A few weeks back, I wrote a piece for ESPN examining the futures of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., both of whom had gotten off to tremendously slow starts to their respective big league careers. In short, there’s far more optimism surrounding Bogaerts, due to age and power potential that he displayed in the minors, than Bradley.
Now I want to turn the attention to another pair of high profile rookies -- and supposed franchise cornerstones -- who have struggled mightily during their first foray at the big league level: Jon Singleton and Javier Baez.
To start, Singleton and Baez are in rarefied company – so rare, in fact, that both have accomplished a feat that hasn't happened since the start of the Live Ball Era in 1920. No rookie with a similar number of plate appearances – 300 or more in Singleton’s case, and 200 or more with respect to Baez – has struck out more frequently from 1920 through the end of 2013.
Singleton batted a paltry .168/.285/.335 with 13 home runs en route to posting a lowly 79 wRC+ this season; Baez performed even worse, posting a .169/.227/.324 triple-slash line with nine home runs and a pitiful 51 wRC+. And the root of both of their problems seems to stem from their inability to put the bat on the ball: Singleton fanned 37 percent of the time and Baez upped that to a mind-boggling 41.5 percent.
So now the question that needs to be asked is quite simple: Can Singleton and Baez rebound after such atrocious starts to their big league careers? Well, let's take a look.
First, the parameters for Singleton: Using FanGraphs’ leaderboard, I selected the following:
• 22-year-old rookies
• 300+ plate appearances
• A strikeout rate north of 29-percent
Three players met those criteria:
Of those three, Singleton’s overall offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, is by far and away the worst, posting the only sub-100 total. Jackson and Incaviglia would finish their careers above the average mark, and Arcia owns a 106 in his first 788 plate appearances. But it’s important to note that all three, despite the large strikeout rates were better than average during their rookie seasons. Singleton has come in far, far, far below that.
Look where the Astros’ first baseman totals stack up among the group of rookie free swingers:
• Last in Isolated Power
• Highest Strikeout Percentage
• Best Walk Rate
Basically, Singleton’s done one thing really, really well – walk.
So let’s do another search, one focusing on 22-year-old rookies with at least 300 plate appearances, wRC+ totals under 85, and walk rates of at least 10 percent. There were 12 who met those criteria:
|Robin Ventura||White Sox||22||623||0.243||0.312||0.322||0.069||10.10%||9.50%||81||113|
|Joe Lahoud||Red Sox||22||353||0.189||0.311||0.32||0.122||15.90%||16.70%||82||106|
|Don Buddin||Red Sox||22||454||0.239||0.342||0.352||0.103||14.30%||13.70%||82||95|
Of that 12, only three would exceed the league-average mark for the entirety of their careers. (Note: Hardy is still playing, but owns a career wRC+ of 95 in more than 5000 plate appearances.) And each of those three players – Ventura, Lahoud, and Schaal – posted strikeout rates hovering at or below the league average mark during their rookie years.
In both quick studies, players have shown the ability to rebound and develop into solid big league contributors. But the problem is two-fold for Singleton: His debut performance lacked the type of power and overall performance for players with similar strikeout rates, and his robust walk rate was coupled with an enormous millstone-like strikeout rate.
Now let’s take a look at Baez.
Since 1920 there has been one other 21-player, Darrel Chaney in 1969, to receive at least 200 plate appearances as a rookie and strikeout at least 30-percent of the time. And Chaney would finish his career with a 59 wRC+.
So let’s change the parameters a bit, to focus on 21-year-old rookies with at least 200 plate appearances and a sub-70 wRC+. Just 20 players met those criteria:
|Willie Upshaw||Blue Jays||21||250||0.237||0.298||0.304||8.40%||14.00%||0.067||67||103|
Of those 20, only four – Jhonny Peralta, Willie Upshaw, Cookie Lavagetto, and Matt Williams – would be better than average bats for their respective careers. It should be noted that Baez’s debut strikeout rate exceeded any of those four by more than 15-percentage points, but he also flashed the best power as well. And it should be equally noted that Baez’s minor league numbers were the most impressive as well.
So what does all this mean for Baez? Well, again, the odds are certainly stacked against him. But like Singleton, the strikeout rate pushes him into a completely unknown territory.
One final thought: CAL, the Comparison And Likeness program I developed and wrote about here, wasn’t an extraordinary fan of either, despite both posting video game-like numbers in the minor leagues.
For Baez: Brandon Wood, Corey Seager, Arismendy Alcantara, Sean Coyle and Jonathan Villar. Wood was an absolute bust at the big league level, one of the worst in recent memory actually. Villar owns a career 76 wRC+ total through his first 145 games. Alcantara has looked overmatched and is sporting a 31% strikeout rate during his rookie season this year. Seager and Coyle are still unproven prospects.
For Singleton: Chris Parmelee, Anthony Rizzo, Greg Bird, Brett Jackson, and Nick Weglarz. Again, Parmelee, Jackson and Weglarz flamed out. Rizzo is now a superstar. And Bird is another unproven prospect.
Overall, on the whole it’s not a very impressive group of comps for Baez and Singleton, both showing a ton of bust potential. In the end, though, the pair of rookies have dug themselves in tremendously deep holes to begin their respective big league careers. Whether they can dig themselves out or not remains to be seen.
. . .
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.
For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey