Best Rookie Seasons, By Franchise

The newest toy (or tool, depending on seriously you take these things) at the baseball-reference .com Play Index is a Rookie button that allows one to search for rookie seasons only. The tool will not line up perfectly with players who have been considered “rookies” historically because (1) b-ref uses the current MLB rookie definition and applies that uniformly to all seasons going back in time, and (2) b-ref is fudging a bit on the service time part of the rookie definition, so it can be applied within the scope of the data b-ref has. But the results are still very useful and interesting, and with b-ref’s prominent position in the world of historical baseball data these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if b-ref’s approach to defining a “rookie” becomes the standard definition for historical purposes.

Using b-ref’s new Play Index tool, here are (after the jump) the top rookie seasons by non-pitchers (1901-2012) for each current franchise, by season Wins Above Replacement (using the b-ref version of WAR of course):

Angels: Mike Trout (2012) 10.7
Orioles: Bobby Grich (1972) 5.6
Red Sox: Fred Lynn (1975) 7.1
White Sox: Tommie Agee (1966) 6.0
Indians: Shoeless Joe Jackson (1911) 9.0
Tigers: Donnie Bush (1909) 6.2
Royals: Kevin Seitzer (1987) 5.3
Twins: Tony Oliva (1964) 6.6
Yankees: Thurman Munson (1970) 5.3
A’s: Mitchell Page (1977) 5.8
Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki (2001) 7.5 (or Alvin Davis in 1984 with 5.7, if you don’t really consider Ichiro in 2001 a rookie)
Rays: Evan Longoria (2008) 4.5
Rangers: Bump Wills (1977) 5.0
Blue Jays: Eric Hinske (2002) 3.6
D’Backs: Alex Cintron (2003) 2.5
Braves: Jason Heyward (2010) 6.3
Cubs: Charlie Hollocher (1918) 5.0
Reds: Vada Pinson (1959) 6.3
Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki (2007) 6.5
Marlins: Hanley Ramirez (2006) 4.6
Astros: Joe Morgan (1965) 5.4
Dodgers: Mike Piazza (1993) 6.8
Brewers: Pat Listach (1992) 4.2
Mets: Ike Davis (2010) 3.1
Phils: Richie Allen (1964) 8.5
Pirates: Glenn Wright (1924) 5.5
Padres: Roberto Alomar (1988) 4.1
Giants: Jim Ray Hart (1964) 4.9
Cardinals: Albert Pujols (2001) 6.3
Nationals: Bryce Harper (2012) 5.0

UPDATE:

Combining both the everyday players on the original list above with the pitchers on Doug’s list in the comments, we can get a table of the very highest rookie WAR season for each franchise, using the higher of the top everyday player WAR and the top pitcher WAR:

FranchiseFirst NameLast NameYearWAR
AthleticsScottPerry19188.2
AngelsMikeTrout201210.7
AstrosJoeMorgan19655.4
Blue JaysMarkEichhorn19867.1
BravesIrvYoung19058.8
BrewersPatListach19924.2
CardinalsAlbertPujols20016.3
CubsEdReulbach19058
D’BacksBrandonWebb20036
DodgersJeffPfeffer19147.4
GiantsChristyMathewson19018.7
IndiansShoeless JoeJackson19119
MarinersIchiroSuzuki20017.5
MarlinsHanleyRamirez20064.6
MetsJerryKoosman19686.2
NationalsBryceHarper20125
OriolesBobbyGrich19725.6
PadresRobertoAlomar19884.1
PhilsGregMcQuillan19089
PiratesCyBlanton19357
RangersBumpWills19775
RaysEvanLongoria20084.5
Red SoxFredLynn19757.1
RedsVadaPinson19596.3
RockiesTroyTulowitzki20076.5
RoyalsKevinSeitzer19875.3
TigersMarkFidrych19769.3
TwinsTonyOliva19646.6
White SoxRebRussell19138.5
YankeesRussFord191010.6

91 thoughts on “Best Rookie Seasons, By Franchise

  1. 1
    Parker says:

    Uh, you missed a team.

  2. 3
    Dr. Doom says:

    “Richie” Allen. Hehe. For those of us who weren’t around then, he’s always been “Dick.”

    • 4
      birtelcom says:

      As the reference was to his 1964 season, when he was only known as Richie, and as he was the most famous player on the Phillies when I was a kid in the Philadelphia area, which means I still always think of him as Richie, I indulged my whim here.

    • 7
      bstar says:

      Doom, here’s how Topps treated Mr. Allen’s first name on their cards:

      1964-1969: Richie Allen
      1970-1972: Rich Allen
      1973 onward: Dick Allen

  3. 5
    oneblankspace says:

    Do you mean 1977 for Bump Wills?

    • 6
      birtelcom says:

      Yes, thanks, fixed.

    • 9
      Voomo Zanzibar says:

      Why did Bump go to Japan?
      He had a nice career in MLB.

      • 10
        birtelcom says:

        That’s actually a pretty good trick: 6 years in MLB and produces season-over-season declines in WAR every single year.

      • 28
        MikeD says:

        I remember Bump Wills. My impression/memory was he was a butcher in the field, and I remember hearing rumors he was kind of a jerk. Couple that will declining production year over year, and suddenly you find yourself in Japan!

        • 29
          MikeD says:

          In fairness to Bump, I just checked his defensive rating on both B-R and Fangraphs, and they indicate just the opposite, especially early in his career. He appears to have been a very good fielder, although less so the last few years. I also remain skeptical of defensive ratings looking back a generation.

