How Will Last Year’s Top Rookie Hitters Fare in 2016?

What can Kris Bryant and the rest of last year's rookie class do for an encore?

The 2015 big league season belonged to the kids.

Last season saw eight rookie position players amass three wins or more worth of rWAR, the most in major league history, led by emerging stars like Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa.

Bryant, the National League Rookie of the Year, led the group, and was worth 5.9 rWAR, 6.5 fWAR, and 5.9 WARP. Correa (4.1 rWAR, 3.3 fWAR, 2.7 WARP) took home the award in the America League but did not actually top the rookie WAR leaderboards in the Junior Circuit.

That honor instead belonged to Francisco Lindor, who produced 4.6 rWAR, 4.6 fWAR, and 3.3 WARP.

Here is how the other top rookies in the game fared, followed by a look at how they might do in 2016.

Kris Bryant 650 .275 .369 .488 136 26 11.8% 30.6% 13 5.9 6.5 5.9
Matt Duffy 612 .295 .334 .428 116 12 4.9% 5.7% 12 4.9 4.9 3.8
Francisco Lindor 438 .313 .353 .482 128 12 6.2% 5.8% 12 4.6 4.6 3.3
Carlos Correa 432 .279 .345 .512 133 22 9.3% 18.1% 14 4.1 3.3 2.7
Jung Ho Kang 467 .287 .355 .461 130 15 6.0% 21.2% 5 4 3.9 3.2
Odubel Herrera 537 .297 .344 .418 110 8 5.2% 24.0% 16 3.8 3.9 2.8
Addison Russell 523 .242 .307 .389 90 13 8.0% 28.5% 4 3.3 2.9 1.6
Randal Grichuk 350 .276 .329 .548 137 17 6.3% 31.4% 4 3.2 3.1 2.6

Kris Bryant

2016 Steamer Projection
5.6 WAR
.273/.360/.507, 137 wRC+

Bryant lived up to the lofty expectations he was given prior to the season and was not only the game’s best rookie but one of its more valuable players, period, becoming one of the 11 players worth at least 6.0 fWAR.

It was also one of the best debut seasons for a hitter in baseball history, tying for 14th in fWAR (see below) and 25th in rWAR.

Name Year Team WAR
Mike Trout 2012 Angels 10.3
Benny Kauff 1914 Hoosiers 9.9
Joe Jackson 1911 Naps 9.3
Dick Allen 1964 Phillies 8.2
Jimmy Williams 1899 Pirates 7.5
Mike Piazza 1993 Dodgers 7.4
Albert Pujols 2001 Cardinals 7.2
Fred Lynn 1975 Red Sox 7.1
Ted Williams 1939 Red Sox 7.1
Al Rosen 1950 Indians 6.9
Dave Orr 1884 Metropolitans 6.6
Carlton Fisk 1972 Red Sox 6.6
Dutch Zwilling 1914 Chi-Feds 6.5
Kris Bryant 2015 Cubs 6.5

The Cubs' third basemen was the classic three-true outcomes hitter last year, ranking 18th in the majors in walk rate and 27th in home runs, while posting the third-highest strikeout rate.

While the strikeout rate was less than ideal, because it also came with the walks and power (to the tune of a .213 isolated power rate, which was 26th in baseball), it’s a tradeoff Chicago had to be more than happy to make.

While his success at the plate has been well documented, his solid play at the hot corner has perhaps gone overlooked, as Bryant was 4.8 runs above average in terms of UZR and 3 runs above average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved.

He even stole 13 bases on 17 attempts and was worth 7.1 baserunning runs above average, according to FanGraphs.

The projections say he will continue to play at an All-Star level, as Steamer forecasts 31 home runs, an .868 OPS, and another 5-win season.

Matt Duffy

2016 Steamer Projection
3.4 WAR
.276/.323/.394, 104 wRC+

While Bryant’s success was easy to see coming, Duffy was one of 2015’s pleasant surprises.

The Giants' third baseman had hit 13 home runs in three minor league seasons before hitting 12 last season alone.

Duffy was a high-contact hitter, who only walked in 4.9% of his plate appearances and struck out 15.7% of the time. This was fine last season, given the fact that he ran a .336 batting average on balls in play and a .133 ISO, but it would probably not be wise to expect another 116 wRC+ season.

