The year of the rookie?

I was talking to my friend (yes, my one friend) around a week ago about fantasy baseball. We were both giddy over Stephen Strasburg‘s recent dominant debut, but soon after we finished talking about “Strasmus,” he switched to another pitcher’s upcoming debut: Brad Lincoln.

While I was aware of Lincoln, a top draft pick with good control, I wasn’t nearly as excited about him. He’s playing his first season of fantasy baseball, so I understood why Lincoln’s inaugural outing excited him so much. All he really knows is 2010,-and so far rookies have fared spectacularly well as a group.

Jason Heyward started things off on Opening Day, blasting a home run in his first at-bat and remaining a threat ever since. The Tigers gave Austin Jackson the chance to be an everyday player and he rose to the challenge, being the major league hits leader through most of April and the beginning of May. Gaby Sanchez got the chance to start every day for the Marlins and has been consistently solid, batting .280 with seven home runs. Tommy John surgery recoveree Jaime Garcia was given the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation and has since performed like a No. 1, posting a 1.49 ERA in 72 innings. And there are even a few more examples of rookies not just surviving at the major league level, but surpassing expectations.

Tabata and Arrieta both stare at the imaginary man at 4 o’clock. (Icon/SMI)

Since then we have seen the debuts of a large number of players—including Mike Leake, John Ely, Ike Davis, John Jaso, Jhoulys Chacin, Brennan Boesch, Buster Posey, Mike Stanton, Brian Matusz, Starlin Castro, and of course Strasburg—all of whom have been generally successful, save for the understandable recent struggles of the 20-year-old Castro. Justin Smoak and preseason “sleeper” Scott Sizemore are the two rookies who have disappointed so far (though there is a good chance I am forgetting someone).

Still, my message to you for the rest of the season is to not blindly believe that all the rookies who get the call to the majors will perform as well as their 2010 counterparts have. Even though the latest trio of callups—Jose Tabata, Carlos Santana, and Jake Arrieta—have also had a successful start to their major league careers, historically speaking, rookies will not succeed at the high rate they have thus far.

And of course there is no guarantee that some of the rookies off to hot starts won’t cool off and find their way back in the minors by the season’s end. The next wave of prospect call-ups, likely led by Blue Jays infielder Brett Wallace and Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, will probably be fought over furiously by fantasy owners thinking only of this year, but people with the memory of “sure-things of 2009,” David Price and Matt Wieters, will smartly watch the parade fromthe sidewalk and let it pass.

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  1. heyzeus said...

    David Freese belongs in your list of rookie success stories too.  .305/.372/.429 with 33 RBI in 59 games at 3B.

  2. Detroit Michael said...

    Not that it affects your overall point, but Brian Matusz and John Jaso made their MLB debuts in prior seasons.

  3. Paul Singman said...

    I guess I should have said Pedro Alvarez will be the next rookie callup since he started his first game today and went 0-for-2 with a walk.

  4. philosofool said...


    Smoak is in the top 15 players in the majors in BB% (min 200 PA), in the top ten in LD%, hitting 15% HR/FB, and he’s a disappointment? What exactly were the expectations?

  5. Paul Singman said...

    Well, when you list those stats you’d think we have a .300 hitter with 10 home runs or something on our hands, but at the time of the article he came with a .213 average and six home runs. For FANTASY baseball, that is not ownable in a league that discerns “ownability” on more than just the basis of playing time. It’s not so much that I expected anything more of Smoak, but his inability to prove himself worthy of starting on most fantasy teams is what the people who own him would call disappointing.

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