The "sophomore slump" really does exist.
Just ask Atlanta's Jason Heyward, Detroit's Austin Jackson or Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees—three of the more recent examples of players who wowed us as rookies only to slump badly during their second year in the show.
My first introduction to the phenomenon came in seventh grade, when a friend of mine did his science project on the "sophomore slump." Back then, he used batting average and ERA for comparison, as this was well before the advent of sabermetrics.
With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the 99 players who have received votes for their league's respective Rookie of the Year award since 2006—58 position players and 41 pitchers—using OPS and ERA as a basis for comparison.
Of the position players, only 17 saw their OPS increase in their second season, and only five saw it rise by at least 100 points. Prince Fielder leads that group, going from an OPS of .831 in 2006 to a 1.013 mark in 2007.
On the mound, 11 pitchers produced lower ERA's as sophomores than they did as rookies, with four dropping their ERA's by at least a full run. Daisuke Matsuzaka is the ace of the group, going from a 4.40 ERA in 2007 to a 2.90 in 2008.
That works out to nearly 72 percent of those who received a vote over the past six seasons producing a lower OPS or higher ERA as sophomores than they did as freshmen.
Can last year's group of Rookie of the Year candidates buck the trend, or are they doomed to repeat history?
Let's take a look at how they're doing in the early goings of their sophomore seasons and see if there are any warning signs that we should take note of.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Voting results courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
|AL||Team||Points||First Place Votes|
|NL||Team||Points||First Place Votes|
2012 Stats: 139 G, .270/.340/.477, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 98 R, 18 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 19 G, .366/.438/.718, 7 HR, 14 RBI, 13 R, 1 SB
Bryce Harper's 2012 numbers might pale in comparison to Mike Trout's, a player that he will forever be linked with and compared to, but the reigning National League Rookie of the Year has clearly put in the work over the winter that will allow him to take the next step in his development this season.
His ability to adjust at the plate is unparalleled by a player his age—it's easy to forget that Harper cannot yet legally buy a beer—and there is no doubt that he has quickly become one of the most dangerous batters in the game.
For example, he was getting beat by soft stuff thrown down and away from him as a rookie. This year, he's making solid contact with those pitches, forcing the opposition to figure out another way to attack him at the plate.
He's striking out less, walking more and continuing to flash his tremendous power, something that will only increase as he continues to mature physically. It is also a reason that he's among the league leaders in home runs and slugging percentage, amongst other categories.
Bryce Harper: 6th HR of season. He hit his 6th HR last season on June 8— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2013
Forget about a sophomore slump for Washington's 20-year-old left fielder—Bryce Harper is a legitimate MVP candidate in 2013.
2012 Stats: 29 GS, 16-11, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 194.2 IP, 193 H, 37 BB, 144 K
Current 2013 Stats: 4 GS, 2-0, 2.77 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 26 IP, 21 H, 7 BB, 23 K
Any questions that people had about whether Arizona's Wade Miley could repeat his surprising success from a year ago have been laid to rest by his early season performance.
Miley has been able to hold his low-90's velocity deep into games, pitching into the seventh inning in three of his four starts on the season while delivering a quality performance every time. While he's only factored into the decision twice this season, he's departed all of his starts this season holding a lead.
He's keeping the ball on the ground more often, resulting in him allowing nearly two fewer hits per nine innings of work than he did a year ago, a testament to Arizona's improved infield defense and a contributing factor to his 2.67 FIP (via FanGraphs), which only confirms that his numbers are for real.
Besides, would the D-Backs cast Miley in his own "reality series," as ESPN Los Angeles' Kari Van Horn makes note of, if the team had any serious concerns about a sophomore slump entering into the picture?
I think not.
2012 Stats: 128 G, .273/.331/.498, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 55 R, 3 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 20 G, .257/.341/.514, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 12 R, 2 SB
While Todd Frazier may have finished third in the voting for the NL Rookie of the Year award, it could be argued that he won the more prestigious, yet far less publicized award for first year players in 2012:
Todd Frazier wins Players Choice Award as National League's Outstanding Rookie.— Reds (@Reds) November 6, 2012
The fact that his strikeout rate has increased, from 22.2 percent in 2012 to 25.9 percent this season, isn't surprising—his swing is long and complex, and even the slightest kink in his timing makes all the difference between Frazier making contact or creating a breeze as he swings and misses.
When he does make contact, though, the ball explodes off of his bat, allowing him to tap into his impressive natural power, which has him on pace to produce 40 home runs and more than 120 RBI in Cincinnati's potent lineup.
Despite the increased strikeouts, Frazier has become a bit more selective at the plate, increasing his walk rate slightly from just under eight percent in 2012 to just under 11 percent this season.
