To browse the list of Rookie of the Year winners is to experience a roll call of greatness: Frank Robinson and Tony Oliva, Willie Mays and Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda.
It’s also to be reminded of the greatness of this generation of Major Leaguers: Mike Trout and Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger and Craig Kimbrel.
As a fun little exercise, we decided to come up with an All-Rookie of the Year team based on rookie season statistics. Only players who actually won Rookie of the Year are eligible for this team. We had positions that were fiercely competitive -- catcher being one -- and others that weren’t.
Important note: The Rookie of the Year Award was born in 1947, and Jackie Robinson won the first one. Appropriately, Major League Baseball named the award for Jackie in 1987.
Because there were no Rookie of the Year Awards prior to 1947, some great rookie seasons -- Ted Williams in 1939, Joe DiMaggio in 1936 -- won’t get them on this team.
Anyway, here’s a swing at the All-Time Rookie of the Year team:
Catcher: Mike Piazza, 1993 Dodgers
Honorable mention: Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox
First, a little comparison:
Piazza: 7.0 WAR, .932 OPS, 35 HR, 153 OPS+
Fisk: 7.3 WAR, .909 OPS, 22 HR, 162 OPS+
Carlton Fisk was the original pick based on his higher WAR and OPS+. Then I decided on a tie. And then ties were declared illegal (by the voices in my head). Finally, courageously, I went for Mike Piazza on the strength of a 13-homer edge. Incidentally, did you know Fisk led the American League with nine triples his rookie season? In the end, this was the best kind of pick: two bona fide Hall of Famers at their best.
First base: Jackie Robinson, 1947 Dodgers
Honorable mentions: Pete Alonso, 2019 Mets; Albert Pujols, 2001 Cardinals
As good as Pete Alonso and Albert Pujols were as rookies, there is no statistical feat that can top Robinson's debut season, when he broke the color barrier while hitting .297 and leading the league with 29 stolen bases. He had to perform while handling the weight of history, death threats, loneliness, constant heckling. In that way, his performance can’t be measured by numbers. (Robinson was a full-time first baseman just that one season, 1947, although he played there occasionally through the years.)
Perhaps the most interesting rookie season belongs to McCovey, who was the National League winner in 1959 despite playing just 52 games. He made the most of those games by crafting a .656 slugging percentage and 3.1 WAR.
Second base: Dustin Pedroia, 2007 Red Sox
Honorable mention: Jim Gilliam, 1953 Dodgers
One of the faces of the Red Sox for a decade, Dustin Pedroia was a starter on two championship clubs, including his rookie season. He was a four-time Gold Glove winner, a part of his game often overlooked. Jim Gilliam is an under-appreciated player in the galaxy of Dodger stars, but he was an important member of four championship teams and finished a 14-year career with a .360 OBP.
Third base: Dick Allen, 1964 Phillies
Honorable mention: Kris Bryant, 2015 Cubs
Dick Allen had one of the greatest offensive rookie seasons of all-time (.939 OPS, 8.8 WAR) and should get another crack at the Hall of Fame when the Golden Days Committee holds a vote at the Winter Meetings in December. His 58.8 career WAR is an eyelash behind Vladimir Guerrero (59.5), and his 156 OPS+ is higher than Hank Aaron (155) and Joe DiMaggio (155). Kris Bryant arrived with lots of hype and was every bit as good as advertised, putting up an .858 OPS while helping lead the Cubs to the NL Championship Series.
Shortstop: Corey Seager, 2016 Dodgers
Honorable mention: Hanley Ramirez, 2006 Marlins
Corey Seager’s arrival came with great expectations, and he fulfilled them by running away with the NL ROY award and finishing third in NL MVP voting. Hanley Ramirez made his debut at 21 in two games for the Red Sox at the end of the 2005 season before being traded to the Marlins and becoming an instant star in 2006. He averaged 40 doubles and 25 home runs in his first five full seasons.
Outfield: Mike Trout, 2012 Angels; Ichiro Suzuki, 2001 Mariners; Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox
Honorable mentions: Aaron Judge, 2017 Yankees; Tony Oliva, 1964 Twins
Ichiro Suzuki and Fred Lynn are the only two players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same year, so they have to be here. And Trout had a great MVP case, as well. He would have won had Miguel Cabrera not won the first Triple Crown in 45 years. (Trout had 10.5 WAR to Miggy’s 7.1, and Trout’s mark is the highest ever for a rookie position player.)
Like Trout, Judge finished second in AL MVP voting (to José Altuve). Oliva won the first of his three batting titles.
DH: Yordan Alvarez, 2019 Astros
Honorable mention: Eddie Murray, 1977 Orioles
There weren’t many ROYs who spent most of their time at DH, but these are two of them. Yordan Alvarez put up monster numbers in just 87 games after his June debut. His 173 OPS+ as a rookie dwarfs Eddie Murray’s (123) and gives him the edge here. Murray began his journey to Cooperstown with 110 of his 152 starts at designated hitter that first season. He was the O’s DH just 10 times over the next eight seasons.
Starting pitcher: Mark Fidrych, 1976 Tigers
Honorable mention: Dwight Gooden, 1984 Mets
Forty-four years later, Mark Fidrych has become a character of mythic proportion based on a rookie season that stacks up with almost any. Arm issues ended his career at 26. That rookie season accounted for 29 of his 56 career starts. His quirks -- talking to the baseball, grooming the mound -- should not overshadow the greatness of a season in which he had 24 complete games and 18 starts in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer.
Dwight Gooden followed a very good rookie season with a 1985 campaign that was one of the best ever (24 wins, 1.53 ERA, NL Cy Young Award). And while he veered off the Hall of Fame track, he still pitched 16 years in the Majors and won 194 games.
Relief pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, 2011 Braves
Honorable mention: Joe Black, 1952 Dodgers
Kimbrel was almost untouchable at times, recording 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings and saving 46 games for the Braves. Joe Black was a great reliever before the role was even fashionable, and his rookie season was his best. He finished third in NL MVP voting that season, behind only Hank Sauer and Robin Roberts. To give you a sense of how much the game as changed: Black won 15 games as a reliever in his rookie year while throwing 142 1/3 innings in 56 games. Kimbrel appeared in 79 games and threw 77 innings.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.