Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was the unanimous winner of the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Award and was the 17th Dodger to win it.
In the least-surprising news of baseball award season, shortstop Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers was the unanimous selection to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. It was a well-deserved award. Seager was more than twice as valuable as the next-best rookie in the NL, with a 7.5 WAR season according to Fangraphs.
This year, Seager hit .308/.365/.512 with 105 runs, 26 home runs, and 72 RBI. He was one of the key reasons the Dodgers won the NL West. He was particularly good while the Dodgers were without Clayton Kershaw for seven weeks during the season. Between Kershaw’s last start before going on the DL in late June and his return from the DL in early September, Seager hit .345/.407/.546.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a long history of impressive rookies that goes back to the very first Rookie of the Year Award, which was given to Jackie Robinson in 1947, the year he broke baseball’s modern color barrier. Including Seager’s award this year, the Dodgers have 17 Rookies of the Year, by far the most in the National League. The Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds are tied for second-most, with seven each.
The Dodgers seem to collect their Rookie of the Year Awards in bunches. They won four of the first seven awards handed out from 1947 to 1953. Then there was a gap until they won again in 1960, one of three they had during that tumultuous decade. After not having the top rookie for nine years, the Dodgers went on a tear from 1979 to 1982 when they took home the hardware four years in a row. They then went on another nine-year hiatus before returning with a vengeance by collecting five straight awards from 1992 to 1996. Seager is the first Rookie of the Year for the Dodgers since that stretch ended. Here is a closer look at the former Dodgers who have won the Rookie of the Year Award.
.297/.383/.427, 125 R, 29 SB, 3.1 WAR (per Baseball-Reference)
Before the BBWAA Rookie of the Year Award was established nationally in 1947, the Chicago chapter of the BBWAA selected an annual winner of best rookie from 1940 to 1946. The 1947 award won by Jackie Robinson is considered the first official Rookie of the Year Award.
When Robinson won the Rookie of the Year Award, he was not exactly a fresh-faced, unproven rookie. He was 28 years old and had previously played in the Negro Leagues. He showed up in Brooklyn as a big league ready talent and had a great season, leading the league in steals and sacrifice bunts. He helped the Dodgers make the World Series, which they lost to the New York Yankees. Robinson won the award over starting pitchers Larry Jansen (21-5, 3.16 ERA in 248 IP) and Spec Shea (14-5, 3.07 ERA in 178 2/3 IP).
Newcombe joined the Dodgers organization in 1946 after playing with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues. He spent parts of four seasons in the Dodgers’ minor leagues before making it to the big club in 1949 at the age of 23. He was a workhorse right from the start, pitching 244 1/3 innings in his rookie season and easily winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award over second-place finisher Del Crandall. Newcombe received 21 of the 24 first place votes. This was the first year the award was given to one player from each league.
Black was a veteran of seven seasons in the Negro Leagues before signing with the Dodgers in 1951. He pitched for AA St. Paul and AAA Montreal in 1951, then joined the Dodgers for his rookie year as a 28-year-old in 1952. His first year was his best year. He became a key member of the Dodgers’ bullpen, winning 15 games and saving 15 games. Along with the NL Rookie of the Year Award, Black finished third in NL MVP voting. In the 1952 World Series, Black was moved to the rotation and started three games in seven days. He won his first start, becoming the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game, but lost his other two starts, 2-0 and 4-2. After a great first season, Black never again reached such heights. He was worth 4.4 WAR in his rookie year and just 0.5 WAR total over his final five seasons.
After five years with the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues, Gilliam signed with the Dodgers in 1951. He spent two seasons with the Montreal Royals in the Triple-A International League, then made it to Brooklyn in 1953. He led the league in plate appearances and triples in his rookie year. Gilliam played second base exclusively in his rookie year, but would become known for his versatility in later years by playing every position except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop.
Gilliam’s rookie year was not without controversy. The team was looking for a leadoff hitter because they wanted Jackie Robinson’s power in the third or fourth slot. To make room for Gilliam, the team moved Robinson to third base, which put Billy Cox on the bench. Cox was a very good fielder and a popular player, so the move caused some concern. Part of the “problem” was that the Dodgers could potentially field four African-American players at one time on days that Don Newcomb pitched. Gilliam ended up posting a .383 on-base percentage and scoring 125 runs, which quieted any concerns about him being in the lineup.
Seven different players received first place votes for the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1953. Gilliam took home 11 first place votes and won the award easily, but second-place finisher Harvey Haddix finished with almost double the value of Gilliam. Haddix was 20-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 253 IP. Baseball-Reference had him being worth 7.4 WAR to Gilliams’ 3.9.
