Top rookie Statcast performers of 2020

October 2nd, 2020

Though the 2020 regular season may be in the books, the MLB Pipeline team has continued to break down this year’s rookie class in different ways, looking at the season’s top 25 rookie performers, the rookies that have the most long-term value and the rookies who were in the best position to help their team going into the postseason.

With all of that in place, it’s now time to take a deeper, more analytical dive into this year’s crop of rookies by identifying which players excelled in specific categories during the regular season using data provided by both Statcast and Baseball Savant.

And while the below list does feature many familiar names, including some of the top Rookie of the Year Award candidates in each league, it also has its share of surprises, with notes and context on players who performed better than their raw statistics indicate.

Without further ado, here are the top rookie Statcast performers from the 2020 regular season:

Hitters (min. 50 batted balls or 50 PA)

Best average exit velocity: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates -- 92.8 mph
Promoted to the Major Leagues on Sept. 1, Hayes announced his arrival by hitting a double off the left-field wall and a home run to straightaway center in his debut and continued to rake over the final two months of the regular season to finish with a .376 average in 24 games. The 23-year-old third baseman recorded a 92.8 mph average exit velocity on the 65 balls he put in play, which placed him inside the top 20 among Major Leaguers who had at least 50 batted balls. Not far behind Hayes were Sean Murphy (92.2 mph avg. exit velocity) and Evan White (91.7 mph).

Longest Home Run: Sean Murphy, A’s -- 464 ft. (464)
Murphy and Luis Robert (458 feet), the top two names on the rookie home-run distance leaderboard, both showcased their huge power during Game 3 of the A’s-White Sox Wild Card matchup. Robert’s mammoth blast, a 487-foot solo shot in the second inning, was the second longest home run in postseason history, dating back to 2015. Murphy’s two-run blast in the fourth inning traveled 424 feet and was key in fueling the A’s comeback victory. Hitting long home runs was standard for Murphy during the regular season, as four of the rookie catcher’s seven home runs traveled at least 420 feet, and all but two of his dingers cleared 400 feet. Alec Bohm (446 feet) rounds out the top three on the distance leaderboard.

Best hard-hit rate: Hayes -- 55.4 percent
In addition to having the best average exit velocity among rookies, Hayes also led this year’s freshman class in hard-hit rate. Specifically, 55.4 percent of Hayes’ 65 batted balls had an exit velocity of 95 mph-plus, the ninth-best mark among all Major Leaguers -- sandwiched between No. 8 Christian Yelich and Mike Trout at No. 10 -- who had at least 50 batted balls during the regular season. Evan White batted .176 with a 41.6 percent strikeout rate, but had a 52.5-percent hard-hit rate, while Murphy (49.4) fell just shy of the 50-percent mark.

Most barrels: Luis Robert, White Sox -- 17
Barrels, like the number of hard-hit balls, has a lot to do with playing time, which is why we see Robert, who led all rookies with 17 barrels, Kyle Lewis (16) and Jake Cronenworth (15), three players who each made their respective club’s Opening Day roster, occupying the top three spots on this year’s list. 

Best barrel rate: Evan White, Mariners -- 14.1 percent
While it’s difficult to overlook the struggles that White, a 2017 first-round pick who spent all of ’19 in Double-A, endured as a rookie, his aforementioned hard-hit rate and 14.1 percent barrel rate both speak to the quality of his contact when he does connect. Ryan McBroom (13.7 percent) and Edwin Ríos (13.6) round out the top three.

Highest xBA: Jake Cronenworth, Padres -- .324
Cronenworth was widely viewed as the fourth-best player in the offseason Tommy Pham-Hunter Renfroe swap between the Rays and Padres, but the 26-year-old infielder proved to be one of the very best rookies in 2020, batting .285/.354/.477 over 54 games. But while his average ranked eighth among qualified rookies, his xBA of .324 was far away the best in this year’s class as well as the sixth-best mark among all big leaguers. Nick Madrigal (.304 xBA) and Hayes (.300) were the next closest to Cronenworth, with both players ranking among the top 25 in baseball.

Highest xSLG: Edwin Ríos, Dodgers -- .639
Ríos showed some serious pop last year in his first taste of the big leagues and continued to do so in 2020, recording extra bases on 14 of his 19 hits (8 HR, 6 2B) en route a .645 slugging percentage. His .639 xSLG (.639) didn’t trail his actual SLG by much, ranking fifth among all Major League hitters and well ahead of the No. 2 and No. 3 rookies (Cronenworth - .541; Bobby Dalbec - .533) on the list.