          Yet have to be open to the idea maybe my memory is wrong (drats!). After calling him a jerk, I expect now to find out he’s a three-time winner of the Mother Teresa Award (made up) for contributions to humanity.

        • 30
          bstar says:

          When I hear the name Bump Wills, I think of his 1979 Topps card where he was accidentally listed as a member of the Blue Jays instead of the Rangers. I had one of the cards and thought at the time (I was 11) that I had a gold mine.

          That card is going for $2.00 on ebay now.

          • 32
            MikeD says:

            bstar, I bet I have that card too buried somewhere in a box. I wonder what the most valuable baseball card(s) going back to the 70s. The days of a Honus Wagner or a Mickey Mantle card are long gone, but are any cards worth more than a few dollars or maybe even twenty or thirty dollars?

            My memory of Bump Wills as a jerk also seems to have no basis, so apparently I owe him an apology (not that he reads HHS). His Wikipedia entry mentions how he reguarly conducts baseball clinics to help kids. That doesn’t mean he’s not a jerk, but I would consider it an indicator of the opposite. I wonder if the incident where Lenny Randle punched his manager Frank Lucchesi after being replaced by Bump Wills at second got crosswired in my head. It’s Lenny Randle!

          • 34
            bstar says:

            I think it’s the Rickey Henderson rookie card from 1980. Looks like a “mint 9” condition card can be worth a few hundred bucks, while a mint 10 can be worth a few thousand.

            What’s the worth of my dog-eared version of the card? Far less.

      • 64
        Howard says:

        Not sure why he went to Japan but he didn’t remain with the Cubs (his last MLB team) because Ryne Sandberg was taking over at 2B.

  4. 8
    Artie Z says:

    The biggest surprise, to me at least, seems to be Munson over Joltin’ Joe. But then Munson actually posted a higher OBP than DiMaggio and their OPS+ numbers were about equal (128 for DiMaggio, 126 for Munson), so playing catcher seems to be pushing Munson ahead.

    Lynn over Ted Williams is a little surprising, but less so because Lynn is always brought up as a player who had a monster rookie season.

    • 16
      Tmckelv says:

      I was pleasantly surprised about Munson also.

    • 31
      MikeD says:

      A catcher certainly gets uplift from the WAR formula, although a CFer also gets brownie points. Kind of surprised that DiMaggio’s .323/.352/.576, league-leading triples and 29 HRs at the old Stadium is only good for a 4.6 WAR. Fangraphs rates his rookie year at 6.2 WAR, compared to Munson’s 5.4. Both scored well defensively at these key defensive positions.

    • 33
      Robbs says:

      I saw Lynn’s 10 RBI game at Tiger Stadium.

      Also a very graceful center fielder, a lefty Yankee Clipper.

    • 38
      bstar says:

      What’s driving the difference in Joe D and Munsons’s rookie years is how much a run was valued in 1936 compared to 1970.

      Dimaggio has 50 runs above replacement in 1936 while Munson has 51 in 1970. But since fewer runs were being scored in ’70 compared to ’36, the value of a run in 1970 is higher. Thus, Munson’s season is slightly more valuable.

  5. 11
    Doug says:

    Seems that cream does rise to the top. Surprised how few failed to live up to the promise of their rookie seasons.

    But there have been exceptions.

    – The two names I didn’t recognize (Hollocher, Wright) played 7 and 11 years, and neither ever topped his first year WAR (though both exceeded 20 WAR for their careers so they were hardly busts). Donie Bush, Tommie Agee, Bump Wills, Pat Listach and Eric Hinske (any others?) have turned the same trick of never exceeding their rookie WAR. They may be joined by Jason Heyward and Ike Davis.

    – Much worse is Alex Cintron – he had positive WAR only in his rookie season, resulting in -3.1 career WAR. Pat Listach also had rookie WAR higher than his career WAR, as did Blly Grabarkewitz, who would be the Dodger shown above save for Mike Piazza’s season.

    • 13
      Hartvig says:

      I’m familiar with Hollocher & Wright thru Bill James. It’s not unreasonable in both their cases to say “but for” they might have been Hall of Famers. Hollocher’s issues appear to have been mental. He stayed in Chicago once when then team went on a road trip because he wasn’t feeling well. When the team got back he’d left a note saying he’d decided to go home. I think he eventually killed himself (B-R’s bullpen isn’t working at the moment).

      Wright was a gold glove caliber shortstop with a plus bat who’s numbers were inflated by the era in which he played. If not for injuries it’s possible that the Pirate’s would have had to move Arky Vaughn to another position when he came along.

      What struck me was the names on the list for some of the most historic franchises. Jim Ray Hart over Mays & McCovey & Ott & Cepeda & all of the other Hall of Famers that began their careers as Giants? Same thing in Detroit with Bush over Cobb & Kaline & Heilman & Greenberg & Trammell & Whitaker & all the rest. Mitchell Page for the Athletic’s is another one I never would have guessed, at least before Doug’s quiz came along. Tommie Agee for the White Sox is another I probably never would have guessed. I “knew” about his rookie season in the back of my mind but he’s kind of the precursor to Kevin Mitchell- known for a couple of big seasons a few years apart with different teams & generally viewed as having squandered most of his talent. And while the Met’s may not have as long a history as some of the other franchises, Ike Davis is not a name I would have ever guessed.

  6. 12
    Doug says:

    Surprising how many of these guys played together.