Frank Howard was a 6’7”, 255-pound athlete who was an All-American in baseball and basketball at The Ohio State University. He was good enough at basketball to be drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA, but chose baseball over basketball and signed with the Dodgers in 1958. In two minor league seasons before joining the Dodgers for good in 1960, Howard hit a combined 80 home runs. He was named Minor League Player of the year in 1959 by The Sporting News. Howard led the Dodgers in home runs and was second on the team in RBI in his rookie year. His 23 home runs were 10 more than the player with the second-most home runs, Wally Moon.
That looks like a slam-dunk for the player listed second, so how did Lefebvre win the award? Perhaps it had to do with the caliber of his team. Lefebvre’s Dodgers were 97-65 and won the National League pennant. The player listed second was on the Houston Astros, who were 65-97 and finished 32 games out. His name is Joe Morgan. He turned out to be pretty, pretty, pretty good.
The Dodgers previous Rookie of the Year Award winner, Jim Lefebvre, was still with the team in 1969 when Sizemore came up. Lefebvre had been worth an average of 3.1 WAR per season in his first three years, but struggled in 1968, hitting .241/.304/.343. He continued to struggle in 1969 and was replace by Sizemore, who then went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award.
Sizemore started his rookie year at shortstop before replacing Lefebvre at second base. He was more solid than spectacular, earning value with his bat and glove. Sizemore spent two seasons with the Dodgers before being traded to the Cardinals, where he spent the bulk of his career. Sizemore’s Rookie of the Year Award was the seventh for a Dodgers player and the fourth for a Dodgers second baseman.
Sutcliffe was a first round draft pick in the 1974 amateur draft. He got a couple tastes of big league action in 1976 and 1978 before his Rookie of the Year season in 1979. The 23-year-old Sutcliffe led the Dodgers in wins and innings in his rookie year, outpitching fellow starters Don Sutton, Jerry Reuss, Andy Messersmith, and Charlie Hough. In the Rookie of the Year voting, he received 20 of the 24 first place votes, with Houston’s Jeffrey Leonard finishing second. This was long before Leonard would become the “HacMan”. In his rookie year, Leonard didn’t hit any home runs in 467 plate appearances, but did steal 23 bases.
Howe was a first round pick in 1979 who made a quick ascension to the major leagues. He only pitched 95 innings in the minor leagues before making the Dodgers in 1980. On the 1980 Dodgers, Howe was one of 10 pitchers to earn at least one save. His 17 saves not only led the team but was also a rookie record at the time. In his second season, he was on the hill in the clinching game when the Dodgers won the World Series over the New York Yankees.
After his early success, Howe had one of the most tumultuous major league careers ever. He battled drug problems for many years and was suspended multiple times, including a lifetime ban in 1992 that was overturned by an arbitrator. Through it all, he pitched 12 seasons for four major league teams. After his big league career ended with the 1996 Yankees, he pitched a season with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the Independent Northern League.
Howe died in a car accident in 2006 at the age of 48 when his pickup truck overturned in Coachella, California. It was a sad for many of the players and coaches he’d known in baseball. Despite all of his troubles, Howe was a well-liked person. Upon Howe’s death, former teammate Rick Monday said, “I feel sadness and shock. We talked a lot about his childhood, and how he was treated. There was a lot of abuse. But regardless of how bad things were, he always found a ray of sunshine. He was an exuberant, talented guy—one of the most likeable. We all rooted for him to get his life straightened out. He struggled to try to find how he fit into life.”
The 1981 season was an amazing year for 20-year-old Fernando Valenzuela. He was the NL Rookie of the Year and NL Cy Young winner, the only pitcher in history to win both awards. He was an all-star, won the Silver Slugger, and finished fifth in voting for the NL MVP. In addition to all of his individual glory, his team beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
His statistics were impressive. Remember, this was a strike year. The Dodgers only played 110 games. Fernando led the NL in starts (25), complete games (11), shutouts (8), innings pitched (192.3), and strikeouts (180).
As good as his numbers were, they really don’t do him justice. The guy was a phenomenon. He pitched a five-hit shutout in his first start, then four more shutouts in his next six starts. After seven starts, he was 7-0 with a 0.29 ERA. Add in the 17 2/3 scoreless innings he pitched in 1980 and Fernando allowed just two runs in the first 80 2/3 innings of his career.
By the end of April, the fans were all in on Fernandomania. He drew big crowds at home and on the road. The Dodgers sold out 11 of his 12 home starts and averaged 7,519 more fans when he pitched at Dodger Stadium than when any other pitcher started. On the road, the increase was even greater. His away starts drew 14,292 more fans than other Dodgers games.
Fernando is credited by many for creating excitement about major league baseball in Mexico, Central America, and South America. His starts were broadcast on TV in Mexico City, which was twice the size of Los Angeles at the time. He was also a big draw on radio. With the excitement around Fernando on the Dodgers, the number of radio stations broadcasting Dodgers games in Mexico jumped from three to 17. Vin Scully once said of Fernando Valenzuela, “In baseball, Fernando . . . was a religious experience. You’d see parents, obviously poor, with the little youngsters in hand, using him as an inspiration.” He was a joy to watch.
