Ryan Schimpf and the Great Old Rookie

It was roughly a month ago that I wrote the post that Ryan Schimpf made necessary. Schimpf is 28 years old, and 28-year-old rookies tend not to merit a lot of attention. There have obviously been some great, older players to produce fantastic debut seasons — like Ichiro Suzuki, for example, or Jackie Robinson. This post, however, isn’t concerned with those players who were kept from the game because they played professionally elsewhere or were unable to play due to systemic racism. Rather, the present post attempts to remedy the lack of awareness for players in a situation like Schimpf’s — older players who make the most of their opportunity — both this year and in those that preceded it.

While Schimpf is certainly the best of the lot this season, he’s not alone among older guys in their rookie seasons this year. The chart below shows the rookies who are at least 27 years old and have recorded at least 100 plate appearances (and who didn’t sign as professional free agents before the season e.g. Byung-ho Park).

Old Rookies in 2016
Name Team Age PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Ryan Schimpf Padres 28 226 16 .242 .367 .613 155 17.8 -4.2 2.1
Jarrett Parker Giants 27 136 5 .254 .375 .430 123 3.5 -3.2 0.5
Jeremy Hazelbaker Cardinals 28 197 11 .250 .309 .506 111 2.2 -4.5 0.4
Whit Merrifield Royals 27 220 2 .271 .305 .381 81 -2.5 6.0 1.1
Shawn O’Malley Mariners 28 193 2 .238 .318 .343 85 -3.5 0.2 0.3
Brett Eibner – – – 27 127 5 .209 .270 .391 72 -4.1 3.9 0.4
Tyler Holt Reds 27 170 0 .213 .292 .260 50 -9.9 -2.6 -0.7

Jeremy Hazelbaker took a path fairly similar to Schimpf, moving from the Red Sox to the Dodgers to the Cardinals, who finally gave him a bit of a chance this season. Parker was drafted by the Giants, has hit in virtually every stop and debuted last year for San Francisco — and is back with the team this season after spending much of the season in the minors. Merrifield progressed slowly with the Royals, eventually making Omar Infante expendable, but ended up back in the minors last month with Kansas City giving Raul Mondesi a shot. Shawn O’Malley was drafted 10 years ago and received only brief exposure at the major-league level in both 2014 and 2015 before appearing this season. Eibner was traded for Billy Burns earlier this year, and the A’s are making a bet that Eibner’s success in the minors can translate to the bigs if given the chance. Tyler Holt is a speedy, low-power player who has gotten to the majors in each of the past three years.

Looking at the list above, it’s pretty clear that Schimpf is in his own league, at least as far as this year goes. As far as direct comparisons go, Schimpf doesn’t have many peers. If you look over the past 50 years for 28-year-old-and-older rookies with at least 200 plate appearances in their debut season who have posted both (a) at least 2.0 WAR and (b) a wRC+ over 100, the only person on that list with Schimpf is Jim Norris, a 28-year-old outfielder who played with the Cleveland Indians in 1977 and who put up a 102 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR in 517 plate appearances. However, if we open things up a bit and look for the best old-rookie seasons, we come up with a few more memorable names (with apologies to Jim Norris).

In the last 50 years, there have been 190 players at least 27 years of age who have recorded 220 plate appearances or more in their rookie season — basically an average of four such players per season. Of that group, 51 recorded zero wins or less. Another 62 players produced under 1.0 WAR. There are another 47 with at least 1.0 WAR but under 2.0 and a few of those merit some consideration. Nine of them had at least a 120 wRC+, and those players are on the chart below:

Old Rookies with Under 2 WAR and over 120 wRC+
Season Name Age Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
2006 Esteban German 28 Royals 331 3 .326 .422 .459 136 14 -9.3 1.6
1993 Troy Neel 27 Athletics 482 19 .290 .367 .473 131 17.2 -14.9 1.8
2013 Josh Satin 28 Mets 221 3 .279 .376 .405 125 4.2 1.5 1.3
1999 Benny Agbayani 27 Mets 314 14 .286 .363 .525 122 9 -7.1 1.1
1996 Curtis Pride 27 Tigers 301 10 .300 .372 .513 121 8.3 -8 1.1
2006 Josh Willingham 27 Marlins 573 26 .277 .356 .496 120 13.4 -12.9 1.9
2008 John Baker 27 Marlins 233 5 .299 .392 .447 120 6.2 1.7 1.5
1990 Jack Daugherty 29 Rangers 340 6 .300 .347 .435 120 7.4 -6.9 1.2
1984 Kelvin Chapman 28 Mets 223 3 .289 .356 .401 120 3.8 -1.6 1