    Munson/Hart, NYY 1973-74
    Allen/Page, OAK 1977
    Grich/Lynn, CAL 1981-84
    Alomar/Lynn, SDP 1990
    Listach/Seitzer, MIL 1992-96
    Piazza/Alomar, NYM 2002-03
    Cintron/Alomar, ARI 2004
    Longoria/Hinske, TBR 2008
    Heyward/Hinske, ATL 2010-12
    Pujols/Trout, LAA 2012

    Any others?

  7. 14
    leatherman says:

    I’m very surprised that Darryl Strawberry’s rookie season only produced a 2.4 WAR. His -0.7 dWAR certainly didn’t help. At least Dwight Gooden’s 5.4 is respectable for the Mets (when you include pitchers).

  8. 15
    Andy says:

    Love this post. On Twitter they are asking for the pitchers list too…can you do that one also?

    Also, when showing a list like this, it’s helpful to throw in the pre tag before the list, and /pre after (on HTML edit mode), as it makes it use a uniformly spaced font that makes the table much easier to read.

  9. 17
    birtelcom says:

    I’ll post the pitchers list tonight (unless someone else beats me to it). Thanks for the HTML tip.

  10. 18
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    What definition of “rookie” is B-R using? I scanned the B-R front page, and “Rookie of the Year” provided no info.

    There are several player seasons listed above, such as Shoeless Joe Jackson (1911) and Vida Pinson (1959), whom I thought were _not_ considered rookies for the years in question. In particular, Pinson would’ve easily won ROY in 1959 for his great year, if he were eligible at the time.

    • 20
      Jeremy T says:

      “The tool will not line up perfectly with players who have been considered “rookies” historically because (1) b-ref uses the current MLB rookie definition and applies that uniformly to all seasons going back in time, and (2) b-ref is fudging a bit on the service time part of the rookie definition, so it can be applied within the scope of the data b-ref has.”

      🙂

    • 21
      birtelcom says:

      If you go to the Play Index Season Finder (either the batting page or the pitching page), and scroll down until you see the Rookie button option, there is a red question mark next to the word Rookie. Click on the question mark and you will get a description of the definition of a “rookie season” that b-ref is using.

      The current MLB definition does not allow a season to be a “rookie season” if the player came into the season with 130 or more career ABs. Under older definitions, that AB number has been lower, so players like Shoeless Joe (115 ABs before 1911)and Vada (96 ABs before 1959) would not, at the time, have been considered “rookies” in the years b-ref is classifying as rookie seasons. As noted in the post, b-ref is applying, for purposes of these Play Index searches, the current MLB rule (130 ABs) retroactively in its definition of a “rookie season”.

      • 22
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        #21/birtelcom, Jeremy T above;

        OK, thanks for clarifying this for me -I did see the line in #20 quoted from the intro to the article. I guess it’s confusing to see Pinson on a “best rookies” list, when he wasn’t considered eligible for ROY in 1959.

        #11/Doug – I’ve gotta admit when I saw Alex Cintron’s name I went “who?”. Looking at his 2003 season,Iam surprised he didn’t get ant ROY votes, thouh the field was fairly strong, and (I assume) there was only a 1st/2nd/3rd vote.

  11. 23
    Doug says:

    Here are the pitchers best rookie seasons.

    AL

    Angels: Ken McBride, 4.9 (1961)
    Astros: Roy Oswalt, 4.5 (2001)
    Athletics: Scott Perry, 8.2 (1918)
    Blue Jays: Mark Eichhorn, 7.1 (1986)
    Indians: Vean Gregg, 8.8 (1911)
    Mariners: Freddy Garcia, 5.1 (1999)
    Orioles/Browns: Bobo Newsom, 5.5 (1934)
    Rangers/Senators: Yu Darvish, 4.0 (2012)
    Rays: Rolando Arrojo, 3.9 (1998)
    Red Sox: Dick Radatz, 5.4 (1962)
    Royals: Kevin Appier, 5.2 (1990)
    Tigers: Mark Fidrych, 9.3 (1976)
    Twins/Senators: Doug Corbett, 5.6 (1980)
    White Sox: Reb Russell, 8.5 (1913)
    Yankees: Russ Ford, 10.6 (1910)
    

    NL

    Braves: Irv Young, 8.8 (1905)
    Brewers: Cal Eldred, 4.1 (1992)
    Cardinals: Harvey Haddix, 6.1 (1953)
    Cubs: Ed Reulbach, 8.0 (1905)
    D-Backs: Brandon Webb, 6.0 (2003)
    Dodgers: Jeff Pfeffer, 7.4 (1914)
    Giants: Christy Mathewson, 8.7 (1901)
    Marlins: Dontrelle Willis, 3.7 (2003)
    Mets: Jerry Koosman, 6.2 (1968)
    Nationals/Expos: Steve Rogers, 4.9 (1973)
    Padres: Greg Harris, 3.9 (1989)
    Phillies: George McQuillan, 9.0 (1908)
    Pirates: Cy Blanton, 7.0 (1935)
    Reds: Gary Nolan, 6.1 (1967)
    Rockies: Armando Reynoso, 3.0 (1993)
    
    • 48

      I’ve never heard of Russ Ford, which is a little surprising now that I know he was basically the co-greatest rookie ever, along with Trout.

      Dick Radatz never started a game in his career. How likely is it that a full-time reliever could be more valuable than any rookie starting pitcher in Red Sox history. Any other relievers in that group?

      • 51
        Nick Pain says:

        Yes, Mark Eichhorn in 1986 off the top of my head. One of the great pleasures I have with this site is revealing to me great players/seasons that I had never been familiar with as a kid. I new Mark Eichhorn from going through my baseball cards, but he was never an All Star or a highly heralded player, at least not that I was aware. Years later I can rediscover these players and appreciate just how good they were.

        • 57
          Lawrence Azrin says:

          In 1986, Eichorn was 5 innings short of winning the ERA title (his 1.72 would’ve beat Clemens by a huge margin – 3/4 of a run), without starting a game. It’s hard to believe relievers once pitched that many innings (157) in a season.

          I believe that Bob Stanley has the most IP without a start, 168 in 1982, when he was 2nd in ERA (3.10). Useless factoid: despite playing 13 years, 637 games, and 1707 innings, and being honored with 3 MVP and 2 CYA votes and 2 AS selections, Stanley was not even nominated for the HOF vote in 1995.

          Looking at who was on the 1995 HOF ballot, it’s hard to figure out why the likes of Greg Gross, Bo Forsch, and Manny Trillo were deemed worthy, and Stanley was not.

          • 63
            Doug says:

            Actually Lawrence, Bob Stanley’s 1982 season is the 3rd highest IP total for pitchers without a start.

            Mike Marshall has the top two spots at 208.1 (1974) and 179.0 (1973). People like to talk about his appearances (198) over those two seasons, but averaging very nearly 2 innings per appearance is even more shockingly impressive. Amazingly, Marshall kept right on rolling, chalking up at least 99 IP in 4 of the next 5 seasons. He had just 38 appearances over his last two seasons (age 37-38) but still turned in a 136 ERA+ for his final year.

            Marshall is also one of only 8 relievers with more than 4 times as many wins as starts (min. 10 career starts).

            Rk Player W GS IP From To Age G SV BB SO ERA ERA+ HR Tm
            1 Mike Marshall 97 24 1386.2 1967 1981 24-38 723 188 514 880 3.14 118 79 DET-SEP-TOT-MON-LAD-MIN-NYM
            2 Mariano Rivera 76 10 1219.2 1995 2012 25-42 1051 608 277 1119 2.21 206 65 NYY
            3 Willie Hernandez 70 11 1044.2 1977 1989 22-34 744 147 349 788 3.38 119 97 CHC-TOT-DET
            4 Dan Plesac 65 14 1072.0 1986 2003 24-41 1064 158 402 1041 3.64 117 105 MIL-CHC-PIT-TOR-TOT-ARI-PHI
            5 Dave LaRoche 65 15 1049.1 1970 1983 22-35 647 126 459 819 3.53 106 94 CAL-MIN-CHC-CLE-TOT-NYY
            6 Jeff Parrett 56 11 724.2 1986 1996 24-34 491 22 345 616 3.80 104 61 MON-PHI-TOT-ATL-OAK-COL-STL
            7 Curt Leskanic 50 11 712.2 1993 2004 25-36 603 55 362 641 4.36 116 80 COL-MIL-TOT
            8 Hector Carrasco 44 10 832.1 1994 2007 24-37 647 19 387 662 4.00 113 69 CIN-TOT-MIN-BAL-WSN-LAA
            Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
            Generated 1/31/2013.
          • 73
      • 54
        birtelcom says:

        The SABR bio of Russ Ford makes interesting reading. Apparently, much of his rookie success came from his invention of the “emery ball”, in which he sanded the baseball with a piece of emery board hidden in his glove. The practice was formally banned in 1915 which probably would have boded ill for Ford’s career even if he hadn’t had the arm problems characteristic of over-used deadball era pitchers. Perhaps he should have tried deer antler spray.

      • 55
        Richard Chester says:

        Russ Ford is credited as being the first player to throw the “emery ball”. That is what made him so effective.

    • 50
      mosc says:

      Only 8 guys on there I immediately knew who they were. Probably another 8 if I really thought about it. The other half, man.

  12. 24
    John Autin says:

    Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki last year tied the highest WAR by a “rookie” position player age 30 or higher. He tied Walt Moryn, Socks Seybold and Monte Irvin (who was 31).

    The “rookie” records for WAR by age (* = won ROY):

    18 – 1.3, Robin Yount (ROY won by Mike Hargrove)
    19 – 5.0, Bryce Harper*
    20 – 10.7, Mike Trout*
    21 – 6.3, Albert Pujols* (just nips Donie Bush for this WAR crown!)
    22 – 8.5, Dick Allen*
    23 – 9.0, Shoeless Joe
    24 – 7.0, Carlton Fisk*
    25 – 6.6, Tony Oliva*
    26 – 5.6, Al Rosen (presumably not ROY-eligible, won by Walt Dropo)
    27 – 7.5, Ichiro Suzuki*
    28 – 4.6, George Stone (no award)
    29 – 4.6, Ed Charles (ROY won by Tom Tresh)
    30 – 3.3, Norichika Aoki, Walt Moryn, Socks Seybold
    (Moryn probably wasn’t ROY-eligible, and he wasn’t going to beat Frank Robinson anyway)
    32 – 2.6, Buzz Arlett (!!!)
    33 – 2.9, Sam Jethroe*
    34 – 2.9, Luke Easter
    35 – 0.7, Tommy Raub
    36 – 1.2, Earl Brucker
    37+ — no modern players with even 0.5 WAR.

