Where Jose Abreu's Debut Month Ranks Among MLB's Best Ever
By now, you've probably heard all about the exploits of the Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu, who set all kinds of rookie records for the month of April, his first in the majors after spending several seasons as one of the best hitters in Cuba's top professional league, the Serie Nacional.
In fact, the 27-year-old slugger set new marks for home runs and RBI by a rookie in April, finishing out the month with 10 homers and 32 RBI—both of which are tops in all of Major League Baseball.
With April at an end, it's just the time to explore the 10 best player debuts in that month since 1947. That's when MLB created the Rookie of the Year Award, the inaugural one of which was won by Jackie Robinson, for whom it's now named.
Before getting started, there is a distinction between debut season and rookie season. The former—what we're focusing on—is when a player first makes it to the majors; the latter is when a player exhausts his rookie status by exceeding 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days of service time. They are not one and the same.
A good example of this distinction is Xander Bogaerts, the Boston Red Sox's shortstop, who made his debut last year but is in his rookie season this year. Get it?
Also, to be clear, this is all about April, so you won't find mention of other fantastic debut months, like when Yasiel Puig was called up and went bonkers last June.
Here, then, is a pool of 20 hitters and pitchers, each who comprise our candidates for best April performances in a debut season, based on statistics like OPS+ and runs created (RC) for hitters and ERA and WHIP for pitchers.
Listed in chronological order, here are 20 standout hitter performances in April of their debut season since 1947 (minimum 70 plate appearances):
|8||Ken Griffey Jr.||1989||Mariners||156||15.2|
|13||Shea Hillenbrand||2001||Red Sox||129||17.3|
|20||Jose Abreu||2014||White Sox||167||23.2|
Listed in chronological order, here are 20 noteworthy pitcher performances in April of their debut season since 1947 (minimum 20.0 innings pitched):
|9||Jerry Garvin||1977||Blue Jays||2.14||1.10||5.6|
Now that 40 of the best debut Aprils have been laid out, what follows is a ranking of the top 10 first-month-of-the-season performances since the Rookie of the Year Award came into play.
Statistics come from Baseball-Reference, except where otherwise noted.
No. 10: Tom Seaver, RHP, New York Mets
Debut Season: 1967
April Stats: 2-1, 1.88 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 6.3 K/9 (28.2 IP)
The fact that a Hall of Famer checks in at No. 10 should give you an idea of just how many fantastic debut Aprils there have been in MLB history.
In Tom Seaver's case, his 1.88 ERA over four starts is among the 10 best, and his 1.08 WHIP among the 25 best. That effort set the stage for an incredible campaign in which he won 16 games with a 2.76 ERA and 1.20 WHIP on his way to capturing the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
No. 9: Don Sutton, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Debut Season: 1966
April Stats: 2-2, 2.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.8 K/9 (31.0 IP)
So far, we're 2-for-2 with Hall of Fame pitchers having boffo April debuts. Unlike Seaver, Don Sutton didn't garner any hardware for his first season, but his 2.32 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 7.8 K/9 all rank in the top 25.
Sutton edges out Seaver ever so slightly because his latter two numbers were a bit better, and he threw more innings in his April.
No. 8: Gary Nolan, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Debut Season: 1967
April Stats: 2-1, 2.64 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 (30.2 IP)
A hard-throwing right-hander, Gary Nolan was just 18 years old when he pitched his first game on April 15, 1967, making him one of the youngest pitchers ever to debut in the majors.
Although Nolan placed third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Seaver, who won it (remember?), he ranks ahead of Seaver as far as April goes. Nolan's 1.04 WHIP was ever so slightly better, but his 9.7 K/9 was markedly ahead of Seaver's 6.3 per nine.
No. 7: Coco Laboy, 3B, Montreal Expos
Debut Season: 1969
April Stats: .377/.424/.610, 8 R, 11 XBH (3 HR), 14 RBI, 0 SB (85 PA)
Among the 10 on this list, Coco Laboy is the biggest flash-in-the-pan player, as the Puerto Rico native debuted at the age of 28 and then managed not even 800 more plate appearances over his final four seasons in the bigs.