His power should certainly regress, given his .109 career minor league ISO and 51.6% big league groundball rate.

The BABIP should also go down, but he does profile as a player who could post a higher-than-average rate, considering his low infield fly rate and high ground ball and infield hit per ground ball rates, which were all well above average.

Steamer projects him to be a slightly above average hitter, and this seems about right.

His defense at third, though, will pad his value, as he ranked second among third basemen in UZR and was fourth in DRS in 2015. Though defensive stats can be volatile in small samples, Steamer does not forecast much of a drop off, as it projects Duffy to be worth almost 10 defensive runs above average.

Francisco Lindor

2016 Steamer Projection
3.5 WAR
.268/.319/.360, 128 wRC+

As great as Correa was last year, according to the major WAR models, Lindor should have actually been the AL Rookie of the Year.

The 22-year-old, who was hyped for his speed and defense, actually had a terrific season at the plate, hitting for both average and some power. Like Duffy, there are good reasons to question whether his production at the plate is sustainable, but the combination of his glove and even an average bat should provide comfortably above average value.

Lindor posted a .353 on-base percentage despite a 6.2% walk rate, thanks to a .348 BABIP and 15.8% strikeout rate.

While he had a high infield hit per grounder and ground ball rate, he also was below average in terms of infield fly rate and did not really run an outlier BABIP in the minors (.318 in 1,880 minor league plate appearances). With this in mind, it would probably be best to expect his BABIP to be closer to .300 in 2016.

As for his power, this seems even more like a fluke. Lindor posted a .169 ISO in 2015, despite a career minor league ISO of .106. He also hit a home run on 2.7% of his at bats in the bigs, despite doing so on just 1.3% of his minor league at bats.

Still, even if his bat heavily regresses, his glove could drive another 3-plus WAR season. Lindor was fifth at his position in terms of overall UZR and was the best at the position on a per-inning basis (minimum 500 innings).

Steamer implies that this was not a fluke, projecting Lindor to be worth 16.8 defensive runs above average this year.

Carlos Correa

2016 Steamer Projection
4.4 WAR
.275/.339/.458, 118 wRC+

Of last year’s top rookies, only Bryant is projected to produce more WAR than Correa in 2016.

Given his history of mashing in the minors, where he posted a .313/.392/.491 line with a .178 ISO, Steamer is particularly bullish on him continuing to rake in the majors.

If there is one red flag, it might be in terms of power numbers, as despite posting a .233 ISO last year, this should probably drop off at least a bit given his 29.1% fly ball rate (which was below last year’s AL average of 35.0%; none of the 19 qualified hitters in the big leagues with an ISO greater than .230 last season had a fly ball rate below 34.0%).

Then again, Correa did post an absurd .529 ISO on line drives last season, according to Baseball Savant, so perhaps he was not as dependent on driving the ball to get extra base hits as other players.

In any case, Steamer, presumably giving weight to his minor league track record, still projects him to post an ISO of .182 in 2016.

He also flashed above average walk (9.3%) and strikeout rates (18.1%), and despite being 1.6 defensive runs below average last season, Steamer projects him to be a +7 defender this year.

Overall, Correa was one of the most fun players to watch in baseball, and it is easy to see this continuing.

Jung Ho Kang

2016 Steamer Projection
2.6 WAR
.261/.323/.419, 107 wRC+

More so than the other players mentioned here, these projections sadly come with a major caveat. Steamer has Kang, a borderline 4-WAR player last year, projected to have over 500 plate appearances in the coming season.

There is reason to doubt this, though, given his season-ending injury that was believed at the time to put the start of his 2016 in doubt.

While Kang is reportedly making progress, his status for Opening Day remains in doubt.

This is a shame for Pirates fans, as Kang played a solid third base and shortstop and was a well above average hitter.

Again, some regression would probably be in order, given a .344 BABIP and a .173 ISO that doesn’t match up to his 27.6% fly ball rate (yup, this again, though it should be noted Kang posted a .206 ISO in his nine pro seasons in Korea).

Still, Steamer projects the 28-year-old to be an above-average hitter when he gets back on the field, which would obviously be great news for the Pirates.