  13. 25
    John Autin says:

    The pitching “rookie” age WAR records:

    17 – 1.4, Bob Feller
    18 – 1.4, Jim Brillheart
    19 – 6.1, Gary Nolan (not Gooden)
    20 – 8.7, Christy Mathewson
    21 – 9.3, Mark Fidrych [sigh…]
    22 – 8.0, Ed Reulbach
    23 – 9.0, George McQuillan
    24 – 8.5, Reb Russell
    25 – 7.1, Mark Eichhorn (ROY won by Canseco, boooo!)
    26 – 8.8, Vean Gregg
    27 – 10.6, Russ Ford
    28 – 8.4, Joe McGinnity (1899); 4.6, Bob Bowman (1939)
    29 – 5.1, Jake Weimer
    30 – 8.2, Curt Davis (who is Curt Davis??? Richard, remind me!)
    31 – 3.5, Dazzy Vance
    32 – 3.5, Ed Holley
    33 – 5.2, Jim Turner
    34 – 3.4, Joe Pate
    35 – 2.8, Bob Logan (1945)
    36 – 3.1, Takashi Saito
    37-38 – none with 0.5 WAR
    39 – 2.9, Joe Berry (1944)
    40 – 1.4, Alex McColl
    41 – 1.5, Satchel Paige
    42 – none with 0.5 WAR
    43 – 2.1, Diomedes Olivo
    44 – 0.4, Fred Johnson

    And restricting it to the live-ball era (1920-present):

    17 – 1.4, Bob Feller
    18 – 1.4, Jim Brillheart
    19 – 6.1, Gary Nolan (not Gooden)
    20 – 5.4, Dave Rozema (the year after Fidrych)
    21 – 9.3, Mark Fidrych
    22 – 5.8, Jon Matlack
    23 – 5.9, Stan Bahnsen
    24 – 6.0, Brandon Webb
    25 – 7.1, Mark Eichhorn (ROY won by Canseco, boooo!)
    26 – 7.0, Cy Blanton
    27 – 6.1, Harvey Haddix
    28 – 4.6, Bob Bowman
    29 – 4.9, Nate Andrews
    30 – 8.2, Curt Davis (who is Curt Davis??? Richard, remind me!)
    31 – 3.5, Dazzy Vance
    32 – 3.5, Ed Holley
    33 – 5.2, Jim Turner
    34 – 3.4, Joe Pate
    35 – 2.8, Bob Logan
    36 – 3.1, Takashi Saito
    37-38 – none with 0.5 WAR
    39 – 2.9, Joe Berry (1944)
    40 – 1.4, Alex McColl
    41 – 1.5, Satchel Paige
    42 – none with 0.5 WAR
    43 – 2.1, Diomedes Olivo
    44 – 0.4, Fred Johnson

    • 26
      Richard Chester says:

      John: As long as you asked here are some factoids about Curt Davis. On 5/25/45 he and Clyde Sukeforth formed a battery with a combined age of 85 years and 73 days, one of the highest in the game. In 1934 he participated in 12 DPs, tied for second most among pitchers, at least up to 2006. In 1939 he became one of a number of pitchers who won more than 20 games and batted over .300 with a minimum of 25 hits in a season. His .381 BA was the second highest on that list, trailing only Walter Johnson.

      • 27
        Doug says:

        Also, on 8/10/45, Davis and the Reds’ Hod Lisenbee pitched to each other, one of the rare times the combined ages of batter and pitcher have exceeded 88 years. In the same game, Lisenbee pitched to the Dodgers’ Tommy Brown, more than 29 years his junior, then the greatest age differential between batter and pitcher.

      • 35
        John Autin says:

        Thank you, Richard. I just can’t believe I’d never heard of Curt Davis. 158 wins (19 as a 30-year-old rookie on a lousy Phillies team), 116 ERA+, 36 WAR, started a game in the ’41 Series, involved in the trades of Chuck Klein, Dizzy Dean and Joe Medwick. I’m racking my brain, but I just can’t recall ever hearing his name. I hope I’m not losing it.

        • 36
          Richard Chester says:

          He is also 1 of 88 pitchers with a hitting streak of 8 games or more.

        • 37
          MikeD says:

          I’ll join in that thought. If I knew of Curt Davis, I forgot him. Obviously before all our times (I think), but he looks like someone I would have stumbled across while thumbing through a Baseball Encyclopedia when I was a kid, and took note of him because he had a good career, and has qualities that would make him underrated. Apparently he was so underrated that I never bothered to take note!

          There are often studies on players who had their careers shortened by WWII. I wonder if there is another class of players who had their careers lengthened? Davis could be one of them since he pitched all through the war years, yet it’s not obvious. He was a very good pitcher in 1941, so it’s not as if he was slowing down. His career ended just as the war ended, yet that might have been a case of timing and injury. He was 41.

          Last, he might have been “hidden” to me, and others, because his name is so generic. He sounds like someone I went to school with, or any number of pitchers over the years. How many Davis’s have played in MLB? Over 100, and many of them pitchers with equally sounding generic names. Mark Davis, Bob Davis, Ron Davis, Doug Davis. Yeah, Curt Davis, he was a middle inning reliever, right, back in the mid 90s. Yup, that’s him.

          Storm Davis. Yeah, Storm Davis I remember because of the first name. If Curt Davis pulled a Catfish Hunter and went by his nickname, “Coonskin,” I’d think we’d all remember him. Coonskin Davis. No longer lost in history.

