Judging who the best first-year player in the league will be can be an exercise in unpredictability. More often than not it seems the player who wins turns out to have at least a semblance of a career. Even if they're not all-time greats, many of them are popular names in the sport: Mike Trout, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Justin Verlander. But in amongst those guys are the Angel Berroas and Ben Grieves of the world.
The propensity for voters to look through advanced metrics has changed the way we see numbers, and maybe this helps us to pick players who not only had a good year but also had sustainable peripherals. As boring as that sounds to my dad, it means we may have voted for Kenny Lofton in 1992 instead of Pat Listach.
What's nice about Arcia is that you don't have to dig into those metrics if you don't want to. Among American League rookies he's seventh in plate appearances, sixth in hits, tied for first in home runs (with Yan Gomes and teammate Aaron Hicks), first in runs batted in, fourth in on-base percentage and third in slugging.
But if you do choose to look at those advanced metrics, Arcia's case starts to look even stronger. His isolated power is second behind Yan Gomes (who is going to tumble like a meteor), second in weighted on-base average, and third in weighted runs created.
In 1995, Marty Cordova won Rookie of the Year for the Twins by hitting .277/.352/.486, which is pretty close to Arcia's current line of .286/.352/.490. Comparitively, Arcia's season is significantly better: Cordova's OPS+ (which adjusts for league and ballpark) was 115, while Arcia's is 130.
We understand that his numbers are good enough to merit consideration, but the real discussion starts when we begin to look at who his competition might be. Let's run through pros and cons for each of Arcia's most likely opponents.
Jose Iglesias, 3B/SS, Boston Red Sox
|2013 - Jose Iglesias||35||117||20||49||9||2||1||8||9||16||1||1||.419||.469||.556|
Metrics like WAR and RC+ love Iglesias, but they aren't indicators of future performance. His batting average on balls in play has been unsustainably high at .475, which is so incredible your baseball video games won't give you that level of success. He's also a .257/.307/.314 career hitter in the minor leagues. Iglesias looks like the top dog right now, but the bottom is going to fall out any second. Wait for it...wait for it...
Leonys Martin, CF, Texas Rangers
|2013 - Leonys Martin||67||177||29||51||6||4||5||15||12||38||13||2||.288||.339||.452|
Martin has played in more games than any other AL Rookie, and made both MLB.com's and Baseball America's Top 100 prospect lists in 2012. He dropped off BA's prior to this season and barely made the cut on MLB's list, not that it's mattered to him: he leads rookies with 13 stolen bases and has shown some good offensive chops for a player at a prime defensive position. He played in eight games in 2011 and in 24 games last season, so he's a bit more experienced than most other 2013 rookies, but when it comes down to the wire I expect Martin to be bigger competition for Arcia than Iglesias.
Nick Franklin, 2B, Seattle Mariners
|2013 - Nick Franklin||28||101||10||29||7||0||4||13||11||16||4||1||.287||.357||.475|
Dustin Ackley's absence left a gap for Franklin, and he's made the most of it. The 2009 first-round pick didn't have a spectacular minor league batting career until this season, when he batted .324/.440/.472 prior to getting called up in may. His low strikeout rate, good walk rate, and his penchant for squaring up for line drives this season means his performance is built on a solid foundation. Will he keep his job now that Ackley is back? For now, he deserves it. But if he cools off he could also lose playing time. I still think he's a better contender than Iglesias.
Brandon Barnes, CF, Houston Astros
|2013 - Brandon Barnes||61||166||19||43||9||0||3||17||12||51||6||5||.259||.315||.367|
Barnes has some good power that he hasn't really shown yet, but his biggest asset is his defense. FanGraphs rates his defense as nearly six fielding runs above average which, for the record, is really good and a run and a half better than the next AL Rookie. The only rookies who have accumulated more wins above replacement so far this season are Iglesias, Martin, and the next guy. And among those three only Martin seems to be a guarantee to stay in front.
Yan Gomes, C, Cleveland Indians
|2013 - Yan Gomes||33||107||17||27||4||2||6||18||5||21||2||0||.252||.278||.495|
Gomes' power,, half of which came in two games, has more to do with his success and place on this list than anything else. As a catcher he gets credit for playing at a prime defensive position. But it's only a matter of time before Gomes, as a part-time catcher, starts to tumble down this list. His stock was higher a couple of weeks ago.
Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics
|2013 - Dan Straily||4-2||12||12||0||0||0||0||66.2||61||38||37||6||20||53||5.00||1.22|
Good control and decent stuff have led to nice peripherals for Straily, whose ERA is inflated by some bad luck and a relatively low strand rate. If that strand rate starts to move back towards the mean, the ERA should drop and start to catch up with his FIP (3.71). His BABIP is just .271 and balls haven't been leaving the yard very often, so his solid performance looks sustainable.
Justin Grimm, RHP, Texas Rangers
|2013 - Justin Grimm||7-5||14||14||0||0||0||0||77.2||93||50||48||11||25||62||5.56||1.52|
Grimm's home runs have bit him hard, and it's showing not just in his ERA but in both his FIP and xFIP. Still, he's started more games and compiled more innings than any other AL rookie pitcher, meaning that somebody will have him in the conversation. It's difficult to see him improving too much the rest of the season, however, as he simply allows too many base runners. Unlike Straily, Grimm actually seems to have quite a bit left to figure out - even if his walk and strikeout rates are good.
Any number of these players could rise or fall amongst the ranks of American League rookies, but Arcia has a lot going for him...which I'll summarize here so that you can defend yourself when your friends laugh at you.
- Minor league track record indicates his Major League performance is not unexpected.
- His underlying numbers indicate that his Major League performance is sustainable.
- His traditional statistics indicate he will be at or near the top of a number of important categories by the end of the season, barring cold streaks and injury, meaning he will appeal to baseball's broader audience.
- His advanced peripherals indicate that his traditional statistics aren't hollow and that he will appeal to baseball's number-appreciating audience.