Ranking the 10 Best Rookie World Series Performances Since 1950

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Ranking the 10 Best Rookie World Series Performances Since 1950
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Was Michael Wacha's Game 2 start one of the best ever by a rookie?

22-year-old Michael Wacha became the 17th-youngest pitcher to win a World Series game when he defeated the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 on Thursday night.

The rookie was still highly effective, despite lacking the outstanding command he demonstrated in his previous three postseason starts; he ultimately allowed two runs on three hits and four walks with five strikeouts over seven impressive innings.

In the aftermath of Wacha’s gem against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS, I wrote that it ranked as the 10th-best performance by a rookie pitcher in postseason history. However, with the right-hander now pitching in the Fall Classic, I figured I’d now take a more specific look at rookie performances in the World Series.

Once again, Win Probability Average (WPA) was used to rank each player’s single-game performance. This time, however, I decided to include hitters. And to avoid skewed results from late-inning relievers and pinch hitters, I narrowed the focus to only position players who started the game and pitchers who logged at least six innings.

Here’s a look at the 10 best performances by rookies in the World Series.

Highest WPA By A Rookie in a World Series Game (1950-Current)
Age Year Team Game WPA
Madison Bumgarner 20 2010 SFG Game 4 0.463
Bruce Kison 21 1971 PIT Game 4 0.380
Gil McDougald 22 1951 NYY Game 5 0.358
Whitey Ford 21 1950 NYY Game 4 0.354
Brian Doyle 23 1978 NYY Game 6 0.305
Mel Stottlemeyer 22 1964 NYY Game 7 0.303
Jacoby Ellsbury 24 2007 BOS Game 3 0.268
Ricky Ledee 24 1998 NYY Game 1 0.259
Andruw Jones 19 1996 ATL Game 1 0.257
Willie McGee 23 1982 STL Game 3 0.250

Baseball Reference

 

1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants (2010)

After opening the 2010 season in the minor leagues, Bumgarner was called up to join the Giants’ starting rotation in late June and went on to register a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts during the regular season. While the 20-year-old left-hander pitched well in both the NLDS and NLCS that year, he put himself on the map as one of baseball’s best young pitchers with his Game 4 start in the World Series against the Texas Rangers.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media

With the Giants already up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, Bumgarner fired eight scoreless innings in which he allowed three hits and two walks with six strikeouts. More importantly, San Francisco won the game, 4-0, and went on to defeat the Rangers the following night in Game 5 to win the 2010 World Series. 

 

2. Bruce Kison, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (1971)

Called up to the major leagues on the Fourth of July in 1971, Kison, 21 at the time, posted a 102 ERA+ in 95.1 innings during the regular season including two complete games in 13 starts.

The 6’4” right-hander was moved to the bullpen for the postseason where he served as the Pirates’ long reliever. In his only NLCS appearance against the Giants, Kison tossed 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks with three strikeouts.

After failing to record an out in relief of starter Bob Johnson during Game 2 of the World Series against the Orioles, Kison was stellar out of the bullpen in Game 4. Entering the game with two outs in the first inning after starter Luke Walker was shelled for three runs, the right-hander fired 6.1 shutout frames, allowing only one hit—he did hit three batters for good measure—with three strikeouts.

 

3. Gil McDougald, 2B-3B, New York Yankees (1951)

Gil McDougald had an outstanding rookie season with the Yankees in 1951, appearing in 131 games and receiving significant playing time at both second and third base. At the plate, the 22-year-old batted .306/.396/.488 with 72 runs scored, 41 extra-base hits (14 home runs), 14 stolen bases and more walks (56) than strikeouts (54). Following the season, McDougald was named the American League Rookie of the Year and even finished ninth in the league’s MVP voting.

Tied at two games apiece with the New York Giants in the 1951 World Series, McDougald provided a series-changing blow in Game 5 with a third-inning grand slam. The Yankees went on to win the game, 13-1, and ultimately clinch the series the following night.

 

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media

4. Whitey Ford, LHP, New York Yankees (1950)  

21-year-old Whitey Ford took baseball by storm following his arrival in July of 1950, posting a 9-1 record with seven complete games and 153 ERA+ in 112 innings spanning 20 games (12 starts). The left-hander’s impressive campaign resulted in a second-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting following the season.

The Yankees opened the 1950 World Series against the Phillies with wins in each of the first three games. In Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, they turned to Ford to clinch the series. The rookie certainly didn’t disappoint, as he allowed two runs (zero earned) on seven hits and a walk with seven strikeouts over 8.2 innings. The Yankees, meanwhile, went on to win the game, 5-2.

 

5. Brian Doyle, 2B, New York Yankees (1978)

The Yankees selected Doyle in the fourth round of the 1972 draft, though he didn’t reach the major leagues until 1978. Playing 39 games that season, mostly as a reserve, the 23-year-old batted only .192 in 54 plate appearances and failed to collect an extra-base hit.