          • 40
            kds says:

            Bill James suggested that Al Lopez caught enough extra games because of WW2 that he would not have broken the record for games caught without the war. He only broke the record by 25, but then held it for 40+ years.

          • 44
            MikeD says:

            kds,I wonder how many times the words “Bill James once wrote/said/suggested,” etc. have been written? Sadly, his contract with the Red Sox prevents him from publishing much of his interesting things he’s doing now so we’re left with much outdated work, yet all roads seem to lead back to his orignal work, even if they’ve been improved and/or expanded on.

            Some no doubt comes from his first-mover status. He started addressing many of these issues first. Yet I still think he has much different way of looking at things, which I don’t think anyone has been quite been able to match. He also has another skill that many in the stats community lack. He’s an excellent writer, so he’s able to much more clearly present his ideas.

          • 45
            Mike L says:

            MikeD, I happen to have a real machine typed letter from Bill James dated August 29, 1986. Perhaps, one day, I will put it up for auction to finance college tuition for the grandchildren I don’t yet have.

          • 60
            RJ says:

            @37 Mike D – See also Rajai Davis. I know he’s a current player, but he’s definitely going to stick in the memory more than Mark, Bob and Ron.

          • 67
            MikeD says:

            @45, Mike L, I wonder how much one of he original mimeographed 1977 Baseball Abstracts is worth? James sold 75 of them, so they’re rare. An original James Baseball Abstract with virually none surviving has got to be worth quite a bit.

            http://www.awesomestories.com/images/user/7977b2699f.jpg

            @60, RJ. Yes, having an Rajai in front of Davis totally helps. Catfish Hunter is certainly more memorable than Jim Hunter, something Charlie Finley recognized when he created the myth of Catfish Hunter. Finley totally would have had Curt Davis go by his nickname listed on B-R.

          • 70
            Doug says:

            Chili Davis, too.

            Although, maybe he was good enough to be remembered just as Charles. Or, maybe not?

        • 42
          Doug says:

          That WAR total puts Davis in the top 35 for live-ball era pitchers for WAR after age 30, and tied for 41st since 1901.

    • 39
      no statistician but says:

      I’m late to the party again. but here goes:

      All the lists here—birtelcom’s, Doug’s, and JA’s—display the same general pattern: One or two truly great players, half or so with careers that were respectable to admirable, a few burnouts or tragedies, and some one-year wonders. Are these samples large enough to justify the drawing of conclusions? I’d say yes. 1) Don’t put your money on can’t-miss rookies; 2) Maybe there’s such a phenomenon as an early peak; 3) Just as many things can go wrong in a baseball career as in life; 4) An outstanding baseball career is more of a marathon than a sprint. I’d add some others, but I’m not so sure the data is sufficient.

      • 41
        Doug says:

        I was surprised how many of those rookie pitchers were from the dead-ball era and with truly gaudy WAR totals. Seemed suspicious until I considered how much more pitchers were used then compared to now. Lots of innings will pile up the WAR.

        The fact that I’ve never heard of most of them (and, I suspect other readers are the same) just shows that promising young arms were ruined by overwork back then just as they have been in more recent years (though hopefully, in our “enlightened” times, not nearly so often).

        • 43
          MikeD says:

          As a fan, I really dislike the homogenization of pitchers motions over the years, yet I also believe it helps reduce stress on the arms. I’m sure many of these early pitchers had very unorthodox motions, which no doubt contributed to their early ends. That, and pitching 3,000 innings a year. : -)

          • 47
            RBI Man says:

            One thing to remember. All these guys getting Tommy John and labrum surgery would be finished if they were dead ball era pitchers. Strasburg would have been one and done.

            Guys probably miss more time with arm trouble these days than any other era.

          • 52
            mosc says:

            Unorthodox motions are also harder on hitters though, and in the short term probably lead to greater success.

            I honestly wonder sometimes if teams are doing themselves any favors. If you had Linsecum and instead of protecting him you just abused the crap out of him, he’d probably be in the garbage heap by the time big arbitration numbers were due and you wouldn’t have to pay him 40 million like they are for 2012-2013. You could have gotten some more WAR out of him when he was younger and paid him substantially less overall.

            I think baseball folks today try to manage every pitcher between the ages of 16 and say 28 like they’re a potential HOF starting pitcher. Everything is calculated to give you the best odds of career value.

            But if you’re a team, you got a guy locked up for 6 years. You have to pay him nothing in the first half of that (smoothing over super 2, incomplete years, etc). You shouldn’t be looking so long term. If you have a 22 year old rookie pitcher on an MLB roster, why worry about how good he’ll be at age 30? Even if you still want him productive at age 30, you’re likely going to be paying free agent prices for those years of his career. You could just buy some coddled pitcher around that age from some other team through free agency!

          • 65
            RJ says:

            @52 mosc – I suspect it won’t happen. Firstly, I imagine overuse would lead to more injuries in the short term as well, meaning time out and lost innings, and secondly, pitchers not used to pitching 300 innings a year might become tired and less effective as the season progresses.

            I also suspect many players (and their agents) might object to being used in a manner that severely reduces their future worth.

  14. 49

    So the Diamondbacks have never had a rookie position player as valuable as Michael Brantley or Yasmani Grandal in 2012.

    • 53
      mosc says:

      Makes me wonder how many seasons we chop off in recent years because the kid is called up when the team drops out of contention (say late july or august) and blows his “rookie” time in a very fractional season. The next year he does great but isn’t eligable. Seems to happen more these days than in past years. Way back, teams would have to buy contracts from lower league clubs so it generally fell pretty well on in line with specific years. Now, we’re just calling Trout a rookie because he didn’t get fractionally more time in 2011, probably because the Angels still thought they had a chance until it was more obvious they did not.

