretty easy to get what you’re looking for. First, filter out any player-year that fails to meet your PA threshold. Then, filter out any player-year that fails to meet your wRC+ threshold (or whatever “goodness” stat you want to use). Then reduce the data set to the player-year that comes chronologically first. The resulting data set should be a list of players along with the first year in which they had 150 PA and were “good enough”. Then, do the same thing, but omit the “goodness” test. This should give you a list of players and the first year in which they had 150 PA. Join those two data sets and where they years match, you’ve got your “good enough” rookies.

    Of course this is all riding on the assumption (which I think should be pretty safe) that you have the data at a player-year level. This method would need a catch for “same name” players, but if you’ve got that handled somewhere within your data anyway, it wouldn’t be a problem. Also, you might want to include additional test to filter out the guys who have gotten something like 50 PAs in each of the last 3 seasons, but that’s not a big deal.

    Anyway, I manually downloaded the last few years of data to test this method. These are the players I got who had 150 PA for the first time in 2010 and posted a 105 wRC+ or better (in descending order).

    Carlos Santana
    Jason Heyward
    Logan Morrison
    Buster Posey
    Brooks Conrad
    Chris Johnson
    Mitch Moreland
    Danny Valencia
    Mike Stanton
    Neil Walker
    Ike Davis
    John Jaso
    Lorenzo Cain
    Chris Denorfia
    Tyler Colvin
    Jon Jay
    Gaby Sanchez
    David Freese
    Pedro Alvarez
    Darnell McDonald
    Jose Tabata
    Austin Jackson

    One or two questionable inclusions that could be ironed out with additional filters, but in general, I think it’s a more complete list. My two cents.

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  14. Undocorkscrew says:

    OMG WHERE’S POSEY? HE LED HIS TEAM TO A RING WITH A .744 OPS IN THE PLAYOFFS!!!!

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  15. John R. says:

    “Nineteen-forty-one produced zero rookies that meet our criteria, ostensibly because of the war. . .”

    The US entered WWII in December of 1941, after the season had ended. War effects wouldn’t show up until 1942.

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  16. Dan says:

    Damn…people need to chill out. There’s no need to insult the author.

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