When Sax won the 1982 NL Rookie of the Year Award, he did so by beating out a couple of good rookie second baseman. Sax had nine first place votes and was worth 3.3 WAR. Pittsburgh’s Johnny Ray (3.8 WAR) finished second in the voting, with six first place votes. Down the ballot was Ryne Sandberg (3.1 WAR), who finished sixth overall, but did get one first place vote.
Sax was the fourth Los Angeles Dodger in a row to win the Rookie of the Year Award, which was an unprecedented streak in Major League Baseball at the time. Interestingly enough, he almost didn’t qualify as a rookie in 1982. He had played 31 games and picked up 119 at-bats for the Dodgers the previous year. Another 11 at-bats would have put him over the limit for at-bats and made him ineligible for the award in 1982.
After being a part of the 1981 World Series-winning team, Sax became the starting second baseman in 1982. He was a top-of-the-order table setter who scored 88 runs and stole 49 bases, although he did get thrown out 19 times. He made 19 errors in his rookie year, which would be a pre-curser to difficulties in the field early in his career. In 1983, Sax made 30 errors, many of them throwing errors. Fans sitting in the stand behind first base jokingly began wearing batting helmets for protection. When teammate Pedro Guerrero was moved from the outfield to third base in 1983, he was asked what he thought about when he was in the field. He said his first thought was, “I hope they don’t hit it to me,” and his second thought was, “I hope they don’t hit it to Sax.”
Eric Karros was not the most inspired choice for Rookie of the Year. His 20 home runs may have looked impressive, but his value was barely above replacement level. The next three finishers in the NL Rookie of the Year voting were all significantly better based on Baseball-Reference WAR. Behind Karros that year were Moises Alou, Tim Wakefield, and Reggie Sanders. Karros led rookie hitters in home runs and RBI. In 1992, that was enough to win a Rookie of the Year Award. This was before there was more of an effort to measure a player’s overall value by including defense and base running.
While Karros was a weak choice for Rookie of the Year in 1992, Piazza was the runaway winner in 1993. He swept the 28 first place votes, making him the fourth National League player to win the award unanimously. That’s not bad for a guy who was drafted by the Dodgers as a favor to his father, who was good friends with Tommy Lasorda. Piazza was the 1,390th player taken as a 62nd round pick out of Miami-Dade Community College in the 1988 MLB amateur draft. Lasorda convinced Piazza to switch to catcher from first base to improve his chances of making the big leagues. While Piazza was never known for his glove, his bat was special. He finished his career with 427 home runs and 1335 RBI and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last summer.
Raul Mondesi gave the Dodgers three straight Rookie of the Year Award winners and their second-straight who won the award unanimously. Mondesi topped NL rookies easily. The next three finishers in the voting were John Hudek, Ryan Klesko, and Steve Trachsel. Mondesi has spent his post-baseball career in politics. He’s been the mayor of San Cristobal for the last six years.
Fourteen years after Fernandomania, the Dodgers had Nomomania. Hideo Nomo was not your typical rookie. He was 26 years old and had played five years in the Japanese League, winning 78 games. After the 1994 season, Nomo got into a contract dispute with his Japanese League team. Nomo’s agent, Don Nomura, found a loophole in the Japanese Uniform Player Contract that enabled him to become a free agent using the “voluntarily retirement clause.” He came to the U.S. and signed with the Dodgers. After a month in the minors, he came to the big leagues and became the first Japanese-born major leaguer to appear in a major league game in the U.S. since Masanori Murakami in 1965. Murakami played two seasons with the San Francisco Giants before moving back to the Japanese major leagues, so Nomo was the first player to come here from Japan and play out a full career here.
In his rookie year, Nomo was an All-Star, the NL Rookie of the Year, and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. He led the league in strikeouts and shutouts. He also drew big crowds to Dodgers Stadium. His tornado-like windup and diving forkball baffled hitters.
In hindsight, Hollandsworth was another questionable choice for Rookie of the Year. His 1.1 WAR was less than Edgar Renteria, Jason Kendall, and F.P. Santangelo, the three players who finished second, third, and fourth that year. Still, Hollandsworth won the award, which meant five straight for the Dodgers, a new record for an MLB team.
Hollandsworth hit .291/.348/.437 in 526 plate appearances in his rookie year. That would be a career high. In fact, he would never have another season with at least 500 plate appearances and averaged fewer than 300 plate appearances per year over his 12 years in the show. After spending his first five-plus seasons with the Dodgers, Hollandsworth would become a baseball nomad, playing with eight different teams over his final seven seasons.