Highest xwOBA: Jake Cronenworth -- .386
Expected Weighted On-Base Average helps us identify which hitters make the best contact, and no rookie made more in 2020 than Cronenworth (.386 xwOBA). Ríos (.386) didn’t trail him by much, though, and Hayes (.356), the National League Rookie of the Month for September, wasn’t too far behind either.

Best sprint speed: Sam Hilliard -- 32.1 ft/sec
Hilliard might be listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, but the guy can really run. He showed that much when he posted the fourth-best Sprint Speed (32.1 ft/sec) of the 2020 season while trying to beat out a ground ball. He was one of several rookie speedsters in the Majors this year, joined by players such as Jo Adell (31.4 ft/sec), Monte Harrison (31.2) and Luis Robert (31.0)

Best defensive outfielder: Luis Robert -- 5 OAA
On top of all his stunning physical feats, Robert was one of baseball’s best defensive players as a rookie, tying for second among all outfielders in Outs Above Average. Finishing second and third among rookies were Mauricio Dubón (4 OAA), a converted shortstop who handled center field for San Francisco, and Lewis (1).

Best defensive infielder: Andrés Giménez -- 5 OAA
Revered as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball during his time in the Minors, Giménez lived up to his reputation as he tied with Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner for the most OAA among this year’s crop of rookie infielders. Cronenworth saw time at all four infield spots for the Padres but did his finest work at the keystone, recording 4 OAA. White, an elite defender at first base, checked in with 2 OAA.

Pitchers (min. 25 IP)

Best average fastball velocity: Garrett Crochet, White Sox -- 100.1 mph
Crochet made his debut roughly three months after the White Sox made him their first-round Draft pick (No. 11 overall) and immediately became one of baseball’s hardest throwers, striking out eight over six scoreless innings out of the South Siders’ bullpen. The 6-foot-6 lefty threw a total of 70 fastballs in those outings, including 40 that registered at or above 100 mph. Altogether, Crochet averaged 100.1 mph with his fastball, which was the best mark among rookies and second only to Aroldis Chapman among big leaguers who threw at least 50 regular-season heaters. Other notables: Brusdar Graterol and Josh Staumont both averaged 99.3 mph with their sinkers; Domingo Tapia and Dustin May’s two-seamers averaged 99.2 mph; and Sixto Sánchez averaged 98.6 mph with his four-seam fastball.

Max fastball velocity: Josh Staumont, Royals -- 102.2 mph
Staumont matched Jacob deGrom for the top velocity (102.2 mph) and recorded six of the 10 hardest-thrown pitches during the regular season, including five of the top six. Graterol and Padres reliever Javy Guerra both topped out at 101.7 mph, while Crochet and Blue Jays flamethrower Nate Pearson ran their heaters up to 101.5 mph. Dustin May (101.2 mph) and Tapia (101.0) round out the group of rookie hurlers who hit at least 101 mph during the regular season.

Lowest avg. exit velocity: Brooks Raley, Astros -- 81.7 mph
A 32-year-old lefty who made his big league debut with the Cubs back in 2012, Raley led all rookies and ranked in the top three percent in baseball in average exit velocity (81.7 mph). Fellow Astros left-handed reliever Blake Taylor (83.0 mph) finished second behind Raley, while NL Rookie of the Year candidate Devin Williams (83.7 mph) placed third on the list.

Lowest hard-hit rate: Sam Selman, Giants -- 20.8 percent
Selman’s breakout campaign coming out of San Francisco’s bullpen was fueled by his ability to limit hard contact -- a notion reflected by the left-hander’s rookie-best 20.8 percent hard-hit rate. He’s followed on the list by a trio of Astros relievers in Raley (21.3 percent), righty Andre Scrubb (22.4) and Taylor (22.4).

Lowest barrel/BBE rate: Victor González, Dodgers -- 0.0 percent
The fact that none of the 52 balls put in play against González this season were barreled highlights why the left-hander ranked among the top one percent in baseball in both xSLG (.229) and wOBA (.194). Relievers Anthony Misiewicz (2.0 percent barrel rate) and James Karinchak (2.5 percent) also allowed very few barrels, while Ian Anderson (1.2 percent) paced all rookie starting pitchers.

Best whiff rate (Relief Pitcher): Devin Williams, Brewers -- 51.8 percent
Williams’ 51.8 percent whiff rate was the highest recorded by any qualified pitcher since the start of the pitch-tracking era in 2015. Karinchak (45.5 percent) and Jordan Romano (43.8 percent) also cracked the leaderboard for that period, ranking sixth and ninth, respectively.