      • 58
        MikeD says:

        Related, wasn’t there a point after the 2011 season when Mike Trout was declared to have lost his rookie status for the 2012 season based on his time on the roster, but then MLB restored it? If that hadn’t been done, his one-for-the-ages rookie season would have instead been a fantastic sophmore campaign.

        Teams do all sorts of funny things that impact a player’s rookie status, either benching them so they fall just short of the PAs needed to maintain rookie status for the following season, or nowadays holding players in the minor leagues for an extra month or two to delay arbitration clocks, which ultimately impact how great history will view some rookie seasons.

        • 62
          Chuck says:

          “..wasn’t there a point after the 2011 season when Mike Trout was declared to have lost his rookie status for the 2012 season based on his time on the roster, but then MLB restored it?”

          Yes..the Angels asked for, and were granted, a roster exception for Trout.

          There was no funny business, the Angels cited a little used rule and MLB agreed with their appeal.

          • 71
            birtelcom says:

            As I understand it, there was some confusion between (1) Trout’s “service time” for purposes of the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and (2) major league roster time for purposes of the rookie season definition. If a player is optioned down to the minors for less than 20 days in a season, the time he was down still counts, under the CBA, as major league “service time” the player accumulates for purposes of when he first becomes eligible for contract rights such arbitration, free agency, etc.. But that CBA protection for players (presumably to prevent teams from taking advantage of players by manipulating service time with short optional demotions) is completely separate from the rookie season definition, which has to do with time actually on the major league roster before September. Trout really was sent down for a while in 2011, and that period should not, and did not, count against his rookie status, even though because he was down for fewer than 20 days those days did count as service time for him for CBA purposes. Two separate concepts, and the one should never really have been conflated with the other.

          • 75
            John Autin says:

            Trout’s rookie status seems 100% straightforward:

            “A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).”

            He didn’t exceed 130 ABs or 45 active-roster days during the 25-man limit in 2011. He was up for about 3 weeks in July and 2 weeks in August. Not close to the limit. And September roster days don’t count.

            Seems to me it was an error by MLB to declare him ineligible, and all they did was correct their error. They had credited him with 55 non-September days of service time, and on that basis declared him no longer a rookie. But service time is a collective-bargaining term, with certain clauses that cause service time to toll even if not on the active roster. It’s not the ROY standard. “Active roster” time is what counts.

            http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/12/02/mlb-restores-mike-trouts-rookie-status/

          • 76
            bstar says:

            I’m not so sure it’s that straightforward, John. Since Trout was optioned down for less than 20 days in 2011, his brief stint in the minors should have counted as service time in the majors, which would give him 55 days on the active roster. The rule is no more than 45 days on the roster pre-September, which Trout exceeded.

            http://angels.ocregister.com/2011/11/15/mike-trout-cant-win-the-rookie-of-the-year-award/110903/

            I can’t find MLB’s actual explanation for why they changed the rule for Trout, but my guess is the language was ambiguous enough in the rookie status laws that they decided his time in the minors was included as service time for the CBA, etc. as birtelcom mentions above but not as actual time on the roster. Trout only spent 38 days actually on the roster pre-September in 2011.

          • 77
            John Autin says:

            bstar @76 — All I can say is, the ROY standard mentions days on the active roster. It does not mention service time.

            Now, there may be a separate legal definition of “days on the active roster” that does link it to service time. But it would be absurd to lose rookie eligibility due to time in the minors that just happened to count as service time because of collective-bargaining language.

            So I could be wrong, and MLB did actually need to make an active exception for Trout (rather than just correcting their own clerical error). But either way, common sense won out.

            And now I see that birtelcom @71 said everything I’m saying. 🙂

          • 78
            bstar says:

            John, my point was that, as my link said, (service time = roster time) before MLB made the clarification/exception/what the hell ever in the Trout eligibility decision.

          • 83
            MikeD says:

            I don’t know what caused the confusion, but there was confusion related to Trout’s rookie eligibility.

            That’s about as deep as I can go this one!

          • 84
            Chuck says:

            bstar @ # 56 is correct.

            There is a 20 day rule on recalls (to prevent teams from taking advantage of the options rule).

            If a player is recalled before 20 days, the time he spent in the minors is counted as major league service time.

            Trout was sent down then recalled after 17 days, so, by rule, those 17 days would have counted as ML time and would have put him over the threshold of 25 man roster time.

            The Angels appealed to MLB for an exception, which the rules allowed them to do..they had placed an outfielder (Wells or Bourjos..not sure without looking) on the 15 day DL.

            The Angels claim was they “needed” Trout since he was recalled to replace an injured player with the key to their claim being positional need, which was true.

            MLB obviously agreed with the Angels claim and (rightfully so) waived Trout’s roster penalty.

          • 87
            John Autin says:

            Thanks for the facts, bstar & Chuck.

            Now that Trout’s episode has exposed this moronic “out” in rookie eligibility, wouldn’t it be great if MLB actually changed the ROY language to align with common sense, instead of requiring active MLB intervention to right a wrong?

            I mean, what rational person would read “days on the active roster” and guess that it could ever include time in the minor leagues?

          • 91
            Chuck says:

            @ John Autin, #87

            There are nine specific bullet points under the CBA rule for acquiring ML service time, #8 says”

            “ML service time is not credited during any period or periods of optional assignment totaling 20 days or more during a single season.”

