Historical Relevance of Elite Rookie Seasons

As of this writing, Tyler Naquin is running a wRC+ of 171 through 196 plate appearances. While still statistically a fairly small sample size, it’s enough to be a qualified rookie season. If the season were over today, Naquin’s 171 would be the fourth-highest for a qualified rookie ever.

Now there’s a lot of discussion about Naquin’s impending regression. Even though Naquin has always had a high BABIP profile (over .350 through minors), his current mark of .417 is clearly unsustainable. It’s also hard to see someone continuing to hit home runs at over four times the frequency he did in the minors.

I’m not going to debate what his regression might look like, or where his true-talent level might be. I am just going to look at the fact that he has had an incredible rookie season so far. Even with some significant regressions in the second half, Naquin is well set up to put up some pretty gaudy rookie numbers. So, I decided to take a look at some of the other best rookie seasons ever, and how these players fared in the rest of their careers. Since 1901, there have been 30 qualified rookie hitters (if you include Naquin) to post a wRC+ of at least 150, a mark that even with some significant regression, Naquin should have a chance to exceed.

# Name Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
1 Willie McCovey Giants 52 219 13 32 38 2 10% 16% 0.302 0.379 0.354 0.429 0.656 0.467 185 0.5 24 -1.8 3.1
2 Frank Thomas White Sox 60 240 7 39 31 0 18% 23% 0.199 0.421 0.33 0.454 0.529 0.437 178 -0.5 20.7 -5.7 2.4
3 Joe Jackson – – – 177 768 8 144 100 45 9% 0.173 0.391 0.449 0.564 0.476 178 2 76.2 -3 10.2
4 Tyler Naquin Indians 63 196 12 32 29 3 9% 29% 0.313 0.417 0.324 0.387 0.636 0.426 171 0.8 17.6 -2.5 2.2
5 Bret Barberie Expos 57 162 2 16 18 0 12% 14% 0.162 0.4 0.353 0.435 0.515 0.418 169 0 12.6 1 2
6 Bernie Carbo Reds 129 470 21 54 63 10 20% 17% 0.239 0.341 0.307 0.451 0.546 0.438 168 0.6 40.5 -3.2 5.6
7 Jose Abreu White Sox 145 622 36 80 107 3 8% 21% 0.264 0.356 0.317 0.383 0.581 0.411 167 -2.9 42.7 -14.4 5.3
8 Bill Skowron Yankees 87 237 7 37 41 2 8% 8% 0.237 0.344 0.34 0.392 0.577 0.429 166 0.2 18.5 -5.6 2.1
9 Benny Kauff – – – 159 681 8 124 97 76 11% 8% 0.162 0.4 0.368 0.447 0.529 0.463 166 12.4 65.6 1.6 9.9
10 Fred Lynn Red Sox 160 656 23 108 115 10 10% 15% 0.238 0.37 0.338 0.408 0.576 0.434 166 0.2 48.3 4.8 7.9
11 Rico Carty Braves 135 507 22 72 88 1 9% 16% 0.223 0.357 0.328 0.387 0.551 0.408 164 -0.4 36.3 -9 4.9
12 Bill Salkeld Pirates 95 317 15 45 52 2 16% 5% 0.236 0.288 0.311 0.42 0.547 0.451 161 0.2 23.2 2.7 3.9
13 Yasiel Puig Dodgers 104 432 19 66 42 11 8% 23% 0.215 0.383 0.319 0.391 0.534 0.398 160 -3 26.2 -0.7 4.1
14 Buck Herzog Giants 64 213 0 38 11 16 17% 0.063 0.3 0.448 0.363 0.405 160 1.1 14 -0.2 2.5
15 Dick Allen Phillies 172 733 29 131 93 3 9% 20% 0.236 0.367 0.317 0.378 0.553 0.401 160 -0.7 48.9 1.6 8.3
16 Carlton Fisk Red Sox 147 568 24 81 67 5 9% 17% 0.239 0.32 0.292 0.363 0.531 0.401 160 0.4 34.2 11.7 7.1
17 Albert Pujols Cardinals 161 676 37 112 130 1 10% 14% 0.281 0.336 0.329 0.403 0.61 0.423 159 -1.1 50.7 0.9 7.2
18 Stan Musial Cardinals 152 585 11 95 79 7 11% 4% 0.173 0.327 0.325 0.402 0.498 0.42 158 1.1 38.6 1.7 6.1
19 Al Bumbry Orioles 119 406 7 78 34 24 8% 12% 0.163 0.375 0.338 0.398 0.501 0.403 158 0.8 27.3 -5.5 3.8
20 Mitchell Page Athletics 145 592 21 85 75 42 13% 16% 0.214 0.343 0.307 0.405 0.521 0.404 157 6.9 46.9 -6 6.2
21 Brett Lawrie Blue Jays 43 171 9 26 25 7 9% 18% 0.287 0.318 0.293 0.373 0.58 0.407 157 2.2 13.4 5.5 2.6
22 Ted Williams Red Sox 149 677 31 131 145 2 16% 10% 0.281 0.328 0.327 0.436 0.609 0.464 156 -0.4 52.7 -4.4 7.1
23 Johnny Mize Cardinals 126 469 19 76 93 1 11% 7% 0.249 0.322 0.329 0.402 0.577 0.436 156 0 33.5 -2.5 4.3
24 Ryan Braun Brewers 113 492 34 91 97 15 6% 23% 0.31 0.361 0.324 0.37 0.634 0.421 155 1.3 36.3 -26.9 2.5
25 Mike Trout Angels 179 774 35 149 99 53 10% 22% 0.226 0.358 0.306 0.379 0.532 0.389 153 15.9 63.9 15.5 11
26 Erubiel Durazo D-backs 52 185 11 31 30 1 14% 23% 0.265 0.385 0.329 0.422 0.594 0.43 151 -0.2 12.5 -1.4 1.6
27 Kal Daniels Reds 74 207 6 34 23 15 11% 15% 0.199 0.356 0.32 0.398 0.519 0.402 151 2.2 14.3 -1.8 2
28 Miguel Sano Twins 80 335 18 46 52 1 16% 36% 0.262 0.396 0.269 0.385 0.53 0.392 151 -4.8 14.8 -6.6 2
29 Mark McGwire Athletics 169 699 52 107 127 1 11% 21% 0.316 0.285 0.28 0.361 0.597 0.4 150 -0.9 44 -18.5 4.8
30 Fred Snodgrass Giants 157 579 3 81 51 44 14% 11% 0.111 0.365 0.317 0.431 0.428 0.421 150 3.3 36.6 -3.9 5.9