In 2006, Esteban German had quite the rookie season, although it was actually his fifth season in the big leagues, and he failed to garner any Rookie of the Year votes, as Justin Verlander won in a landslide, with Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Liriano falling in behind Verlander. Troy Neel played in 1994 but, after the strike, moved to Japan, where he played for several years. Satin was drafted at 23, and made the majors by 26, but only got one extended run in the majors a few years ago. Benny Agbayani had a good two-year run with the Mets in 1999 and 2000, but fell off thereafter. Curtis Pride, one off few deaf baseball players in MLB history, has an incredible story, debuting in Montreal in 1993 and getting a some playing time with the Tigers several years later. Willingham had a lengthy MLB career after making his debut several years before his rookie season. Baker had a solid career as a backup catcher, Daugherty debuted in 1987 at 26, and Kelvin Chapman actually debuted in 1979 before getting back to the majors five years later.

There are only 13 older rookies on the position-player side who recorded at least 2.5 WAR in their rookie seasons.

Old Rookies with At Least 2.5 WAR
Name Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR Age
2008 Mike Aviles Royals 441 10 .325 .354 .480 117 4.7 13.8 14.6 4.3 27
1989 Randy Milligan Orioles 444 12 .268 .394 .458 145 -0.4 22.2 -1.5 3.8 27
1996 F.P. Santangelo Expos 467 7 .277 .369 .407 109 0.0 5.1 17.0 3.5 28
1973 Davey Lopes Dodgers 615 6 .275 .352 .351 103 1.3 3.6 10.2 3.5 28
2004 Lew Ford Twins 658 15 .299 .381 .446 118 1.9 16.8 -4.0 3.4 27
2003 Scott Podsednik Brewers 628 9 .314 .379 .443 117 5.9 19.3 -7.2 3.2 27
2006 Luke Scott Astros 249 10 .336 .426 .621 165 1.0 22.2 -0.8 2.9 28
2005 Freddy Sanchez Pirates 492 5 .291 .336 .400 94 -1.5 -4.9 17.7 2.9 27
2009 Garrett Jones Pirates 358 21 .293 .372 .567 142 2.0 20.7 -5.0 2.7 28
1969 Coco Laboy Expos 616 18 .258 .308 .409 98 -0.6 -2.0 5.6 2.6 29
2013 David Lough Royals 335 5 .286 .311 .413 97 2.6 1.3 11.2 2.5 27
1993 Rich Amaral Mariners 421 1 .290 .348 .367 95 -0.7 -3.4 15.5 2.5 31
1993 Wayne Kirby Indians 511 6 .269 .323 .371 87 1.4 -6.6 15.2 2.5 29

Ryan Schimpf isn’t on this list yet — he’s currently at 2.1 WAR and our projections have him getting very close to the 2.5 mark — but Mike Aviles appears to take the cake for older rookies. Aviles had the poor luck of being a rookie in the same season as Evan Longoria, while Milligan had the poor luck of being in an era that voted for relievers, as Gregg Olson and Tom Gordon (who started and relieved that season) took the top two spots. Santangelo, Sanchez, and Lopes relied on defense for their impressive WAR totals. Podsednik finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Dontrelle Willis. Luke Scott is the only player above with a higher wRC+ than Schimpf in a similar number of plate appearances.

Garrett Jones probably had the most similar start to Ryan Schimpf, hitting 21 home runs in just 358 plate appearances. Jones put together a decent career before his release by the Yankees last season, finishing with 122 home runs and a 106 wRC+ over 3,228 plate appearances. Hal Breeden, who just missed the cut, also had a similar season for the Expos in 1973, hitting 15 homers with a 141 wRC+ over 290 plate appearances. Older rookies don’t have what we might call a great or rich history, but quite a few guys who didn’t show up made differences in their rookie seasons and went on to decent careers.

We hoped you liked reading Ryan Schimpf and the Great Old Rookie by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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rosen380
Member

Q: when a player has PA before their official rookie year, like FP Santangelo, what are those previous PAs considered?

In his “rookie year” he had 3.5 fWAR in 467 PA as the table shows, but he had 4.4 fWAR in 580 PA through his rookie year. is it reasonable to count everything up until the player completed their rookie season?

It doesn’t change much… Kirby and Amaral fall off the bottom. Mitch Redmond and Norris Hopper move on to it. Santangelo moves up to #1…