Still, what he did in April of 1969 needs to be acknowledged here: Laboy's .377 batting average is the highest among all qualifying first-year hitters (minimum 70 PA) since 1947, while his 1.034 OPS ranks fourth.
No. 6: Alvin Davis, 1B, Seattle Mariners
Debut Season: 1984
April Stats: .369/.453/.769, 14 R, 12 XBH (7 HR), 17 RBI, 2 SB (75 PA)
Alvin Davis' first-ever April was pretty ridiculous, eh? He ranks in the top three in each of the triple-slash stats, and his 1.223 OPS is the best. He also had more walks (nine) than whiffs (seven) and as many homers as the latter. Sheesh.
The only reason he's not a few spots higher? Davis, who went on to earn an All-Star berth and win ROY, only played 17 games and accrued 75 plate appearances, which are the lowest numbers in both categories among this top 10. In some ways, though, that makes his stats even more impressive.
No. 5: Mitchell Page, OF, Oakland Athletics
Debut Season: 1977
April Stats: .366/.435/.683, 17 R, 15 XBH (5 HR), 19 RBI, 5 SB (93 PA)
Among all debut Aprils, Mitchell Page sits in the top five in—deep breath—batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, doubles, RBI and steals. That's called covering your bases.
Alas, Page's pace slowed from May on, and he wound up second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in what was by far the best season of his career.
No. 4: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
Debut Season: 2014
April Stats: 3-0, 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.6 K/9 (35.2 IP)
That's right: Jose Abreu ain't the only rookie who ruled this April. Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese phenom whose $155 million contract was more than double Abreu's $68 million pact, has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for through his first five starts.
To wit, Tanaka is in the top 10 among pitchers in innings pitched and WHIP, and he is tied for the most strikeouts ever in April by a first-year pitcher with the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu, who merited serious consideration for this list after his strong start last year. (Ryu's 3.00 ERA and 1.14 WHIP were just too high to keep him off.)
With both Tanaka and Abreu in the AL, it's shaping up to be one heck of a fight for the trophy this year.
No. 3: Wayne Simpson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Debut Season: 1970
April Stats: 3-1, 0.58 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 6.7 K/9 (31.0 IP)
Wayne Simpson's April 1970 ERA and WHIP were so small, they're actually hard to see. In fact, the 0.58 ERA and 0.68 WHIP both rank first in pitcher April debuts, which shows just how much the big righty flat-out dominated the sport that month.
Unfortunately, Simpson's shoulder started giving out soon after, and at the end of July, he tore his rotator cuff. While he would stick around for a handful of seasons spread out across the 1970s, Simpson was never the same. That doesn't stop him from being the top arm on this April-centric list, though.
No. 2: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Debut Season: 2014
April Stats: .270/.339/.622, 20 R, 18 XBH (10 HR), 32 RBI, 0 SB (128 PA)
Jose Abreu's record April was covered at the outset of this, but it's fun to see his statistics displayed in all their glory, isn't it?
The righty masher finished his first month in the majors with the second-most runs ever among hitters making their debut in April, and he also placed in the top 10 in doubles, slugging percentage and OPS. The crux of his placement at No. 2 here, however, is about those 10 homers and 32 RBI—again, the most-ever by a first-year player in April. Also? He overtook the guy at No. 1 in total bases, becoming the first player to crack 70.
So far, so great for Abreu, who has powered the AL's highest-scoring offense. He's got his work cut out for him in holding off Tanaka over the rest of 2014, but Abreu comes out ahead for April—and behind only one other player in history.
No. 1: Albert Pujols, 1B/3B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Debut Season: 2001
April Stats: .370/.431/.739, 18 R, 17 XBH (8 HR), 27 RBI, 0 SB (102 PA)
Albert Pujols might have had his April home run and RBI records broken by Abreu, but the newest member of baseball's 500-homer club still owns the best-ever debut in the season's first month.
In addition to now being No. 2 in homers (eight), RBI (27) and total bases (68), Pujols also ranks second in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Beyond all that, Pujols played three different defensive positions for the Cardinals, handling first base, third base and outfield—sometimes all three in the same game!
Add it all up, and Prince Albert is still the king when it comes to the best-ever April debut.