Doyle would ultimately atone for his poor regular-season performance with an outstanding showing in the 1978 World Series against the Dodgers. Starting all six games at second base, the rookie went 7-for-16 (.438) with four runs scored and two RBI. He enjoyed arguably the best game of his career in Game 6, going 3-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and two RBI.

However, that was about it in terms of Doyle’s career, as he batted .150 with four extra-base hits in 71 games over parts of the next three seasons. By 1982, he was out of baseball.

 

6. Mel Stottlemyre, RHP, New York Yankees (1964) 

Following his call-up by the Yankees on August 14, 1964, Stottlemyre went on to have the ninth-best season by a rookie pitcher (with at least 96 innings pitched) in baseball history, according to Baseball Reference. Appearing in 13 games (12 starts) over the final two months of the regular season, the 22-year-old posted a 9-3 record and 177 ERA+ in 96 innings and even finished 25th in the AL MVP voting.

Amazing, Stottlemyre’s only postseason experience came later that year when the Yankees played the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Getting the start in Game 2 on the road with the Yankees already trailing 1-0 in the series, the right-hander fired a complete-game gem, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts.

Stottlemyre came back to start Game 5 of the series and turned in another solid outing, allowing an earned run on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts. However, the rookie was outdueled by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, who tossed a historic, 10-inning complete game with 13 strikeouts.

Hoping to ride Stottlemyer’s hot hand, the Yankees started the rookie in Game 7 of the series. However, the right-hander couldn’t further his World Series success, as he was saddled with the loss after allowing three earned runs on five hits and two walks, lasting only four innings.

 

7. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox (2007)

It took Jacoby Ellsbury only two years to reach the major leagues after Boston selected him in the first round of the 2005 draft out of Oregon State University.

Called up to make his debut on June 30, 2007, the 23-year-old served as one the Red Sox’s hottest hitters over the final three months of the regular season, batting .353/.394/.509 with 20 runs scored, 11 extra-base hits (three home runs), 18 RBI and nine stolen bases in 33 games.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media

Ellsbury’s late-season success led to him being named as the team’s starting center fielder in the postseason, though he didn’t truly settle in at the plate until the World Series against the Colorado Rockies.

Moved up to the leadoff spot for Game 3 in Colorado, Ellsbury went 4-for-5 with three doubles, two runs scored and two RBI as the Cardinals outslugged the Rockies 10-5.

 

8. Ricky Ledee, OF, New York Yankees (1998)

Drafted as a 16-year-old in 1990 out of Puerto Rico, Ledee spent eight seasons in the minor leagues before finally making his major league debut on June 15, 1998. The 24-year-old went on to play in 42 games with the Yankees during the regular season, batting .241/.299/.392 with eight extra-base hits and 29 strikeouts in 87 plate appearances.

Although he made the Yankees’ postseason roster, Ledee failed to log an at-bat during the ALDS and subsequently went 0-for-5 in the ALCS against the Indians.

Despite his lack of at-bats, Ledee was named as the team’s starting left fielder in Game 1 of the World Series. He responded by going 2-for-3 with a double, walk and two RBI. The left-handed hitter would go on to bat .600 (6-for-10) in the series with three doubles and four RBI as the Yankees dropped the Padres in four consecutive games.

 

9. Andruw Jones, OF, Atlanta Braves (1996)

Regarded as the top prospect in the game by Baseball America heading into the 1996 season, Jones earned a promotion to the major leagues in the middle of August after posting a 1.072 OPS with 34 home runs in 116 games across three minor league levels.

The 19-year-old showed flashes of greatness following his call-up by the Braves, batting .217/.265/.443 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 31 regular-season games. As expected—given his age and lack of professional experience—Jones struggled to control the strike zone at the highest level and ultimately fanned 29 times in 113 plate appearances.

Though Jones was named to the Braves’ postseason roster, the precocious outfielder served as a pinch hitter and late-inning defensive replacement during the NLDS and for most of the NLCS. However, when he was given the start in left field in the deciding Game 7 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Jones made the most of the opportunity, going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media

The rookie was back in left field for Game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees and, amazingly, picked up where he left off in the NLCS, going 3-for-4 with three runs scored, two home runs and five RBI. At 19 years old, Jones became the youngest player to hit a home run in the postseason (and obviously the World Series).

 

10. Willie McGee, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (1982)

Willie McGee made an immediate impact in the major leagues, batting .340 with nine extra-base hits, 21 RBI and eight stolen bases in 43 games following his debut early in the 1982 season. The 23-year-old ultimately finished the season with a .296/.318/.391 batting line, 24 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in 123 games, and he placed third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

McGee continued to swing a hot bat in the NLCS, posting a 1.154 OPS with two triples, a home run and five RBI in the Cardinals’ three-game sweep of the Braves. The speedy switch hitter didn’t fare as well in the World Series, as the Brewers pitchers allowed him to reach base seven times in 26 plate appearances.

However, McGee put himself in the record books with his 2-for-3, two-home run, four-RBI performance in Game 3.

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