One month and one day from today, the Royals will open their 2012 season in Anaheim, California, and optimism has seldom been higher. Spring Training is always a time for hope but this year that hope seems to be more than the fool’s gold we usually find in our pans.
Of all the reasons to believe that this is truly “Our Time” is the expectation that Eric Hosmer will build on his amazing rookie season. Hosmer made his big league debut on May 6th, collected his first hit the next day and got his first extra base hit the day after that before hitting his first homerun May 11th at Yankee Stadium. He ended his season with a .293 average, 19 homeruns, 78 RBI and a third place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
So, of course, he’s going to be even better this year, right? I mean, he’s a year older, a year more experienced. He’s going to flat out rake. Batting average over .300, 35 homers, 120 RBI. But how realistic is that? Well, let’s ask our old friend history what he – or she – thinks about it.
I went back ten years (2001-2010) to see what happened to position players who finished in the top five of the Rookie of the Year voting. I followed their batting, on base and slugging averages for their second year, third year (with the exception of the 2010 group) and career to see what followed their big debuts. The results showed an interesting pattern.
The sixty-one players all fell measurably in their second seasons and actually dipped a bit in year three as well. Their career numbers ended up between their rookie year and their second year. Batting average (Rookie, 2nd, 3rd, Career): .289, .272, .268, .277. On-base: .350, .342, .338, .345. Slugging: .464, .442, .436, .446.
The error of my research was immediately brought to my attention. I had failed to trim down the sample size to players that more closely resembled Hosmer. So, I tried to find left-handed-hitting first basemen with cool facial hair. Then I realized they were talking about players who were closer to Hosmer’s age.
You see, my pool of 61 players included 33 that were 24 years old or older. How does the career path of the 27-year old Mike Aviles or the 30-year old Kenji Johjima really shed any light on what you can expect from a player who lit up the league at 21? So, I trimmed it to players who were 21 or younger in their rookie seasons.
There were nine players: Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn, Miguel Cabrera, Rocco Baldelli, Jeff Francoeur, Ryan Zimmerman, Delmon Young, Jay Bruce, Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro and Jason Heyward. There numbers tell a little different story. Batting average (Rookie, 2nd, 3rd, Career): .287, .270, .290, .282. On base: .348, .341, .357, .352. Slugging: .477, .442, .482, .466.
You notice that they all fell in year two, just as the entire group of 61 did. But, where the group of 61 also fell off in year three, the young guns not only rebounded in year three, but they exceeded their rookie numbers.
Now, let’s look at the path of the two best players in that young group, Pujols and Cabrera. Batting average: .299 .304, .341, .323. On base: .364, .380, .412, .408. Slugging: .539, .537, .614, .586. These two were better in year two and great in year three on their way to great careers.
Those numbers aren’t predictive of what Hosmer will do this year. But they do show where he could be headed if he has as big a sophomore season as the majority of Royals fans think he will have.
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