His batting average may not be impressive, but the rest of his numbers will more than make up for that shortcoming as he becomes a force at the hot corner for the Reds.
2012 Stats: 117 G, .270/.312/.530, 28 HR, 71 RBI, 67 R, 4 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 16 G, .298/.322/.526, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 6 R, 3 SB
Batters who are fortunate enough to play half of their home games in Colorado's Coors Field are expected to have outrageous home and away splits. Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario isn't immune from that phenomenon, though he seems to have gotten a bit mixed up by it:
Rosario is still allergic to drawing walks and prone to the strikeout, which will help to keep his batting average and on-base percentage down, but there's no question that the power he flashed as a rookie in 2012 is for real.
Like Todd Frazier, Rosario is likely more of a .250 hitter than someone who ends the season in the .270-.280 range. The fact that he's hitting close to .300 in the early going this season is nice, but he is not the next coming of Joe Mauer.
While his batting average and on-base percentage will suffer due to his penchant for swinging and missing, Rosario's run production won't waver, leading to a successful sophomore campaign.
2012 Stats: 151 G, .288/.355/.433, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 81 R, 30 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 18 G, .257/.329/.392, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 10 R, 3 SB
The most seasoned player on the list, 31-year-old right fielder Norichika Aoki has cooled off significantly after a blistering start to the season, allowing concerns of a "sophomore slump" to creep into the heads of Brewers fans.
While there's no denying that Aoki is slumping—he's gotten only five hits in his last 42 at-bats (.119 batting average)—Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke isn't overly concerned, as he told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
You could see it in his swing. When he starts spinning around (in the batter’s box), it’s usually the same thing. Last year when we gave him a day off, he usually bounced back really well. Hopefully, he’ll do it again.
The day off against San Diego on Monday didn't do much good. Aoki went 1-for-5 on Tuesday, but I have a hard time believing that his early season struggles will be prolonged.
Aoki draws walks more often than he strikes out, and that patient approach at the plate tends to lend itself to a batting average and on-base percentage closer to his 2012 numbers than what he's produced thus far.
2012 Stats: 155 G, .273/.348/.393, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 47 R, 3 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 20 G, .260/.313/.384, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB
Alonso is 2-for-21 in his last six games,and there's reason for concern about him falling victim to a sophomore slump in 2013.
Alonso's walk rate has decreased, his strikeout rate has increased, he's popping the ball up to infielders more often than he ever has before and he is hitting line drives less often than he did a year ago (via FanGraphs):
|BB %||K %||LD %||IFFB %|
Hitting fifth in a weak Padres lineup, Alonso doesn't have much in the way of protection.
While some believe that to be a non-factor when it comes to a player's production at the plate, it allows the opposition to give him nothing good to hit, and it can lead to even the most patient of hitters beginning to press at the plate.
There's no denying that Alonso has the skills to be a less powerful version of Joey Votto—an on-base machine with middling numbers in the power department—but the 26-year-old will need to make the necessary adjustments at the plate if he's to have that kind of success in 2013.
Alonso's early season struggles are something to keep an eye on.
2012 Stats: 114 G, .294/.365/.463, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 44 R, 1 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 19 G, .250/.325/.417, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 16 R, 0 SB
Currently in the midst of a 4-for-33 slide (.111) with three walks and seven strikeouts over his past 10 games, Matt Carpenter is pressing at the plate as he tries to cement his hold on the starting second base job in St. Louis.
His numbers in 2012 are a bit misleading, as he had only 340 plate appearances in a super-utility role. Now in the lineup on a daily basis, Carpenter needs to make adjustments if he hopes to avoid a sophomore slump.
Opposing teams are pitching away from Carpenter, something he struggles with. His higher-than-average .346 BABIP in 2012 suggested that the 27-year-old was riding a hot streak in 2013, and he's done nothing to prove otherwise thus far this season.
His walk rates and strikeout rates have remained fairly consistent, with his BABIP dropping to a more reasonable .286 (via FanGraphs). Regression to the mean was inevitable, especially as he accumulates plate appearances at a far higher rate than he did a year ago.
That is not to say that Carpenter isn't capable of putting together a solid season for the Cardinals. It just means that it might not be on the level that some expect based upon his 2012 numbers.
2012 Stats: 132 G, .309/.341/.421, 5 HR, 54 RBI, 51 R, 7 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 12 G, .324/.359/.351, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 0 SB
Jordan Pacheco is a solid ballplayer and the kind of guy that most teams would love to have coming off of the bench.
In Colorado, he's a part-time starter, splitting time with Todd Helton at first base and producing at the plate despite a lack of any discernible power.
