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pujolshits1.jpgAll season long I have kept an eye on this year’s rookie hitters, wondering which one would match the incredible achievements of Albert Pujols in his inaugural year at the plate. I have used Pujols as the standard, with 1000 points as his dedicated number. With my modification of Similarity Scores, I have allowed for a player to best that standard, in case it should ever happen. At this moment, two rookies, as seen in the sidebar, are in the incredibly rarified air of 900+ points on the scale.

Rather than allow my assumption to stand unchallenged, I embarked on a quest to crown Albert Pujols as the best rookie hitter ever by comparing him to every other Jackie Robinson award winner listed on the MLB website. Throughout history, I found only fourteen other players who came within 100 points of the pinnacle. They are listed below.

Ladies and gentlemen – the best rookie hitters since 1947:

Name Team Position Year Score
Albert Pujols STL 1B 2001 1000
Willie McCovey SFG 1B 1959 991
Walt Dropo BOS 1B 1950 973
Fred Lynn BOS OF 1974 967
Tony Oliva MIN OF 1964 964
Mark McGwire OAK 1B 1987 961
Dick Allen PHI 3B 1964 958
Mike Piazza LAD C 1993 951
Nomar Garciaparra BOS SS 1997 937
Frank Robinson CIN OF 1956 926
Orlando Cepeda SFG 1B 1958 919
Bob Hamelin KCR DH 1994 911
Al Bumbry BAL OF 1973 910
Tim Salmon CAL OF 1993 901
Carlton Fisk BOS C 1972 900

Most of these names will surprise nobody. Some will cause either laughter or puzzled head-scratching.

I have a previously mentioned problem with Willie McCovey’s selection, however. He only played in 52 games while amassing those incredible power numbers, so the sample size is a mite suspicious to me. But still, he kicked ass and was chosen, so it’s legit. Walt Dropo at #2 was a complete mystery to me. I’m not much of a historian, so it was great to learn about him.

hamelinbob.jpgBob Hamelin’s inclusion on this list is the greatest argument against the DH I have ever seen.

Boston had four out of the fourteen, which just goes to show that it takes mature talent to win the world series. Though the Idiots were far from mature, they were just older than these guys.

Also surprisingly, the steroid era had little impact on this contest. Mark McGwire was still a comparative stick figure when he won this award, and none of the other juiced-up players of his era made the 900 Club.

There are a million and one ways to argue this data, and I hope you feel free to do so. The journey was the thing for me, and I am satisfied that I can, from here on out, call Albert Pujols the Rookie of the Century. Unless Ryan J. Braun goes on a tear this week….

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mccovey-1-sized.jpgToday I will be completing my historical Rookie of the Year comparisons. The MLB website only traces the Jack Robinson award, and ignores any awards that might have been given out prior to that, so that’s what I’m doing. Besides, as we creep backward toward the dead ball era, the stats can only get farther away from the Pujolsian stratosphere.

Let’s get started. This last set of data includes ROY stats from the entire decade of the 50’s and then a couple of players from the 40’s. All players have been compared to Albert Pujols’ 2001 season by way of my modified similarity score technique.

PLAYER NAME TEAM YEAR SCORE
Albert Pujols Saint Louis Cardinals 2001 1000
Willie McCovey San Francisco Giants 1959 991
Walt Dropo Boston Red Sox 1950 973
Frank Robinson Cincinnati Reds 1956 926
Orlando Cepeda San Francisco Giants 1958 919
Gil McDougald New York Yankees 1951 881
Roy Sievers Saint Louis Browns 1949 880
Alvin Dark Boston Braves 1948 872
Wally Moon Saint Louis Cardinals 1954 868
Jack Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers 1947 855
Bob Allison Washington Senators 1959 849
Willie Mays New York Giants 1951 844
Harvey Kuenn Detroit Tigers 1953 840
Sam Jethroe Boston Braves 1950 837
Jim Gilliam Brooklyn Dodgers 1953 832
Bill Virdon Saint Louis Cardinals 1955 831
Tony Kubek New York Yankees 1957 807
Albie Pearson Washington Senators 1958 766
Luis Aparicio Chicago White Sox 1956 764

A fascinating list, to be sure. All along, I’ve kept track of the players who were most statistically comparable to Sir Albert, and I’ll publish a separate post detailing the double handful of players who managed to come within 100 points of the best rookie hitter of all time (it feels good to be able to say that and know it to be true).

