Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Best Rookie Seasons for Tigers Position Players

Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson are the two best rookies in the American League so far this season.  They are also having the most impressive seasons we've seen among Tigers rookie position players in a long time.  Where do they rank on the list of all-time Tigers rookies?  To answer this question, I used statistics from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.  Some of statistics used are:
  •  PA = Plate appearances
  •  BA = Batting Average
  •  OBP = On Base Percentage
  •  SLG = Slugging Average
  • OPS+ = OPS relative to league average adjusting for ballpark: 100 is average; above 100 is  better than average; below 100 is worse than average.
  • RAA = Runs Above Average = runs contributed above what an average batter would have been expected to contribute given the same number of outs.
  • WAR = Wins Above Replacement = the wins a player contributed to his team’s win total above what you would expect from a replacement level player – a theoretical player who could be acquired for league minimum salary.
It’s a challenge to rank players from different eras and the rankings which follow are somewhat subjective.  It’s especially difficult to compare players on fielding contribution because the most advanced fielding data are only available for 2002-2010.  WAR attempts to include fielding contribution but data prior to retrosheet in 1954 are not very reliable.  For earlier years, anecdotal information on fielding is also considered. 

Assuming Brennan Boesch continues to hit at the same rate, he would be the best rookie hitter in Tigers history with an OPS+ of 160.  However, I have ranked him below Rudy York, who had a 150 OPS+ at the more demanding catching position.  I ranked Austin Jackson number five ahead of some better hitters, in part, because of his exceptional fielding at an important defensive position.  The top 12 players are included in Table 1.

Table 1: Top 10 Rookie Seasons for Tigers Position Players

Rank Player                        Year  Pos  Age  PA  BA  OBP  SLG  OPS+  RAA  WAR 
Rudy York
1937 C 23 417 .307 .375 .651 150 34.6 4.3
Brennan Boesch
2010 LF 25 251 .341 .394 .594 160 20.4 2.5
Dale Alexander
1929 1B 26 700 .343 .397 .580 148 42.9 4.5
Donie Bush
1909 SS 21 676 .273 .380 .314 114 26.1 7.4
5 Austin Jackson 2010 CF 23 322 .307 .354 .407 103 5.2 2.2
6 Dick Wakefield 1943 LF 22 697 .316 .377 .434 127 29.4 4.2
7 Matt Nokes 1987 C 23 508 .289 .345 .536 135 20.8 3.6
8 Barney McCosky 1939 CF 22 692 .311 .384 .470 100 20.6 4.2
9 Lou Whitaker 1978 2B 21 567 .285 .361 .357 101 4.7 3.7
10 Harvey Kuenn 1953 SS 22 731 .308 .356 .386 101 2.8 3.6
Lu Blue        
1921 1B 24 709 .308 .416 .427 116 24.7 3.6
12 Ira Flagstead 1919 RF 25 342 .331 .416 .481 155 24.4 3.7

Here are some notes on each batter:

Rudy York (1937)
York blasted 18 home runs in the month of August which is still an American League record. He finished in the American League Top five in slugging (.651), homers (35) and OPS (1.026). York gets extra credit in the ranking for being a catcher. He wound up playing 13 Major League seasons between 1934-1948, most of them with the Tigers. He batted .275, with 277 home runs and a 123 OPS+ in 1,603 games. 

Brennan Boesch (2010)

Boesch is fifth in the league in OPS (.988), fourth in batting average (.341), and fourth in slugging (.594).  He is the clear favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the American League.  

Dale Alexander (1929)

Alexander finished in the American League top ten in batting average (.343), slugging (.580) and OPS (.977). He batted .331 in five seasons with the Tigers and Red Sox but was a terrible fielder and was sent to the minors after batting .281 in 1933.

Matt Nokes (1987)

Nokes hit one homer for every 14.4 at bats in 1987, good for fourth best in the league. He also gets extra credit for being a catcher. He played 11 seasons with five major league teams but never again approached the numbers of his rookie season.

Donie Bush (1909)

Bush led the league in games played (157) and walks (88) and finished third in OBP (.380). His rookie season was his best one offensively but he went on to play 16 seasons as a steady shortstop, mostly with the Tigers.

Austin Jackson (2010)

Jackson leads American League center fielders with a .307 batting average and is third in OBP (.354).  More importantly, he leads all Major League center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (+12 runs better than average). 

Dick Wakefield (1943)

Wakefield was likely helped somewhat by the diluted talent pool during World War II but he finished second in batting (.316), 6th in OBP (.377) and 5th in slugging (.434). That was his only truly full season but he played nine years mostly with the Tigers and posted a 131 OPS+ in 2,132 career at bats.

Barney McCosky (1939)

McCosky finished 5th in the league in times on base (262), fourth in runs (120) and second in triples (14) while playing a solid center field.  He missed three prime years due to World War II but still posted a line of .312/.386/.414 in 11 seasons with four teams.

Lou Whitaker (1978)

Whitaker and Alan Trammell began their long careers as a very strong hitting and fielding keystone combo in 1978. Whitaker batted .285 with a .361 OBP and won the American League Rookie of the Year. He played 19 seasons, all with the Tigers, and batted .276/.363/.426.

Harvey Kuenn (1953)

Kuenn finished sixth in the league with a .308 batting average in 155 games as a shortstop. That performance earned him the American League Rookie of the Year award. Kuenn went on to bat .303 in 15 seasons for five major league teams.

Lu Blue (1921)

Blue walked 103 times to finish second in the league and his .416 OBP was good for eighth. In 13 major league seasons, he walked 1,092 times with only 436 strikeouts.

Ira Flagstead (1919)
Flagstead batted a robust .331/.416/.481 with a 153 OPS+ but ranks as low as twelfth on this list because he had only 342 plate appearances in 1919. He played 13 seasons, mostly with the Tigers and Red Sox, and batted .290 with a .370 OBP.

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