Corey Seager and Michael Fulmer are your 2016 Rookie of the Year award winners in the National League and American League, respectively. Seager’s season was historically significant for a shortstop, complete with a top-three MVP finish, and Fulmer was a key part of the Tigers’ postseason push all year. Both were outstanding and completely worthy of the award.
Seager looks like he’s on the path of a perennial All-Star, the kind of player we’re still talking about in 20 years, and Fulmer should be a part of the Tigers’ short- and long-term plans. One problem, though, is that Fulmer is a pitcher, and those are mercurial, fragile things. And for that matter, Seager still plays baseball, and science has taught us that the first warning sign in every disappointing baseball career is that the player plays baseball. It’s a total red flag.
There are no guarantees.
But we can take a guess at what their careers might look like, and that means we should search for the average career of a Rookie of the Year winner. This large table of every Rookie of the Year winner should help us:
- Willie Mays was good.
- A lot of these other players were excellent, too, but good gravy, Willie Mays.
- Feels like we should talk about Willie Mays more.
However, this is a search for the typical Hall of Fame career, not a search for ways to gawk at the raw numbers compiled by a baseball legend. To do that, we’ll need to get rid of the active Rookie of the Year winners and focus on the retired folks. There are 114 retired players who have won the award. What do we know about them?
The average Rookie of the Year appears in 13 seasons over his career
That’s pretty good! As of the mid-’90s, the average baseball player played 5.6 seasons, so the typical Rookie of the Year winner is already way ahead of his peers. By definition, I guess. Maybe this isn’t so surprising.
But just seven of the 114 Rookie of the Year winners played fewer seasons than the average MLB career, and those were all because of extenuating (and often unfortunate) circumstances, as you might imagine.
The longest careers from Rookies of the Year belonged to Carlton Fisk and Pete Rose, who played 24 seasons each. The shortest careers came from Ken Hubbs (1962) and Joe Charboneau (1980) at three each. The former passed away in a plane crash, and the latter retired after multiple back surgeries.
The average Rookie of the Year makes the All-Star Game in four of his seasons
This one was a little trickier to figure out because they used to play two All-Star Games per year back when people actually cared about them, so we’ll average out the number of All-Star seasons rather than total All-Star Games.
Of course, you have people like Mays messing up the curve. He made the All-Star team in 20 of his 22 seasons, which skews the numbers. So if you’re looking for the median Rookie of the Year career, that would be two All-Star seasons.
That’s still not too shabby. Long-time regulars like Eric Karros and Tim Salmon didn’t even make one, so there’s no reason to sneeze at two All-Star seasons. When you get to four seasons, that’s the realm of Jeff Bagwell, Dwight Gooden, and Don Newcombe — players who are remembered, and remembered fondly.
I’ll let you decide whether it’s more important to look at the median number of All-Star seasons or the mean, but I’m leaning toward the latter, even if that means giving extra weight to the dozen freaks who made 10 All-Star Games or more.
The average Rookie of the Year never wins the MVP or Cy Young
Final tally: 20 former Rookie of the Year winners have won either an MVP, Cy Young, or both, but that’s just out of the 114 retired winners. The numbers shoot up when you get to include Justin Verlander, Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, Kris Bryant (most likely), Albert Pujols, Ichiro, and Ryan Howard.
If we include the active players, 30 out of the 140 have gone on to win another major award. That’s about one in five, so the header still holds up. The odds are against the ROY becoming an MVP or Cy Young.
The average Rookie of the Year doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, of course
Because making the Hall of Fame is hard. Which is the point. Just 15 out of the 114 retired Rookies of the Year have made it, or a little over 12 percent.
But that doesn’t include players who will probably make it (Jeff Bagwell), players who will definitely make it (Derek Jeter), players who would merit election based on their on-field career alone (Pete Rose), and players who were completely hosed for reasons I still don’t understand (Lou Whitaker). It also doesn’t include the current, younger, active players who have a plausible shot of making it, like Mike Trout and Buster Posey, as well as the shoo-ins like Albert Pujols and Ichiro.
So it’s hard to be a Rookie of the Year and make the Hall of Fame, but it’s not as hard as you might think. It’s a fine head start.
The average Rookie of the Year is worth 31 Wins Above Replacement over his career
That’s according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculations, and it’s pretty impressive. Oh, how impressed you would be if all of your team’s top prospects were worth 31 wins over their careers.
We’re in that sticky mean/median debate again because Mays is futzing up the curve. If you’re looking for the median WAR, go with something like 24 wins. Still a fine career. More than Hideo Nomo, Bob Horner, and Ozzie Guillen.
The most average of all Rookies of the Year, then, is ...
Bob Allison, who was worth 34 wins, or just a couple more than the average. He made three All-Star teams and played in 13 major league seasons, though he never won an MVP. If you’re using a straight average, your typical Rookie of the Year is someone like Bob Allison.
If you want to look for the median career, though, that would belong to Kerry Wood, who was worth 27 wins, appeared in parts of 14 seasons and made two All-Star teams. He works as a shorthand metaphor for the dizzying highs and lows of a career in Major League Baseball. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, sometimes you’re pitching one of the best games in history, sometimes you’re closing a random July win, and sometimes you’re too hurt to play. That’s baseball for you.
And yet, doesn’t it seem ridiculous to put the word "average" within 30 miles of Wood? It does. At his best, he was one of the most thrilling players any of us have ever watched. Forget the All-Star seasons and WAR, and go with the constant: Usually the Rookie of the Year award goes to talented players.
The ceiling is Willie Mays and Tom Seaver. The floor is, well, never mind. In between, there are all sorts of permutations and enjoyable scenarios, as well as a smattering of pure heartbreak. Baseball wouldn’t have it any other way.