One thing that’s bothering me, though I am loath to bring it up: Willie McCovey. Statistically speaking, he is the past player who comes the closest to Pujols. But in his rookie season, McCovey’s stats looked like this:

NAME TEAM GAMES AT BATS RUNS HITS 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG SLG
Willie McCovey San Francisco Giants 52 192 32 68 9 5 13 38 2 22 35 .354 .656

Fifty-two games? That’s it? Far be it from me to suggest putting an asterisk next to the name of the man who lent his name to the stadium that the modern era’s greatest asterisk plays in, but that seems absurd. No other player skated to ROY on a smaller sample of his talent. He was a great player throughout his career, but I’m stunned to see him as a ROY. I’ve got my eye on you, San Francisco…
dropoboston.jpg
I’ve never been much of a baseball historian. Most of these names are completely unfamiliar to me. But paging back through the archives with a purpose has really awakened me to the joy of baseball’s past. It’s the same thrill I get out of reading any kind of history – the attempt to imagine what it must have been like to live in that era. The vicarious thrill is made more piquant by the narrow focus of the ballpark. I hope some of you have enjoyed it as well.

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saltytearsoffarewell.jpgOK, nobody’s making me cut out the Salt. Saltalamacchia, that is. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do, like eating oatmeal (thanks, Mr. Brimley!). Salty had a good rookie campaign, but he simply never saw enough at bats. He still hovers well below 200 plate appearances on the season, which puts him way off the pace established by some of the other budding stars in our lineup.

He wasn’t helped by the fact that he shared catching duties with McCann in Atlanta, or by the sudden trade to the AL in the late part of the season. He’s going to be a great player, but Jarrod does not smell like Pujols in his rookie season.

So who does? The usual suspects. Ryan J. Braun (damn you, Ryan Z. Braun! I am tired of having to use that middle initial!) has dropped a little ways, but hit his 30th home run a couple of days ago. His Brewers are atop the league with insanely young talent on the field.

Hunter Pence keeps playing well, though he is firmly lodged in Braun’s shadow. Playing in the same division can’t be helping, but playing for a crappy team is making it much worse. Cincinnati’s Josh Hamilton has had a recent resurgence, and is on the verge of cracking the 900 point barrier for the first time since the first few weeks of the season, when he was on an ungodly power-hitting tear.

The next tier finally leads us to an AL worthy, in the person of pint-sized Dustin Pedroia, who is playing fine offense and defense in his season-long slog. Who knows where he would be in the standings if he hadn’t started the season so weakly? Troy Tulowitzki recently broke a record previously held by Ernie Banks. He is going to be great to watch in Colorado for years to come.

Chris B. Young (Damn you, Chris R. Young!!!) is not really Pujols-like, but his undervalued Diamondbacks club is on the verge of cruising into the playoffs at the expense of the Padres, who employ the paler version of Chris Young. Delmon Young (confused yet?) has done yeoman’s work for Tampa Bay this year, amassing over 550 at bats and counting in a hideously drawn-out losing effort. Ditto Akinori Iwamura, who lost some time due to injury in mid-season.

Bringing up the bottom are Alex Gordon, who has neither saved the Royals nor flamed out in his debut, so he’s done about all you can ask. His numbers have risen steadily throughout the season, and he can team up with fellow youngsters like Brian Bannister, Tony Pena, Jr., and Billy Butler to bring some hope to Royal Blue diehards next year. There’s always next year…

Finally, Kevin Kouzmanoff, the Mashin’ Macedonian, has used his massive forearms to great effect, helping Jake Peavy and Chris Young to keep the Padres in the wild card hunt down to the last.

Those are our contenders. I might still let one or two more go over the remainder of the season, and our final post will be the crowning of our first ever Pujols Smell-Alike and a statistical breakdown that will surely interest literally dozens of people.

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tonyoliva.jpgStill using the wayback machine to compare past ROY winners to Sir Albert Pujols, and today we’ve made our way back to the 1960’s. Clearly, the farther back we go, the more hallowed some of these names become, as they’ve had time to become legendary and adorn plaques on the wall at Cooperstown (are they on the wall? I’ve actually never been there…)

And then there’s the sad story of Ken Hubbs. The Cubs’ second baseman was able to win a Gold Glove as a rookie, and paired his sterling defensive talent with a decent average and 90 runs scored to take the 1962 rookie of the year trophy. He had a slightly less impressive offensive season in ’63. Then, in 1964, in an attempt to get over his fear of flying, Hubbs decided to get his pilot’s license. A few days after earning his license, he celebrated by flying his plane to Utah to visit friends. The return flight only lasted five minutes, and the plane went down in the snow and ice of Provo. Who knows what could have been?

There’s a story behind each of these guys, but for now, let’s just look at the raw numbers.