            Anything less than 20 days, whether consecutively or spread through a calendar season, counts as ML service time.

            As far as I can tell, this rule has been in place since Collective Bargaining came into play in 1972.

            http://www.cbabaseball.com/rules/index.php?title=Service_Time_(MLB)

      • 68
        RJ says:

        Pablo Sandoval springs to mind. His (brilliant) 41 games in 2008 disqualifies him from rookie status the next year, where in 153 games he produces 4.1 WAR with a 144 OPS+ and comes 7th in MVP voting. No player who received NL RoY votes had more WAR, and the only rookie to log an MVP vote that year (and it was just the one vote) was RoY winner Chris Coghlan, clocking in at 0.9 WAR.

  15. 59
    Luis Gomez says:

    I´m sure most HHS readres will know the answer but, do you remember a player getting ROY votes in two consecutive years?

    • 69
      Hartvig says:

      I thought that maybe it was Willie McCovey but he actually won the ROY in his first season when he appeared in only 52 games. I also took my BJHBA & found the article about players who made a big splash in September call-ups: guys like J.D. Drew & Fred Lynn and others. For any of the players mentioned in the article who played during the timeframe when this would be a possibility (1946 on) I didn’t see any evidence on their Baseball Reference page of their having received votes in more than one season. In fact, the only 3 who got any ROY votes at all- Fred Lynn, Jim Greengrass & Gary Ward- got them all in their second season.

      The only pitchers who came to mind as a possibility were Whitey Ford and Fernando Valenzuela but they appear to be no’s as well.

      If someone actually did this I don’t know who it would be.

    • 72
      John Autin says:

      Luis, that sounds familiar. I’ll see if I can find it.

    • 74
      John Autin says:

      No wonder it seemed familiar: Gregg Jefferies, 1988-89.
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/jeffegr01.shtml

      • 79
        Voomo Zanzibar says:

        Gets those votes with 29 games in the reg season.
        Then goes on to reach base 13 times against the Dodgers.
        It was Jeffries who led off the 9th with a hit in Game One that started the 3-run rally against Hershiser and Jay Howell.

        And took one for the team (and left the game with a nasty bruised ankle) in the 5-run 8th in Game 3, the inning where Jay Howell was ejected for having pine tar on his glove.

        • 80
          Voomo Zanzibar says:

          And at age 20, that was his only time in the playoffs.

          • 82
            Luis Gomez says:

            With all those playoffs series now, and players jumping from team to team each year, it’s hard to imagine a player spending that much time in the majors without having made the postseason that many years.

          • 88
            RJ says:

            @82 Luis – I remember that, until the 2010 playoffs, Aubrey Huff was the active leader in games played without a playoff appearance, 2010 being his age 32 season and 11th year in the bigs. In fact he had never started the year on a team that would go on to finish above .500. Now he has two WS rings.

            Ayone know who the current active leader is?

          • 89
            birtelcom says:

            Here’s a b-ref list: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/leaders_most_gamesnops.shtml

            That shows Adam Dunn as the active player with the most games played and no post-season appearances. Apparently the Fourth True Outcome is No Playoffs.

  16. 61
    Doug says:

    The Indians (1911), Brewers (1992) and D-Backs (2003) all had both their top rookie pitcher and position player in the same season.

  17. 66
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    #63/Doug –

    Thanks for the correction; I do remember quite well Marshall’s amazing workhorse performance as a reliever in 1973/74, it was much discussed at the time.

  18. 81
    Voomo Zanzibar says:

    This is the opposite of a rookie season, and a fact uncovered tangentially, but did you know that Joe Torre began his career as a player/manager?

    Joe Frazier was deemed punch-drunk after starting 15-30 (losing 9 of the last 10), and the .180 hitting 1B/PH Torre took over.
    The Metros immediately won 7 of 8 (short lived glory).

    Torre called his own number exactly 2 times.
    One week after taking the helm, on June 5th, drawing an IBB in the bottom of the 10th inning.
    It was 2nd and 3rd, one out, and Torre came up for Bruce Boisclair.
    Tom Underwood followed up the bases-loading IBB with a game-ending wild pitch.

    And Torre’s final PA was on June 17th, flying out for the pitcher in the 9th inning of a 7-1 loss.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=torrejo01&t=b&year=1977

    • 85
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      Don Kessinger was also a player-manager, in 1979, for the first 106 games of the White Sox season (46-60). I believe he was the next-to-last player-manager, before Pete Rose. Correct?

      Is there any MLB rule aganst using a a player-manager now, or is the fact that there has not been one since Rose, due to the two roles being too much work for one person now? Are there still player-managers in the minor leagues?

      • 86
        Voomo Zanzibar says:

        I saw that (Kessinger), too.
        What a great trivia question – who was the last p/m before Rose? I never would have gotten that.

        The next p/m should be a 40-something Closer, preferably from Panama.

      • 90
        bstar says:

        There have been a few considerations recently to give a guy another shot at player-manager. From wikipedia:

        “…The Toronto Blue Jays considered hiring Paul Molitor as a player–manager in 1997. When approached with the idea in 2000, Barry Larkin reported that he found it “interesting”, though general manager (GM) Jim Bowden rejected the idea. In the 2011–12 offseason, the White Sox considered hiring incumbent first baseman Paul Konerko to serve as manager. White Sox GM Kenny Williams said that he believes MLB will again have a player–manager…”

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