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Arizona Diamondbacks Rookie of the Year: Uh, nominations, I guess?

Where did the rookies go?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies
“How not to be seen,” with your instructor, Rey Fuentes
Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

Precisely ONE Arizona player lost their rookie status in 2017. The only man to do so was outfielder Rey Fuentes, who appeared in 64 games and got 145 plate-appearances. He finally got out of rookie eligibility, four years after making his MLB debut as a Padres in August 2013. After that, there was a steep drop-off on the position player side, with nobody else getting more than 15 plate-appearances (Christian Walker). Behind him come Ildemaro Vargas (13 PA) and Jack Reinheimer (5). Compare those four and their 178 PA to last season, when we had six rookie position players, combining to receive a total of 831 PA. Here are the tallies for each season over the past few seasons:

  • 2017: four rookies, 178 PA
  • 2016: six rookies, 831 PA
  • 2015: nine rookies, 1,464 PA
  • 2014: nine rookies, 1,627 PA
  • 2013: seven rookies, 1,406 PA

You’ve to go back to 2011 to find a lower number of rookie position players, but even there, the two who did appear (Collin Cowgill and some “below average regular” called Gold-something) had almost a hundred more plate-appearances than this year’s crop. The situation was little if any better on the mound. Only three rookie pitchers were used by Arizona, all of whom will still be rookies for 2018 - and one of those (Matt Koch) failed to retire a batter. All told, the trio were good for only 36.1 innings this season, a mere 2.5% of all innings pitched by the D-backs this season, an even lower percentage than the rookie position player PA (3.4%). Here are the five-year tallies.

  • 2017: three rookies, 36.1 innings
  • 2016: thirteen (!) rookies, 449 innings
  • 2015: nine rookies, 351 innings
  • 2014: ten rookies, 416.1 innings
  • 2013: eight rookies, 158 innings

Obviously, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have to use a lot of rookies, it’s quite possibly because you have been forced into it, by some combination of injury and ineffectiveness among your Opening Day roster. Certainly, the win tally of the 2017 Diamondbacks speaks for itself, being between 12 and 29 games better than those posted in the previous five seasons. It’s partly a reflection of the team’s stability and increasing maturity (in an age-based sense). Here’s where the Diamondbacks ranked in the National League, for both hitter and pitcher age, over those same five seasons.

  • 2017: hitters 5th oldest, pitchers 6th
  • 2016: hitters 15th, pitchers 14th
  • 2015: hitters 15th, pitchers 14th
  • 2014: hitters 10th, pitchers 11th
  • 2013: hitters 7th, pitchers 12th

I found the sudden turn-around quite surprising. Indeed, you could say, Hazen and his front-office appear more actively engaged in using “veteran presence” than Dave Stewart or Kevin Towers were. Of the thirteen players to get 200 or more plate-appearances in 2017, nine were in their age-29 seasons or older. There were only three such in 2016, and you’ve to go all the way back to 2001 to find a season where more D-backs had 200+ PA at age 29 or greater. Even at the very top end, three regular players (Chris Iannetta, Jeff Mathis and Gregor Blanco) were 33+. That was last true in Arizona more than a decade ago: the 2006 Diamondbacks had four.

All of which is really in lieu of an analysis of the nomination for rookie of the year, since they largely write themselves. There were seven in total: one pitcher didn’t record an out, and one hitter had five plate-appearances. The only question is whether we should prune the nominees one further, and have a “no award” category. Last year, that ended up winning due to ballot irregularities. This time, there’s a credible case to be made that, with only one player losing rookie eligibility (and him being below replacement level by fWAR), no-one genuinely deserves it.

Please, discuss that, and the curious evaporation of the Diamondbacks’ rookie, to the level of an endangered species, in the comments section.