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.