Once in 1986, my mom came back from Price Club with a box of Topps. I still remember the joy and disbelief. A whole box? Man, that was some memory. I'll never forget the first Ozzie Guillen rookie card I scored. Or the first Harold Reynolds rookie. Or the second Ozzie Guillen rookie. Or the second Harold Reynolds rookie. There was probably a Bob Dernier mixed in there. There always was.
The next year had BO JACKSON and WALLY JOYNER and JOSE CANSECO and BARRY BONDS. But for a year, I entertained myself by putting Harold Reynolds and Ozzie Guillen rookies in a glass jar and making them fight. No one was a winner with that one. No one at all.
What a blah set for rookie cards.
Which brings us to the class of 2013 American League rookies. They would actually make for a pretty good set of baseball cards, considering. Wil Myers is a big name, as is Jurickson Profar. Nick Franklin might be a star, and so might Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, and Jarred Cosart. It's not a bad crop of rookies at all, not when projecting future All-Stars and solid contributors.
When it comes to 2013 contributions, though, there wasn't a lot there. The Rookie of the Year wasn't promoted until May, and the runner up wasn't a starter until June, which is when the third-place finisher cracked the rotation for his team. It was an ROY race of midseason call-ups, which makes for an odd race. Because of this, there wasn't a single rookie in the American League worth at least three wins over replacement.
Let's look and see how rare this is. Was the 2013 AL crop an anomaly? A list of seasons in each league without a three-win rookie hitter or pitcher:
1906 American League
1919 National League
It's happened 10 times. In 1906, there were 66 pitchers with rookie status. In 2013, there were 198. It's almost as if there's a loose correlation between "number of teams" and "chances for a star rookie," so there's no sense comparing the 2013 class to a league with eight teams in it. That eliminates the first six classes on the list. And we can eliminate the '94 AL because of the strike. Both Jose Valentin and Bob Hamelin would have gotten there. If you round up from 2.6, they actually did.
That leaves just two other classes of rookies that can compete with the '13 class. The first class without a three-win rookie in the expansion era was the 1980 National League. Like this year's AL crop, the problem with the '80 NL wasn't a lack of talent, but a lack of steady playing time for the talent. Lonnie Smith led rookie hitters in WAR, but the only rookie hitter with more than 100 games played was Rudy Law. Players like Pedro Guerrero, Hubie Brooks, Mike Scioscia, and Tommy Herr came up and fought for playing time, but they wouldn't become full-time starters until the next year.
The most successful rookie pitchers from 1980 were super-relievers, mostly. Al Holland, Dave Smith, and Jeff Reardon were three of the top four pitchers, with midseason call-up Bill Gullickson the lone starter. Marty Bystrom finished sixth in WAR for rookie pitchers in the NL. He threw 36 innings.
Here are the top 10 rookie hitters from '99:
Yep. The Bruce Aven. There are a couple of LSU Tigers in the middle who were a part of one of the most exciting College World Series games ever, but other than that, a pretty lackluster class. The pitching from '99:
And you woke up this morning not expecting to think about Kevin McGlinchy.
For comparison, here's the top-10 for 2013 rookie hitters:
And 2013 rookie pitchers:
By the end of the list of 2013 rookie hitters, Baseball-Reference.com was just making up names. Pretty sure a professional baseball writer would have heard of rookies like "Ryan Goins" and "Josmil Pinto" if they actually existed. Nice try.
Still, I'm going to go with the 1999 National League for the least exciting rookie class when it came to on-field performance. Maybe that's colored by the fact that we know, with the benefit of hindsight, that most of those guys didn't do much for their careers. But I'll let the 2013 American League class off the hook.
Also, I'm not sure if "dicking around with service time to save money" was as big of a deal in 1980 or 1999. It might be that this is something of a trend -- midseason call-ups ruling the ROY voting because their organizations don't want them to hit arbitration earlier.
Regardless, while the 2013 class is something of an anomaly, it probably isn't the least productive class in history. Barely.