He strikes out twice as often as he draws a walk, yet when he makes contact, the ball tends to find the gaps and land him on base. Whether Pacheco is an excellent hitter, incredibly lucky or a combination of both really doesn't matter—he's simply getting the job done when he gets a chance to play.
That he's not playing on a daily basis will lend itself to a reduction in some of his numbers from a year ago, but there are no signs of a "sophomore slump" in his immediate future.
2012 Stats: 139 G, .326/.399/.564, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 R, 49 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 19 G, .280/.341/.463, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R, 3 SB
Regression in 2013 is inevitable for Mike Trout, who put together one of the most impressive rookie seasons in the history of baseball last year.
His 2013 numbers are solid—albeit not spectacular—and they pale in comparison to the start that Bryce Harper, with whom he will forever be linked, is off to in Washington.
That said, you can't call Trout's start to the season a sophomore slump—most outfielders would be quite content to have the numbers that he does so far in 2012.
The reigning AL Rookie of the Year will be just fine.
2012 Stats: 129 G, .292/.356/.505, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 70 R, 16 SB
Current 2013 Stats: 11 G, .200/.298/.450, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 0 SB
While Cespedes hasn't missed quite as much time as he did in the first half of the 2012 season—when he spent most of May on the disabled list—the Cuban defect is once again off to a slow start, which can certainly be explained away by his injury.
That said, if we learned anything about Cespedes in 2012, it's that as the season progresses, he becomes a more productive hitter:
While his 2013 numbers scream "sophomore slump," they can be chalked up to his injury. If he's still failing to get on base with any consistency and is sitting with a batting average around the Mendoza Line at the end of May, then it's time to be concerned.
Until then, you have to like Cespedes' chances of improving upon an impressive rookie campaign in 2013.
2012 Stats: 29 GS, 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 191.1 IP, 156 H, 89 BB, 221 K
Current 2013 Stats: 4 GS, 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 26.2 IP, 13 H, 8 BB, 38 K
Seattle's Felix Hernandez might be the king in the AL West, but Texas' scintillating sophomore, Yu Darvish, is making a run at his throne for the title of "best pitcher in the division."
Scratch that. Darvish is making a case for the title of "best pitcher in baseball."
The Japanese import has been nothing short of dominant in 2013, making opposing batters look foolish when they step up to the plate against him.
He leads the American League with 38 strikeouts, has allowed three hits or less in three of his four starts and has finished with double-digit strikeouts twice.
A sophomore slump?
It's more like a sophomore surge for the 26-year-old phenom, who has as good a chance as anyone to pick up the AL Cy Young award at the end of the season.
2012 Stats: 32 GS, 12-11, 4.02 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 192.2 IP, 186 H, 57 BB, 154 K
Current 2013 Stats: 4 GS, 1-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 24 IP, 21 H, 7 BB, 11 K
While Wei-Yin Chen may have only one win on the season, it's not for a lack of quality innings on the hill for the Baltimore Orioles.
The 27-year-old southpaw doesn't rely on overpowering stuff to get outs, instead using his command and ability to change speeds in the blink of an eye to keep batters off-balance.
It's no secret that he faded fast down the stretch for the Orioles, pitching to a 4.76 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over the last two months of the season, but he's clearly left those struggles where they belong—in 2012.
Chen is a solid, albeit unspectacular, major league starter, and there's no reason to believe that he won't replicate—or improve upon—the numbers he posted in his debut season.
2012 Stats: 29 GS, 13-8, 3.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 181.1 IP, 166 H, 63 BB, 140 K
Current 2013 Stats: 4 GS, 0-3, 7.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP, 18 IP, 29 H, 10 BB, 9 K
One start doesn't erase an awful start to the season, but it does give hope that Oakland's Jarrod Parker is on the verge of breaking out of what we can call a mini-sophomore slump.
At the very least, it gives the 24-year-old right-hander a much-needed confidence boost after the way he threw the ball in his first three starts of the season:
|First Three Starts||11.2||23||14||8||4|
Chris Townsend, co-host of the Bucher and Towny show on 95.7 FM The Game, said it best following Parker's most recent outing:
Good to see Jarrod Parker looking like Jarrod Parker again. #Athletics
— Chris Townsend (@townsendradio) April 21, 2013
According to FanGraphs, Parker hasn't lost any velocity from his arsenal of pitches, which leads you to believe that his early season struggles were a result of either a mechanical flaw in his delivery or a mental lapse.
His walk rate is way up, his strikeout rate is way down and the sophomore slump is hanging out just around the corner, ready to make its return to Parker's locker.
His next start will go a long way towards telling us whether or not he truly is back to his 2012 form or if there's reason for concern in Oakland.