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Top 11 Reds Rookie Seasons


With a new president starting his rookie season today, I got to thinking about what the standard would be for President Obama if he he were a rookie coming to play for the Reds.  Okay, that's lame.  Really, I just wanted a reason to tie this into today's events and make a stupid photoshop of Obama.

The Reds have had some impressive rookie seasons over the years.  They've had 7 players win the Rookie of the Year Award, including 3 players who went on to put up Hall of Fame worthy careers (stupid gambling addiction requires that caveat).  With a couple of solid rookie seasons just finished and some interesting prospects in the pipeline, the future is looking bright for youth within the organization.

But what are the top rookie seasons all time for the Reds?  Here's my stab at the list...

11. Wayne Simpson - 1970 (14-3, 3.02 ERA, 176 IP, 138 ERA+)

As a 21-year old rookie, Simpson was Johnny Cueto before Johnny Cueto's parents had even met (I'm guessing).  In his debut start, he pitched a complete game shutout, facing just 29 batters in the Reds 1-0 win against the Dodgers.  In his third start he pitched a 1-hit shutout against the Giants, though he did walk 7 batters that game.  He didn't allow his third earned run of the season until his 38th inning pitched.  Despite the outstanding start to his career, Simpson appears to be a victim of abuse in a time before pinch counts were tracked.  By the end of July he was hurt and he only pitched 5.1 after August 1st.  He never managed another season like 1970 and by age 29, he was out of the game.

10. Austin Kearns - 2002 (.315/.407/.500, 435 PA, 13 HR, 56 RBI, 134 OPS+)

The future looked limitless for Kearns in 2002.  The first round pick from the 1998 draft, Kearns tore it up in the minors before getting the call up in mid-April of 2002, after Ken Griffey Jr. went down with a separated shoulder.  Kearns destroyed the baseball right out of the gate, putting up a .410/.538/.672 line over his first 20 games (Jay Bruce wasn't close to that good after 20 games).  Kearns went on to lead NL Rookies in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging in 2002.  On August 27th he strained his hamstring and missed the remainder of the season, the first of many injuries to plague Kearns's career.

9. Tom Browning - 1985 (20-9, 3.55 ERA, 261.1 IP, 107 ERA+)

Browning made his debut the prior year, making 3 starts and posting a 1.54 ERA.  He came into the 1985 season as the Reds #4 starter, and by his 7th start that year he had already thrown 2 complete games and his first career shutout.  He went on to throw 6 complete games that year, including 4 shutouts, as he established himself to be the innings eating monster that would signify his career.  His 20 wins that season are the second most by any Reds pitcher since 1970 and he remains the only Reds rookie to ever reach that mark in wins.

8. Joey Votto - 2008 (.297/.368/.506, 589 PA, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 124 OPS+)

Probably the most impressive thing about Joey Votto's rookie season is that, despite putting up very good numbers in Triple-A in 2007 and excellent numbers in a short stint with the team in September, he was still the backup at first base on Opening Day.  By mid-April, though, he was playing everyday and proving that he belonged in the position.  He finished the season leading all qualified rookies in batting average and on base percentage, and only trailed Evan Longoria in slugging.  His 24 home runs and 84 RBI are the second most each by a Reds rookie.

7. Pat Zachry - 1976 (14-7, 2.74 ERA, 204 IP, 128 ERA+)

Zachry started out the 1976 season in the Reds bullpen, but by May 9th he was starting full-time, and succeeding.  Once he moved into the rotation full-time, Zachry posted a 1.53 ERA over his first 6 starts, never going less than 7 innings.  He remained steady throughout the season, helping the Reds to their second consecutive World Series title and tying Butch Metzger for the Rookie of the Year award.  He was traded the following year for some guy named Seaver and he went on to have a fairly non-descript career.

