Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez among 2013 rookies avoiding sophomore slump
Sunday was a banner day for some of last year's top rookies. In the Bronx, 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers hit an inside-the-park home run to help the Rays down the Yankees. In Miami, 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez whiffed 10 Dodgers in a game that ended with another of last year's rookie sensations, Yasiel Puig, crashing into the rightfield wall in a futile attempt to prevent a walkoff hit. In Denver, Nolan Arenado extended the season's longest hitting streak and made yet another stellar defensive play.
Five weeks into the season, small-sample caveats apply across the board, so it's too early to declare of this year's sophs jinxed or not, but worth a quick look at how their follow-up seasons are progressing. The players are listed alphabetically (more or less).
At 16-16, the Redbirds are off to an atypically sluggish start, one that owes far more to their struggling offense than their pitching and defense. Adams has been the team's second-most effective hitter after Yadier Molina, batting .339/.355/.492 for a 132 OPS+; that said, his 24/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 121 plate appearances is cause for concern. Likewise for Miller on the other side of the ball; he's struggled with his secondary arsenal to such an extent that he's walked 21 while striking out 26 in 34 1/3 innings. Throw in the seven homers he's allowed, and it's a miracle that his ERA (3.14) is only about half his FIP (6.19). Wacha, on the other hand, has been up to last year's standard, whiffing 10.6 per nine with a 2.55 ERA and 2.89 FIP through 42 1/3 innings. Martinez has been solid in high-leverage bullpen duty, particularly once you toss out his four intentional walks in 17 1/3 innings; his 3.12 ERA is in the vicinity of his 2.90 FIP, and he's stranded all eight baserunners that he's inherited.
Chris Archer, Rays
In a rotation stung by the losses of Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, Archer's 4.84 ERA certainly looks like a disappointment, particularly coming off last Thursday's 4 2/3-inning, five-run performance against the Red Sox. That said, his problems owe more to a .330 batting average on balls in play than the stuff over which he has more control; though he walked five in that May 1 start, he had walked only five hitters in his previous 30 2/3 innings, and his FIP is a very respectable 2.85.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Last year, Arenado's defense (+30 Defensive Runs Saved) helped him snag the NL Gold Glove award. In addition to his continued excellence at the hot corner thus far, he's riding a season-high 24-game hitting streak and batting .311/.324/.492 overall. That said, he drew just one walk in his first 101 plate appearances and still has just four in 139 PA, producing a lower walk rate (2.9 percent) than even last year's lousy mark (4.4 percent); he'll have to do better than that once his bat cools off.
Jose Fernandez, Marlins
The 21-year-old Cuban righty — noted here last week for his fielding and hitting as well as his pitching — has staked out a spot in the NL Cy Young race thanks to a dominant performance, with a 1.74 ERA and an eye-opening 12.5 strikeouts per nine, both of which rank second in the NL. Sunday's outing was the first time he allowed an earned run since April 11 and only the second in which he allowed more than one; since being lit up for six runs in four innings by the Phillies on that date, he's yielded a mere six runs (two earned) in 30 innings with a 42/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
With seven homers so far, Gattis is showing that the power that produced last year's 21 homers is no fluke. Neither are the holes in his game; he's hitting a lopsided .256/.281/.535 with just three walks and 23 strikeouts in 89 plate appearances, though his 117 OPS+ is still good for third on the team that's leading the NL East.
Gyorko's 23 homers led all rookies last year, but so far he has just two this time around. That wouldn't be a problem if the rest of his offense was up to snuff, but so far, he's been dreadful, hitting just .162/.224/.248 with only two additional extra-base hits. How lost is he? Check your local milk carton. Even while Gyorko collected hits in seven of his last eight games, his OPS across that span is just .541.
Last year, Lagares turned heads with his defensive work (+30 DRS in only 116 games in the outfield) and stomachs with his offense (.242/.281/.352 with a 96/16 strikeout-to-unintentional-walk rate). While his glovework remains impressive, he's opened some eyes with a .338/.360/.507 showing at the plate, though that has far more to do with an unsustainable .442 BABIP than it does with improved strike zone judgement. Having recently missed 13 games due to a hamstring strain, he's on a smaller sample (75 PA) than most hitters here, but if he can maintain any of this year's gains, the Mets have themselves a real plus.
Wil Myers, Rays
At the moment, the 23-year-old rightfielder's overall numbers (.248/.316/.397) aren't much to write home about. Sunday's home run was just Myers' fourth of the year, but it was his second in as many days; he went 6-for-16 with three extra-base hits this weekend against the Yankees, offering hope that he's clear of what had previously been an 8-for-44 slump in which he'd managed just a .493 OPS. To the extent that a 40 PA sample tells us anything, his struggles thus far have primarily been against lefties, as he's hit .189/.250/.324; prior to his homer and double off CC Sabathia on Sunday, he'd had just one extra-base hit against southpaws.
After delivering 26 consecutive scoreless innings, including back-to-back three-hit shutouts, Perez came back to earth with a resounding thud. In his April 29 start against the A's — the second of his two shutout victims — he was tarred and feathered for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. Still, amid the instability of the Rangers' rotation, his 2.95 ERA across 42 2/3 innings has been a godsend.
Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
So far this year, Puig's tardiness and the riveting back story of his defection — which only recently came to light — have overshadowed his play, which is saying something given his capacity for generating highlights on a daily basis at the plate, on the bases and in the field. Amid the Dodgers' suddenly crowded outfield, he's been the one player from among the quartet who has staked out a claim on everyday playing time, and he's been on fire lately, with 22 hits (seven for extra bases) in his last 14 games lifting his overall line to .309/.397/.500. Also worth noting: his unintentional walk rate is has jumped from 6.9 percent in 2013 to 9.4 percent this year, with his O-Swing rate (percentage of swings at balls outside the zone) has dropped from 39 percent to 29 percent.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
While his overall 3.00 ERA exactly matches last year's mark, Ryu has run hot and cold, with four scoreless starts, two in which he's allowed six runs or more, and just one in between. Alas, after getting rocked for six runs in five innings by the Rockies last week, he hit the disabled list on Friday due to shoulder inflammation. At the moment, it's not believed to be a major issue, but stay tuned.
Dan Straily, A's
After doing solid work to patch Oakland's rotation in 2012 and 2013, Straily isn't really pulling his weight thus far; he's allowed seven homers in 32 1/3 innings en route to a 5.01 ERA, and while his three quality starts out of six match those of Perez, he has just one in his last five turns.
Julio Teheran, BravesBecause he wasn't as flashy as Fernandez or Puig, Teheran's strong work last year (185 2/3 innings with a 3.20 ERA and 8.2 strikeouts per nine) got short shrift, as he placed just fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He's off to arguably the best sophomore performance of the bunch, with a 1.80 ERA through 50 innings including a three-start stretch in which he bested Cliff Lee and Johnny Cueto in 1-0 duels while allowing just one run and 11 hits in 24 innings. That said, his 3.97 FIP and underlying peripherals (5.9 strikeouts per nine, esppecialy) have been unremarkable.