In year one, you feast. In year two, the bill arrives.

We’re talking about the dreaded and enigmatic sophomore slump, when MLB rookies follow their breakout debuts with underwhelming second acts. 

Before we cruise down that dreary highway, let’s recount just how amazing the 2015 rookie class was. As FanGraphsOwen Watson outlined in a piece published at, last season’s position-player rookies posted an average WAR of 1.76, the highest tally since 1920.

Yeah, we’re dipping back to the Woodrow Wilson administration.

If WAR isn’t your thing, how about we rattle off some names: Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Matt Duffy, Kyle Schwarber, Maikel Franco, Miguel Sano, Jung Ho Kang—are you not moved? 

Whichever way you slice it—on the side of statistics or the eyeball test—2016 features an enviable array of second-year studs looking to build on last year’s success.

Which begs the obvious question: Will this group be immune to sophomore slumps, or can we expect some regression?

Let’s take a closer look, narrowing our focus to non-pitchers (don’t worry, Noah Syndergaard, you’ll be fine). But first…


Is the Sophomore Slump Even a Thing?

The argument for the sophomore slump is largely anecdotal. The league tends to “figure out” second-year players, to expose their weaknesses and exploit their tendencies. Then, it’s up to those second-year players to adjust and respond accordingly, or so the story goes. 

There’s truth in that. Baseball is a game of adjustments, to cite the cliche. But are we looking at an actual, measurable trend?

Recent data is murky. As Beyond the Box Score’s Steven Martano noted last April, of the 11 position-player Rookie of the Year recipients between 2007 and 2013, four—Ryan Braun, Geovany Soto, Chris Coghlan and Wil Myers—took a notable step back in their second year.

The others—Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout—generally continued raking. And Jose Abreu, 2014’s American League Rookie of the Year, followed his stellar debut with 30 homers and 101 RBI.

That’s only ROY winners, and an admittedly small sample. But it suggests the sophomore slump is far from assured. If anything, excellent rookies keep being excellent more often than not.

Speaking of excellent rookies…


Star Shortstops

From the ashes of Derek Jeter’s retirement, a pair of stud shortstops rose in the Junior Circuit.

First, let’s talk about Correa, the 21-year-old who helped propel the Houston Astros to the postseason and took home Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of a .279/.345/.512 slash line and 22 home runs in 99 games.

Correa is young, so it’s worth wondering if there are some growing pains in his near future. But the instant dominance he displayed last season, coupled with the fact that he plays his home games in a hitter-friendly park in the midst of a potent lineup, assuages those fears. 

As FanGraphsEno Sarris noted, “None of his peripherals seemed out of whack. There wasn’t a single split that made him look bad eitherhome/away, left/right, early/late season, he was always good.”

The same can be said of the Cleveland Indians’ Lindor, who finished second to Correa in AL Rookie of the Year balloting but had an equally impactful season.

The potentially bad news for Lindor is that he posted an inflated .348 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), meaning his .313 average could be due for a tumble. Likewise, his .482 slugging percentage was higher than he put up at any minor league level.

If the offensive numbers cry out for regression, Lindor‘s value is buoyed by his defense. In fact, his 10 defensive runs saved and 10.5 ultimate zone rating, per FanGraphs, suggest Gold Glove capabilities at one of the most important, difficult positions on the diamond. 


Clubbing Cubbies

The Chicago Cubs are loaded with young talent, but a pair of 2015 rookies stand out. First, of course, there’s Bryant, the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year and one of the most promising sluggers in the game.

The biggest knock on Bryant, as with many Cubs hitters, is his strikeout rate, which sat at 30.6 percent. He also posted a .378 BABIP.

Assuming he cuts back on the whiffs a bit and improves his contact rate, Bryant could mitigate the BABIP gap. And he’s surrounded by capable bats in the hitter-friendly NL Central. 

Like Bryant, Schwarber struck out a lot in 2015, to the tune of a 28.2 percent rate. Still, the 2014 first-round pick launched 16 home runs in 69 games.

Overall, Schwarber is a high-OBP hitter with a discerning eye, which indicates the offensive numbers should continue to jump out.

The challenge could come on defense, where the Cubs may ask Schwarber to pivot between catcher and the outfield. 

According to skipper Joe Maddon, the 23-year-old is up to the task.

“When you start in the outfield and catch later in the game, you might feel a little more tired, jogging back [and] forth from left field,” Maddon said, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “But this guy, I don’t think there’s any negative rub any way with him. He’ll be ready to play wherever you want him to play, all the time.”


Burgeoning Bashers and Dark Horses

The good news for the Minnesota Twins is that Sano hit 18 home runs and posted a .916 OPS in 80 games last season.

The bad news? The Dominican masher “failed to put in the offseason toil that would give him his best chance at success” and showed up to camp nearly 20 pounds overweight, according to Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

That doesn’t ensure a sophomore slump, but it undeniably hints at one.

On the other side of the ledger, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Franco is leading all spring swingers with eight home runs and 21 RBI entering play Thursday.

While exhibition stats should always be swallowed with a chaser of context and a hint of salt, that’s an impressive showing. And it positions Franco as a prime breakout candidate on a rebuilding Phils squad.

Finally, let’s talk about Duffy and Kang, the dark-horse rookies of 2015.

Virtually no one expected Duffy, an 18th-round pick in 2012, to be a starter for the San Francisco Giants last season. Yet the spindly 25-year-old won himself a job and hit .295 with 12 home runs and 77 RBI, finishing second to Bryant in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.

It’s tempting to dismiss Duffy as a one-year wonder, and his .336 BABIP means some backsliding could be in order. Then there’s the lack of pop he displayed in college and throughout the minor leagues.

On the other hand, he’s a solid contact hitter and—wait for it—it’s an even year. So we’ll swill the orange-and-black Kool-Aid and predict another expectation-defying season from the Duffman.

Unlike Duffy, Kang had an established track record coming into last season. But all of his stats were compiled in South Korea, leaving him an MLB mystery man.

The mystery was solved after Kang hit .287 with 15 home runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates before suffering a late-season knee injury on a takeout play at second base.

Kang is still working his way back from the injury and said he’s “not 100 percent yet,” per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Assuming there are no setbacks, the 28-year-old has the experience and, now, the MLB results to precipitate another strong season.


All statistics current as of March 30 and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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