Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

by Rob Joyce

Aaron Judge has officially hit more home runs than any rookie in major league history. His two long balls on Monday afternoon gave the 25-year-old an even 50 on the year, besting Mark McGwire’s record of 49 set in 1987. A post-All Star break slump, combined with Houston’s Jose Altuve going on a tear, likely means Judge won’t take home the MVP award in the American League, but he is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year.

Regardless, Judge’s freshman campaign in the majors is nothing short of historic. But how historic? He ranks among the seven greatest rookie seasons ever. The fullest:

7) Mark McGwire, 1987:

mark mcgwire1 Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

Photo Credit: OTTO GREULE/ALLSPORT.

The 23-year-old held the rookie home run mark for three decades with his 49 with Oakland. In addition he drove in 118, hit a career-best 28 doubles and slugged .618. His defense was never stellar, bringing down his overall Wins Above Replacement (5.1) but there was no doubting his offensive talents.

6) Albert Pujols, 2001:

albert pujols Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

(Photo credit SCOTT ROVAK/AFP/Getty Images)

Somehow Pujols didn’t even have the most impressive rookie season in 2001. Alas, that doesn’t make the 21-year-old’s accomplishments in St. Louis any less impressive. His .329 average, 130 RBIs, 47 doubles, 1.013 OPS and 6.6 WAR were all top-10 in the National League… and that doesn’t even include the 37 home runs he hit. It began a decade-long stretch the likes of which baseball has never seen.

5) Shoeless Joe Jackson, 1911:

shoeless joe jackson Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

(Photo credit TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a different era, for sure, but Jackson’s numbers for the Cleveland Naps were eye-popping, the least of which includes his .408 batting average. He only hit seven home runs (remember, it was the dead-ball era), but his 45 doubles and 19 triples gave him a .590 slugging percentage – for context, that would be third in the American League in 2017. He also had more stolen bases (42) and walks (56) than strikeouts.

4) Fred Lynn, 1975:

fred lynn Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The first player to ever win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, Lynn burst onto the scene as a 23-year-old centerfielder in Boston. He hit .331 on the year with 21 home runs and 105 RBIs, while leading the AL in runs, doubles and OPS. He falls short of some other sluggers with the power numbers, but he also took home the first of four Gold Gloves in helping the Red Sox reach the World Series.

3) Aaron Judge, 2017:

aaron judge Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

For a short time in May he was actually leading the American League in the Triple Crown categories (home runs, RBIs and batting average). Even with his propensity for strikeouts and a month-long slump his numbers are still eye-popping. Entering Tuesday he’s hitting .283 with those 50 home runs (1st in AL), 124 runs scored (1st), 108 RBIs (T-2nd), 120 walks (1st), a .418 on-base percentage (2nd), and 1.038 OPS (2nd). Sure he strikes out a lot – 203 times, to be exact – but it’s forgivable when he can hit the ball 450 feet regularly.

2) Ichiro Suzuki, 2001:

ichiro suzuki Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Yes, he was 27 and had nearly a decade of professional experience in Japan, but it doesn’t take away what Ichiro was able to accomplish in Seattle 16 years ago. His 242 hits were the ninth-most by anyone in major league history (he’d break the record three years later), making for a .350 average. He also stole 56 bases and won the Gold Glove in right field as he took home Rookie of the Year and MVP honors for the 116-win Mariners team.

1) Mike Trout, 2012:

mike trout Best Rookie Seasons in MLB History

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

If there weren’t a Triple Crown winner in the AL that year in Miguel Cabrera, Trout likely would have taken home the MVP. Instead, the 20-year-old had to settle for a year that saw him only hit .326 with 30 home runs, leading the majors in runs (129) and stolen bases (49) while playing stellar defense, saving 12 runs above the average centerfielder, per Baseball-Reference.com. His 10.8 WAR is a rookie record, and his five-tool excellence gives Trout the best rookie season of all-time.

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