Best whiff rate (Starting Pitcher): Trevor Rogers, Marlins -- 30.1 percent
Rogers posted a 29.5 percent or better whiff rate with three different pitches to finish the regular season with a 30.1 percent overall whiff rate, leading all rookie starting pitchers. The 2017 first-round pick narrowly edged out Tony Gonsolin (29.8 percent), Jesús Luzardo (29.7) and Tarik Skubal (29.5) to claim top honors.

Best xBA (RP): Devin Williams -- .109
In addition to his record-setting whiff rate, Williams also finished the season with the lowest expected batting average (.109) since the start of the 2015 season. Karinchak’s .130 xBA netted him a sixth-best ranking on the all-time leaderboard, and Yohan Ramirez (.151) cracked the top 20 with his breakout campaign for Seattle.

Best xBA (SP): Ian Anderson, Braves -- .184
Hitters mustered a paltry .172 average and .184 xBA against the 22-year-old Anderson, who faced tough competition from Cristian Javier (.185 xBA), Adbert Alzolay (.186) and Tanner Houck (.188) for the top spot among rookie starters.

Best xSLG (RP): Devin Williams -- .184
Yep, more Williams. His .184 xSLG ranked second among qualified big league pitchers this year and third since the start of 2015. Karinchak (.196) was the only other hurler to record a sub-.200 xSLG, although González, Selman, Ramirez, Alzolay, Tejay Antone, Kyle Zimmer and Jonathan Hernández all posted an xSLG below .300.

Best xSLG (SP): Ian Anderson -- .234
As was the case with Anderson’s BAA and xBA, there wasn’t a huge difference between the rookie right-hander’s .211 opponent slugging percentage and .234 xBA. Yes, he might have benefited from a smaller sample size, but it still was light years better than the next three names on the list: Sánchez (.323 xSLG), Houck (.335) and Rogers (.339).

Best xwOBA (RP): Devin Williams -- .179
That Williams led all rookies with a .179 xwOBA – another best-ever rate since the start of 2015 -- should not be a surprise considering what we already know about his xBA and xSLG. The same goes for González (.214) and Karinchak (.222), who finished second and third, respectively, in the category.

Best xwOBA (SP): Ian Anderson -- .239
In case you still had any doubt regarding Anderson’s ability to limit hard contact, the young right-hander posted a .239 xwOBA and recorded a pair of one-hit performances in his six starts with the Braves. Javier (.256) and Sánchez (.262) also proved tough to hit and were key in helping the Astros and Marlins reach the postseason.

Best fastball: Tony Gonsolin -- .207 wOBA
While Gonsolin didn’t make as many Pitching Ninja appearances as fellow Dodgers rookie Dustin May, the 26-year-old right-hander did have a better season, posting a 2.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 46 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings. A four-seam fastball that averaged 95.1 mph was at the heart of Gonsolin’s success, as hitters went just 17-for-89 (.191) with a .207 wOBA against the pitch, which Gonsolin threw 47.5 percent of the time.

Best curveball: James Karinchak, Indians -- .228 wOBA
Karinchak’s lethal downer curveball (.228 wOBA) helped him become one of baseball’s most valuable relievers and finish among the top one percent in the league in xBA (.130), xSLG (.196), strikeout rate (48.6 percent) and xwOBA (.222). Of the 50 at-bats that ended with Karinchak throwing a curveball, only seven resulted in a hit (.114 xBA) -- none for extra bases.

Best slider: Cristian Javier, Astros -- .139 wOBA
Javier’s performance was a revelation for the injury-plagued Astros’ rotation, as the 23-year-old right-hander compiled a 0.99 WHIP and .185 xBA, while racking up 54 strikeouts in 54 1/3 frames. Hitters struck out 26 times and recorded only five hits in the 59 at-bats (.095 xBA) that ended with Javier throwing a slider. Based on wOBA, Javier’s breaking ball (.139 wOBA) was the sixth-best pitch and second-best slider in baseball during the regular season.

Best changeup: Devin Williams -- .077 wOBA
Williams’ historic rookie campaign was made possible by a changeup that was, by all measures, the best pitch thrown by any pitcher in 2020. Among individual pitches, Williams’ changeup -- which he throws with a spin rate comparable to a left-hander’s breaking ball -- led the way in xBA (.066), xSLG (.078), wOBA (0.77) and whiff rate (61.1 percent). To add further context to his dominance with the pitch: Williams amassed 41 strikeouts and allowed just two hits, both singles, in the 62 at-bats that ended with him throwing a changeup.