PLAYER NAME TEAM YEAR SCORE
Albert Pujols Saint Louis Cardinals 2001 1000
Tony Oliva Minnesota Twins 1964 964
Dick Allen Philadelphia Phillies 1964 958
Billy Williams Chicago Cubs 1961 865
Tom Tresh New York Yankees 1962 854
Tommie Agee Chicago White Sox 1966 847
Curt Blefary Baltimore Orioles 1965 833
Johnny Bench Cincinnati Reds 1968 831
Frank Howard Los Angeles Dodgers 1960 831
Rod Carew Minnesota Twins 1967 826
Lou Piniella Kansas City Royals 1969 818
Ron Hansen Baltimore Orioles 1960 816
Tommy Helms Cincinnati Reds 1966 803
Pete Rose Cincinnati Reds 1963 795
Ted Sizemore Los Angeles Dodgers 1969 771
Ken Hubbs Chicago Cubs 1962 768
Jim Lefebvre Los Angeles Dodgers 1965 767

dickallen.jpgAs I was typing in Tony Oliva’s stats, I won’t lie – I started to actually believe that someone might be cracking the Pujols barrier. He came really, really close. The thing that seems to derail the comparison every time is the fact that Pujols had over 100 runs scored and batted in. Most competitors had one or the other, but nobody has had both. Still, pretty amazing.

Next time up, I’ll probably finish this off by looking at the 50’s and tail end of the 40’s, which is as far back as the MLB website goes with the award. They start with Jack Robinson (who the award is named for), and so will I. After that, I’ll unveil the top rookie hitters historical leaderboard, with all of the 900 point-and-above contenders lined up for all to see.

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rookieoftheyear1.jpgAll season long, I have been comparing the success of MLB’s rookie hitters to the greatest first-year masher of all time – Albert Pujols. I have a pretty good idea who I would pick as offensive rookie of the year. But the fact is, there’s no guarantee that a hitter will be chosen. There are some marvelous rookie hurlers as well, and I do not have the metrics in place to gauge their success vs. the position players. So, I’ve turned to fellow Voodoo Sabermetrician TC from Mr. Thursday’s Curious Mechanism, who watches pitchers and knows how to rate them.  His NL Rookie of the Year predictions, including my offensive player picks are on his site.

TC and I are doing what we call a simulpost. I will publish the top AL choices, including his recommendtions for pitchers, and he will publish the NL predictions, including my predictions for hitters. We’ll ask you to weigh in in the comment field – which player will it be?

HITTERS, by Extra P

PLAYER NAME TEAM GAMES AT BATS RUNS HITS 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG SLG
Dustin Pedroia BOS 122 452 73 147 35 1 6 45 5 43 37 .325 .447
Delmon Young TB 143 567 60 166 34 0 12 81 7 25 108 .293 .416

delmonyoung1.jpgThe ROY picture in the AL is much harder to read than the NL, where one candidate really stands above the others. Dustin Pedroia had an absolutely horrible start to the season, at one point hitting under .150 on the season. The Red Sox stuck with him, and boy did he blossom. The little guy is now a crucial piece in the Boston playoff plans.

Delmon Young has suffered through another wasted Devil Rays season, but his team could have legitimate dreams for next year, with all of the emerging talent they can put on the field. If Elijah Dukes had had a little more “bat control”, perhaps there would have been enough behind Dmitri’s younger brother to really make something out of this season. As it stands right now, it’s “wait ’til next year”, but with Delmon’s big bat in the lineup, things are looking up in Tampa.  To me, his most amazing stat is the 567 at bats.  The dude does not take a night off…

pedroia.jpgPedroia and Young have ground out hundreds of at bats from opening day until today, which is pretty impressive. While looking at Young vs. Pedroia, it becomes obvious that Pedroia is benefiting mightily from his luck in playing for a good team with a huge payroll – he has lineup protection, and DY doesn’t. Despite being a power-hitting outfielder, Young has nearly as many runs scored as Pedroia does as a top-of-the order 2B, and packs on some RBIs on top.

It’s a tough choice, but I’m going with Pedroia. And I’m giving him the nod because of his defense. He’s turned 68 double plays with just five errors, and made an absolutely crucial play to preserve Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter a week ago. For pure hitting, Delmon is probably your man, but Pedroia is the whole package.

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PITCHERS, by TC of Mr. Thursday’s Curious Mechanism

Ladies and gentlemen, your top four AL Rookie Pitchers…

PITCHER NAME TEAM IP BB SO ERA HR
Daisuke Matsuzaka Boston 184.33 70 179 4.44 23
Hideki Okajima Boston 66.33 16 59 1.76 4
Brian Bannister Kansas City 153.33 39 73 3.46 12
Jeremy Guthrie Baltimore 170.33 46 120 3.65 23

bannister.jpgThere’s a lot to argue about with these guys. Okajima’s got the best pure numbers of the bunch. He doesn’t allow home runs, and he strikes out everybody. Plus, he pitches for the best team around, and he doesn’t look when he throws, which is just odd and exciting, which can often generate Rookie of the Year votes. However, fun as he may be, and excellent as he may perform, he’s got less than half the innings of the other three guys. It’s almost impossible for a pitcher with 60 innings to be as valuable as one with 150 or 180.