6. Scott Williamson - 1999 (12-7, 2.41 ERA, 93.1 IP, 19 saves, 195 ERA+)

Williamson came up through the Reds system as a starting pitcher, but he spent the entirety of the 1999 season pitching out of the bullpen.  He split the closer duties with Danny Graves for most of the year, giving the Reds one of the best bullpens in the league.  He won the Rookie of the Year based on a very good season, but his blown save on October 1st against the Brewers may have cost the Reds a chance at the playoffs.  Yes, I'm going to blame it on that game, for the purposes of this post.

5. Bernie Carbo - 1970 (.310/.454/.551, 467 PA, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 164 OPS+)

The Reds had some impressive rookie seasons during the Big Red Machine era, but Carbo's may have been the most impressive, and the most out of place.  Carbo was the 1969 American Association MVP, mainly because he mashed on right-handed pitching.  In 1970, he split time in LF with Lee May Hal McRae and while McRae hit pretty well in his role, Carbo made the platoon work, posting a 1.022 OPS against right-handers.  Despite his outstanding performance in 1970, Carbo never managed to improve enough against left-handers and spent the majority of his career in platoons.  He's probably best known for his game-tying home run during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series...for the Red Sox.

4. Gary Nolan - 1967 (14-8, 2.58 ERA, 226 IP, 147 ERA+)

I accidentally skipped Nolan on my first pass through, so I have added him here.  Technically, this should bump players down one, but I've already written those, so now it's top 11.  At just 19-years old, Nolan was an absolute beast in 1969.  He had 19 starts where he gave up 2 or fewer runs while pitching 7 or more innings, which was good because he only received 2.68 R/G in support during his starts.  He still holds the Reds rookie record for strikeouts and only Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller struck out more batters in a season before the age of 20.  Nolan pitched well for several years with the Big Red Machine, but as with Simpson and Don Gullett, his arm broke down and he was out of baseball before his 30th birthday.

3. Johnny Bench - 1968 (.275/.311/.433, 607 PA, 117 OPS+)

Although his statline wasn't the most impressive of his career, when you take into account the fact that Johnny Bench pretty much revolutionized the catching position from his first game in the Bigs, it's hard to deny his place on this list.  He was the first catcher ever to hit 40 doubles in a season, and that number still stands as the rookie record for catchers.  His 82 RBI also set the mark for rookie catchers at the time until it was obliterated by Mike Piazza in 1993.  And while Piazza was the better hitter as a rookie, I think you'll have a hard time finding a rookie catcher with the complete game comparable to what Bench had in 1968.

2. Vada Pinson - 1959 (.316/.371/.509, 706 PA, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 21 SB, 128 OPS+)

If you've never looked at the numbers that Vada Pinson put up as a 20-year old rookie in 1959, you might be surprised to see how good he was.  And now that you've seen his numbers, you may be surprised to hear that he didn't receive a single vote for Rookie of the Year.  Incredibly, Willie McCovey was a unanimous winner of the award despite only 219 plate appearances, though with an admittedly ridiculous batting line of .354/.429/.656.  Pinson became the first rookie ever to post a 20-20 season, a feat that wasn't accomplished again until 1977 when Mitchell Page pulled it off for the Oakland A's.  Pinson may be one of the most under-appreciated Reds in history - a fact that may have changed had he won the Rookie of the Year award back in 1959.

1. Frank Robinson - 1956 (.290/.379/.558, 668 PA, 38 HR, 83 RBI, 143 OPS+)

The original Reds superstar from Beaumont, TX, Robinson posted one of the greatest rookie seasons in history in 1956.  His 38 HRs still stand as the NL rookie record and his 83 RBI are the third most ever by a Reds rookie.  According to Baseball Prospectus, he is the only Reds rookie to post a double-digit WARP3.  Unfortunately the Reds still found him to be washed up after 10-years in the league.  Otherwise, he could have been a major cog in getting the Big Red Machine started a few years earlier.

So, who'd I miss?  Do you agree with my list or just think I'm an idiot for posting the lame ass Obama picture?