It’s easy to see that Naquin puts himself in some impressive company on this list. I wanted to see how likely it is for an elite rookie season to lead to a successful MLB career. Next is a list these players including their career WAR and wRC+ compared to what they did as rookies.

# Name Team G PA wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
1 Willie McCovey Giants 52 219 185 3.1 67.4 145 22
2 Frank Thomas White Sox 60 240 178 2.4 72 154 18
3 Joe Jackson – – – 177 768 178 10.2 60.5 165 13
4 Bret Barberie Expos 57 162 169 2 7.5 99 6
5 Bernie Carbo Reds 129 470 168 5.6 20.6 128 12
6 Jose Abreu White Sox 145 622 167 5.3 8 134 3
7 Bill Skowron Yankees 87 237 166 2.1 28.6 118 14
8 Benny Kauff – – – 159 681 166 9.9 34.1 149 8
9 Fred Lynn Red Sox 160 656 166 7.9 49.2 129 17
10 Rico Carty Braves 135 507 164 4.9 34.7 132 17
11 Bill Salkeld Pirates 95 317 161 3.9 8.7 137 6
12 Yasiel Puig Dodgers 104 432 160 4.1 11.3 134 4
13 Buck Herzog Giants 64 213 160 2.5 28.6 97 13
14 Dick Allen Phillies 172 733 160 8.3 61.3 155 15
15 Carlton Fisk Red Sox 147 568 160 7.1 68.3 117 25
16 Albert Pujols Cardinals 161 676 159 7.2 91.1 154 16
17 Stan Musial Cardinals 152 585 158 6.1 126.8 158 23
18 Al Bumbry Orioles 119 406 158 3.8 22.6 106 14
19 Mitchell Page Athletics 145 592 157 6.2 7.1 118 8
20 Brett Lawrie Blue Jays 43 171 157 2.6 9.7 100 6
21 Ted Williams Red Sox 149 677 156 7.1 130.4 188 19
22 Johnny Mize Cardinals 126 469 156 4.3 68.6 157 18
23 Ryan Braun Brewers 113 492 155 2.5 36.9 141 10
24 Mike Trout Angels 179 774 153 11 44.4 167 5
25 Erubiel Durazo Diamondbacks 52 185 151 1.6 9.2 124 7
26 Kal Daniels Reds 74 207 151 2 16.9 140 7
27 Miguel Sano Twins 80 335 151 2 2.9 132 2
28 Mark McGwire Athletics 169 699 150 4.8 66.3 157 16
29 Fred Snodgrass Giants 157 579 150 5.9 19.7 114 8

