Topps Rookies – 19 cards (1:6)
I’m skipping over another chronological set comparison from Topps Lineage so I can come back to cover my favorite 2 last. So next up is Topps Rookies from the late 80’s / early 90’s. This set came out each year in Jumbo Packs from 1987-1991, and had an almost identical design as the Topps All-Star Glossy set that had come out a few years earlier. The set was 22 cards in the 80’s and 33 cards in ’90 and ’91. The current year set is numbered 1-20, however it has only 19 cards as card #15 was not printed. While the earlier sets contained rookies from the previous year, this year’s set contains players who are rookies in the 2011 season. What’s interesting – now that we’re into the last month of the season, a few of the key Rookie of the Year candidates are missing. Two of the leading AL candidates, Mark Trumbo and Ivan Nova, are not in the set. In the senior circuit, the likely top 2 candidates are included, but other candidates like Dillon Gee, Vance Worley are not included. Unfortunately, 2010 was a better season for rookies, so maybe Topps should have gone with the “prior year” approach in the 80’s.
I’m skipping over Michael Pineda, Chris Sale and Aroldis Chapman – all of whom are having decent rookie seasons (Chapman’s numbers are better than you think – especially if you discount a stretch where he just couldn’t get the ball over the plate). Here are the most impressive rookie campaigns from these guys:
They don’t throw from the same side, and Al wasn’t that good until the 1995 season, but I like the comparison between Jeremy Hellickson and Leiter. Leiter was never going to lead the league in strikeouts – though he could get you out that way – Hellickson’s numbers seem the same. Leiter was featured here in the 1989 set, as he was just over the 50 inning rookie qualifying minimum in 1988. However, he didn’t stay on a Major League roster until helping the Blue Jays to the 1993 World Championship, where he was the winning pitcher in game 1 and was on the hill for the 7th and 8th innings of the decisive game 6. 1995 was his first full season as a starter, and Leiter went 11-11 with a 3.64 ERA for the Blue Jays. He then went on to win his 2nd World Series with the Marlins and play in one for the Mets in 2000. Hellickson’s WHIP numbers are actually a little better – he strikes out a few less guys than Leiter but walks fewer as well. He’s currently 11-10 with a 3.01 ERA in 24 starts. The Rays look like they’re out of the race – though you never know – and Hellickson probably won’t pitch too many more innings in his first full season.
The biggest power numbers by a rookie this season are being put up by Mark Trumbo, but just behind him is JP Arencibia. JP has 20 homers and 64 RBI, though he’s only hitting .221 and has 112 strikeouts. At catcher, those are still some decent numbers – and he’s caught almost 80% of Toronto’s games. Todd Zeile had a similar start – hitting .244/15/57. If Arencibia can match Todd’s career, Toronto should be happy – Zeile ended with over 2000 hits, 250 HR and 1,000 RBI.
The easiest comparison on this list was Craig Kimbrel, who will end the season with the All-time rookie saves record, which was set by Todd Worrell in his rookie season of 1986 (36) Worrell’s record had since been broken by Kaz Ishii and Neftali Feliz. Kimbrel is currently tied at 40 with Feliz’s record from last season; he surpassed Worrell to set the NL mark on August 18th. Kimbrel is certainly a big factor in the Braves’ success this season.
My guess is that Kimbrel will win the Rookie of the Year award, but Braves rookie Freddie Freeman has certainly been the most celebrated rookie on the team. Freeman has manned 1st base in 95% of the Braves games this year – and fared very well. He’s hitting .291 and is on pace to have over 150 hits, 30 doubles, plus 20 homers, and end with around 80 runs and RBI. His statistics remind me of the potential Frank Thomas had – though Thomas had a better batting eye.