Among the remainder, Bannister is, superficially, the best. He’s got a fine W-L record (voters love that), and an excellent ERA. Matsuzaka, meanwhile, has a fine, but undazzling 4.44 ERA. He, however, has the best secondary stats of the starters, with an excellent K rate. Guthrie sits somewhere in the middle. His ERA is slightly higher than Bannister’s and better than Matsuzaka’s, but he’s got only a 7-5 record. He’s got a better K-rate than Bannister, and it’s worse than Matsuzka’s. He has the worst home runs allowed of the trio, though he keeps his ERA low by keeping men off base, and getting lucky.

dicek.jpgSo, the question: do we choose on “results” with Bannister, or “performance” with Matsuzaka, or do we split the difference and take Guthrie? Or do we just cry “Damn the innings!” and take Okajima for his fun delivery and his crazy-good performance?

My choice? I’ll Matsuzaka now, and every fifth day, thanks.

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So there you have it – a Beantown Battle. Which Red Sock do you think will pull out the internecine win? Or, if you want to make a case for another entrant, let us know that as well. The comment field is yours for the arguing.

And, please, do yourself a favor and read the NL predictions as well. You’ll be glad you did.

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fredlynn.jpgToday I continue my historical quest to determine if there has ever been a rookie hitter as good as Albert Pujols. Check out the Smells Like Pujols archives by clicking on it in the tag cloud in the sidebar, and you can see what we made of the go-go 80’s and the bulked-up 90’s, as well as the hitters of the new millennium.

Today we time-warp back to platform shoes, jive, and disco. It’s the 70’s, baby.

Lots of great names in this decade: Lou Whitaker, Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn, and Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson in the AL, and Bob Horner, Bake McBride, Andre Dawson and Gary Matthews (Sr.!) in the NL.

Let’s go to the chart:

PLAYER NAME TEAM YEAR SCORE
Albert Pujols Saint Louis Cardinals 2001 1000
Fred Lynn Boston Red Sox 1975 967
Al Bumbry Baltimore Orioles 1973 910
Carlton Fisk Boston Red Sox 1972 900
Eddie Murray Baltimore Orioles 1977 866
Mike Hargrove Texas Rangers 1974 870
Bob Horner Atlanta Braves 1978 859
Gary Matthews San Francisco Giants 1973 858
Andre Dawson Montreal Expos 1977 857
Earl Williams Atlanta Braves 1971 846
Bake McBride Saint Louis Cardinals 1974 839
Thurman Munson New York Yankees 1970 836
John Castino Minnesota Twins 1979 804
Alfredo Griffin Toronto Blue Jays 1979 801
Chris Chambliss Cleveland Indians 1971 800
Lou Whitaker Detroit Tigers 1978 789

bumbryal.jpgI was surprised to find that, overall, the scores were much higher in the 70s than they were in the 80s or 90s. Only Sweet Lou Whitaker dropped below the 800 point threshhold. I suppose that trend can be attributed to the focus on hitting for average in the 70s, which kept that crucial measuring stick near .300. When chicks started to dig the long ball, averages went down, and slugging % stayed, oddly enough, in the same general range.

So, alert Bill Simmons, Fred Lynn is the best offensive ROY of the 70s. And Pudge Fisk comes in third. Not bad, New Englanders. Next week we get groovy with the 60s.

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fontenotout.jpgI had to make a tough managerial decision this week. The lowest point total belonged to Kevin Kouzmanoff of the San Diego Padres, but I couldn’t bring myself to bench him from SLP. It just goes against my grain to sit a power hitter in the middle of a pennant race. Who knows what he might do in the next couple of weeks?

So I looked around and saw two players who are really likable, and gosh darnit, we want them to succeed, but they really don’t belong in this race. I had to pick one of them to go, and I settled on Mike Fontenot for this week. He has a decent score, but he has less than half as many at-bats as some of our leaders, and doesn’t figure to make up any ground. So, his stats are kind of suspect, because of the smaller sample size.

The other one is Saltalamacchia, who has been traded during the season and had a late call-up in the first place. But I’m giving him a one-week repreive because he’s been raising his score every week. Most of the other guys are in tight races or playing well enough that they need to stay in. Alex Gordon is the only other guy who doesn’t really fit either criteria, so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s obviously still a two-man race, with Braun and Pence at the top.  However, Pedroia jumped up two spots during the recent run of top-notch play by the Red Sox, and might still have a challenge left in him.

God, I love this part of the season.

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