Around the MinorsMay 14, 2008
Looking to Avoid the Sophomore Jinx: NL
By Marc Hulet

The 2007 season saw a number of exciting players come into both the American and National leagues. The junior league received some intriguing young pitchers, while the senior circuit welcomed some promising offensive players.

We are more than a month into the 2008 season so now is a good time to take a look at how the 2007 rookie class, now a collective group of sophomores, is doing. Are you as curious as I am to see how many of the promising 2007 rookies have been bitten by the dreaded sophomore jinx? Last time I looked at the American League, so let's have a look-see at the National League.

2007 NL Rookie of the Year Voting (10 points or more):

Milwaukee    3B Ryan Braun         128
Colorado     SS Troy Tulowitzki    126
Houston      OF Hunter Pence        15
Arizona      OF Chris Young         10

Others: Kyle Kendrick (Philadelphia, RHP), Yunel Escobar (Atlanta, SS), James Loney (Los Angeles, 1B)

Let’s take a closer look at those players:

Pitchers: IP AVG K/9 BB/9 ERA+

Ryan Braun
2007 451 .324 .370 .634 153
2008 156 .288 .321 .545 122

You had to know Braun wasn't going to maintain the torrid pace he set in 2007. He's improved his strikeout rate by five percent, but his walk rate has dropped to 4.9 percent, which just isn't acceptable. A move from third base to left field has improved his value to the team, even if his offensive numbers are a little off. A little more protection from teammate Prince Fielder might also help Braun's 2008 numbers.

Troy Tulowitzki
2007 609 .291 .359 .479 108
2008 105 .152 .226 .238 019

Before he went on the disabled list, Tulo was looking like the poster boy for the sophomore slump. A lot of it was probably bad luck, as he had a .172 BABIP and his 2008 walk rate was similar to 2007, while his strikeout rate was actually significantly lower.

Hunter Pence
2007 456 .322 .360 .539 130
2008 136 .279 .320 .441 099

Pence's 2008 numbers are a little close to what people expected of him, based on his minor league and college numbers. His on-base rate is disappointing and his strikeouts have risen a bit in 2008. He'll likely put up pretty good numbers for a while, and maybe even appear in an All-Star game or two, but he's not going to be a star.

Chris Young
2007 569 .237 .295 .467 089
2008 151 .238 .335 .470 105

With every passing day Young is looking more and more like the second coming of Mike Cameron. That's not a bad thing, but you get the feeling there is more ability just waiting to be tapped into. Young has intriguing power and plays nice defence but he just can't get that average above .250. Maintaining a .330-plus on-base average (his walk rate is up five percent) would also go a long way to increasing his effectiveness.

Yunel Escobar
2007 319 .326 .385 .451 119
2008 135 .319 .399 .437 123

A lot of people felt Escobar's rookie season was a fluke but he is maintaining his rates quite well and has made everyone forget about Edgar Renteria. Escobar is also showing some improvements with his patience at the plate and he has been driving in more runs. The list of successful major league Cubans is not a long one and Escobar could find his way to the head of the pack before long.

James Loney
2007 344 .331 .381 .538 131
2008 140 .286 .340 .450 103

He's not sexy and he's not loaded with power like some other first basemen but players like Will Clark, Mark Grace and Don Mattingly still had pretty nice careers at first base. Even though he doesn't hit the long ball, Loney has driven in 27 runners this season and could develop into a reliable RBI man.

Kyle Kendrick
2007 121.0 .274 3.64 1.86 119
2008 038.1 .312 4.23 2.82 089

Kendrick was surprisingly effective last year but a lot of his success was as smokescreen and his overall numbers were not that good. This season has been much of the same but with an uglier ERA. He's allowing more hits and more walks, but striking out a few more batters. However, his strikeout rates are still well below average and suggest he's a career No. 5 starter.

Overall, Braun and Tulowitzki are still the most likely players to have Hall of Fame careers, or at the very least multiple All-Star game appearances. But you have to credit Escobar for proving a lot of people wrong, at least so far. Kendrick, unlike Toronto's Jesse Litsch who had similar 2007 numbers, just hasn't shown much improvement and is the most likely player to disappoint. Young remains the most frustrating because his approach lends itself to a low batting average.


He won't be the next Prince Fielder, but I like Loney as a .300-plus, 15 to 20-HR guy with a ton of doubles.