It's Time to Acknowledge Tyler Naquin's Superb Rookie Season

Tyler Naquin's first 196 plate appearances have been tremendous, and there are some signs of sustainability. Why isn't he getting more credit?

More often than not, when a rookie is rocking a .324/.387/.636 slash, they'll be the talk of the town. Those are some grotesque marks for anybody in the big leagues, much less someone who is getting his first shot against the best pitchers in the world.

Cleveland Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin, though, is still sliding under the radar. It's time to remedy that.

Thankfully, Sports Illustrated's Jonah Keri kick started that campaign yesterday, and Naquin responded in a big way.

All in all, Naquin went 3-for-4 with two dingers, a double, six runs batted in, and a walk. This lil homie needs some serious love as soon as possible.

Topping the Charts

Between Corey Seager, Aledmys Diaz, and Willson Contreras, there are a bunch of saucy rookies who have graced the diamond with their presence this season. Despite the competition, Naquin compares favorably to pretty much everybody.

Here are his ranks this year among the 34 rookies who have logged at least 100 plate appearances. Keep in mind that he'll lag in some of the aggregate stats after spending a good chunk of May down in the minors. "fWAR" is his wins above replacement based on FanGraphs' formula for the stat.

CategoryHome RunsAverageOn-BaseSluggingwOBAfWAR
Naquin's Total120.3240.3870.6360.4262.2
Rookie Rank6th2nd4th1st1st3rd

This table merely shows that Naquin has the best rookie slugging percentage and wOBA in the league; it doesn't show how absurd his lead is in the two stats.

The second-best slugging percentage among rookies belongs to Trevor Story at .555, a full 81 points lower than Naquin's mark. Naquin's wOBA out-paces the St. Louis Cardinals' Greg Garcia by 37 points, and Garcia is just above the qualifying line at 101 plate appearances. Diaz is next up at .387.

Clearly, we need to be giving Naquin more dap for what he has been doing considering how filthy his numbers are relative to those of his fellow first-year players. But at the same time, 196 plate appearances isn't an overly robust sample. Should we believe that Naquin's success is legit? The answer here is a bit more complex.

A Mixed Bag

Although a player's slash line may not stabilize in fewer than 200 plate appearances, some other categories will. This is where we'll see that Naquin's batting average is bound to slide a bit, but the pop may not.

We'll start with the downside, and that all comes down to strikeouts. Naquin's strikeout rate is 28.6%, meaning he has needed a .417 batting average on balls in play to post his .324 batting average. That's unsustainable in every sense of the word, and he's going to see some serious regression here.

To Naquin's credit, it does seem as if he is starting to compensate for this. Over the past month (84 plate appearances), he has trimmed the strikeout rate to 23.8% largely thanks to a quality 77.0% contact rate. If he were to reduce his 37.2% chase rate, then it's possible we could see his strikeout rate dip even lower, in which case that batting average could still hit respectable levels.

The other positive for Naquin's plate-discipline stats is that he is managing to draw walks. Over our month-long sample, his walk rate is 9.5%, up from 8.0% before that. A respectable walk rate will allow him to maintain a decent on-base percentage even after the batting-average regression, further legitimizing his value.

When we turn to his batted-ball stats, we can see why Naquin has been spewing Gucciness. Among players with 150 plate appearances, Naquin's 42.6% hard-hit rate ranks 12th in the league, right between Josh Donaldson and Jake Lamb. This is why we can put more stock into his slugging percentage even if it is a serious deviation from the numbers he posted in the minors, and it's why we can expect to see a few more of these moving forward.

This isn't to say that Naquin's going to keep up his .313 isolated slugging percentage. With a 32.8% fly-ball rate, that would be a losing gamble. It's more to show that even when his numbers do regress, he's still likely going to be a quality player.

Naquin doesn't have the pedigree or minor-league track record of a future star, and we shouldn't expect him to keep thrashing the way he has. However, his peripheral stats are truly good, and he's improving in the one area in which he had been struggling. It's time to not only recognize what Naquin has done so far this year but also acknowledge that he should be a solid contributor to Cleveland's offense going forward.