Finally, I have broken these careers down into tiers, just as a quick visual. These tiers are loosely based mostly on career WAR. I am not considering controversies surrounding these players (e.g. McGwire, Jackson), just what they accomplished at the plate.

Tier 1 – “First Ballot” Hall of Fame Talent – 5 Players

Name wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
Ted Williams 156 7.1 130.4 188 19
Stan Musial 158 6.1 126.8 158 23
Albert Pujols 159 7.2 91.1 154 16
Joe Jackson 178 10.2 60.5 165 13
Mike Trout 153 11 44.4 167 5

Not much to say here, you all know these names. Yes, I put Trout here already; I don’t think anyone is arguing how good a player he is at this point. Jackson was placed here because, again, I’m just looking at how good a player these players individually were.

Tier 2 – “Fringe” Hall of Fame Talent – 6 Players

Name wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
Willie McCovey 185 3.1 67.4 145 22
Frank Thomas 178 2.4 72 154 18
Dick Allen 160 8.3 61.3 155 15
Carlton Fisk 160 7.1 68.3 117 25
Johnny Mize 156 4.3 68.6 157 18
Mark McGwire 150 4.8 66.3 157 16

Fringe HOF was just what I named this group, based on career WAR. Obviously some of these players are much less “fringe” than others when it comes to actual voting, but regardless, all of these players had long careers of being excellent hitters.

Tier 3 – Starter Talent – 5 Players

Name wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
Benny Kauff 166 9.9 34.1 149 8
Fred Lynn 166 7.9 49.2 129 17
Rico Carty 164 4.9 34.7 132 17
Bill Skowron 166 2.1 28.6 118 14
Buck Herzog 160 2.5 28.6 97 13

Group of players with great, but not generally HOF-quality careers. You’ll notice here that Herzog didn’t actually maintain above-average offense throughout his career, but he was able to find success as a great defensive player.

Tier 4 – Successful MLB careers – 4 Players

Name wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
Bernie Carbo 168 5.6 20.6 128 12
Al Bumbry 158 3.8 22.6 106 14
Kal Daniels 151 2 16.9 140 7
Fred Snodgrass 150 5.9 19.7 114 8

The difference between a successful MLB career and a bust is extremely relative. I put the cutoff at 10 WAR, which seems to me like a mark you would expect to be able to reach after putting up one of the greatest rookie seasons ever.

Tier 5 – Relative Bust – 4 Players

Name wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
Erubiel Durazo 151 1.6 9.2 124 7
Mitchell Page 157 6.2 7.1 118 8
Bill Salkeld 161 3.9 8.7 137 6
Bret Barberie 169 2 7.5 99 6

None of these players lived up to what they produced in their rookie seasons. However, you do see that this is still a group with generally good offensive production throughout their careers.

Jury’s Out –  5 Players

Name wRC+ WAR Career WAR Career wRC+ Seasons
Miguel Sano 151 2 2.9 132 2
Ryan Braun 155 2.5 36.9 141 10
Brett Lawrie 157 2.6 9.7 100 6
Yasiel Puig 160 4.1 11.3 134 4
Jose Abreu 167 5.3 8 134 3

And finally, we have a few active players where it’s too early to call what class of career they are going to have.

So what does this all mean for Tyler Naquin? Well, probably not as much as an irrational Cleveland fan such as myself might hope. There is no ignoring though that there is an exceptional success rate for players who hit this well as a rookie. 75% were able to run career WAR totals over 20, and about half of those made it to 60!

Now there are going to be a lot of people who argue that Naquin’s minor-league track record might suggest that he is still likely to end up somewhere in that bottom 25% group. I don’t know how good Naquin really is, or how good he might be. I do know that he has put himself in a group with some impressive names, and I am quite excited to see how his career plays out.



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nevinbrown
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nevinbrown

Why is Ryan Braun in the jury’s out? He has been better than all the starter talent group, and he has done it in only 10 years.