A Look at the AL Rookie Race

Well, we’re about six weeks into the season so it’s time to take a look at the Rookie of the Year races. Today, we’ll begin with the American League before following up with the National League on Tuesday. Rookies were considered based on a minimum of 50 plate appearances, four starts, or 10 relief appearances. Last year’s AL Rookie of the Year award went to A’s closer Andrew Bailey, followed by Elvis Andrus (Texas) and Rick Porcello (Detroit).

Austin Jackson | CF | Detroit: The 23-year-old Jackson is certainly the top rookie hitter right now. His line of .370/.420/.508 is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the league – but it’s also quite a bit better than anything he’s ever posted in the minors. Toss in a well-publicized (and enormous) BABIP of .511 and you have the makings of someone that’s going to take a large slide in the second half of 2010. He does deserve credit for recently cutting down on his strikeouts, with just five in his last 10 games. His wOBA of .416 certainly gives Jackson a huge lead on any other rookie hitter in the American League.

Scott Sizemore | 2B | Detroit: Sizemore’s solid start to the ’10 season was overshadowed by Jackson’s great start. The second baseman has been stumbling recently, though, and his triple-slash line is down to .241/.319/.337. After slugging 17 homers and stealing 21 bases in the minors last season, Sizemore has just one long ball (.096 ISO) and zero stolen base attempts in his rookie season in the Majors. He currently has a wOBA of .299. He’s not going to gain any value from his defense, either.

Justin Smoak | 1B | Texas: It’s been a slow start for Smoak on offense. The former first round pick is currently hitting just .196/.303/.411 in 17 games. Given his struggles with the batting average, though, his wOBA of .314 is better than you might think it would be (the MLB average is .326). Smoak has a solid walk rate at 13.6% and his strikeout rate is reasonable at 16.1%. Despite his misfortune with the balls in play (.178 BABIP), the power has been there, as seen by his .214 ISO. It’s a slow start to be sure, but the signs point to Smoak’s overall numbers getting much better as the season progresses.

Reid Brignac | IF | Tampa Bay: Brignac, 24, has seen time at both second base and shortstop in 2010. He’s hitting a respectable .294/.339/.466 in 21 games. He also has a wOBA of .346. He’s not a big home run threat, but Brignac has shown gap power and has an ISO rate of .172. He’s been quite aggressive at swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (almost 20% more than average) but he’s making above-average contact, which has helped to keep his strikeout rate to 15.5%. It has definitely hurt his on-base rate, though, as his walk rate is just 4.8%.

Lou Marson | C | Cleveland: You have to feel a little sorry for Marson. Not only is he adjusting to a new team and a new league as a rookie, but he also has top prospect Carlos Santana breathing down his neck. Marson is currently hitting .203/.261/.266 with a wOBA of .249, so he’s not exactly doing his part to keep the full-time catching gig in Cleveland. The right-handed hitter is batting just .163 against right-handed pitchers. His strikeout rate of 26.6% is far too high for someone with an ISO of just .063.

Mitch Talbot | RHP | Cleveland: The 26-year-old Talbot finally earned a shot at the big leagues in 2010 after posting some solid numbers in triple-A over the past three seasons. The right-hander has a shiny 3.43 ERA but his xFIP is currently 4.94. There is also some significant concern over his strikeout rate of 3.66 K/9, as well as the K/BB of just 0.84. That is not going to help a pitcher succeed over a full season. Talbot has survived this far thanks to a solid ground-ball rate of 52% and a BABIP of .234. American League hitters are making contact against him 93.5% of the time (average is 80.8%).

Wade Davis | RHP | Tampa Bay: Again, we have a rookie pitcher whose overall numbers are not quite as good as the ERA (3.18) would suggest. Davis’ xFIP currently sits at 4.81 and his walk rate has been high at 4.76 BB/9. His strikeout rate is below the league average at 6.62 K/9. He’s also a fly-ball pitcher. On the plus side, he’s allowed just 27 hits in 34.0 innings (.253 BABIP). If we look at his pitch type values, we see that his fastball has been good, but his secondary stuff has not been overly effective.

Brian Matusz | LHP | Baltimore: Matusz has quietly gone about his rookie season, in part because Baltimore just isn’t getting much attention while wallowing in the AL East cellar. The lefty’s xFIP currently sits at 4.80 and there is some concern over his extreme fly-ball tendencies; his ground-ball rate is just 26.6%. That clearly has to improve if he’s going to succeed in the American League. His walk rate is solid at 3.12 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is good at 7.36 K/9. Matusz has given up 46 hits in 40.1 innings, but he’s been hampered by a BABIP of .353.

Neftali Feliz | RHP | Texas: You don’t see many 22-year-old closers, so Feliz is a bit of a rarity. He’s been quite successful since claiming the role and has converted nine of 10 save opportunities. Feliz has a strikeout rate of 9.72 K/9, but his walk rate is even more impressive given his age and experience: 1.62 BB/9. Like with Matusz, the low ground-ball rate of 23.3% is troubling. According to his pitch type values, Feliz’ fastball hasn’t been quite as dynamic as it was in ’09 but he has positive values for all three of his offerings (heater, curveball, change-up).


The Next Big Call-up: Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
2010 First Half Star: Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit
2010 Second Half Star: Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas
2010 Overall AL ROY: Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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12 years ago

Is BABIP something that normalizes during the year? i.e. if a player’s 1st half BABIP is .400 but the league average is .300, would you expect it to correct through a 2nd half BABIP of .200?

Eric Cioe
12 years ago
Reply to  odbsol

No, one would expect a .300 BABIP in that case. Just because one rolls a five on a dice ten times in a row does not make it any more or less likely on the next roll.

Jackson’s BABIP wouldn’t regress to .300, anyway, probably more like .350, due to his speed. That said, it’s more that we’ll expect .350 from here on out, with the .511 already behind him, rather than expect .300 from here on out for a year-total of .350.

Jeff Reesemember
12 years ago
Reply to  odbsol

No, I don’t think you can expect that. He may go through a run where he hits at a .200 BABIP level, but I would assume that he’s closer to league average the rest of the way out (maybe a bit higher given his speed and ability to hit line drives).

12 years ago
Reply to  odbsol

That’s not how BABIP (or any statistic, really) works.

What you’d expect for the second half is a BABIP closer to a player’s norms (players do vary in speed and line drive frequency, for example, which affect BABIP), and an average for the season at the midpoint between whatever’s on the record so far and what is expected.

For example, Austin Jackson’s sitting around .510. In the minors, it looks like he posted about a .370 BABIP over several years. Thus, given that about 1/5 of the season is in the books, you’d expect a weighted average of about .400 or so for the full season.

This is assuming, of course, that he hasn’t learned something along the way that has established a higher expected BABIP. In any case, over .500 is completely unsustainable.

Steve C
12 years ago
Reply to  odbsol


Just take a look at the ZiPS ROS and Update. If I am not mistaken ZiPS does a pretty good job at accounting for any possible change in true talent and regression to the mean.