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Revisiting the Class of 2001
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
September 10, 2009
The first baseball column I ever wrote was for an audience of one, me. I had noticed a similarity between the 2001 season’s combination of sage veterans and up-and-comers, and a similar group of veterans and youngsters during the 1986 season, and wrote the article as more of an intellectual exercise than anything else.
Reading that article, I am struck by how similar my writing was then to how it is now - I was either a pretty good writer in 2001, or I simply haven’t progressed much as a writer at all since then.
But let’s stay on topic.
The amazing thing about that 1986 class of rookies and prospects is how many of them actually panned out. From the Barrys, Bonds and Larkin, to Fred McGriff, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Greg Maddux, there was a veritable Hall of Fame class making its debut that year. In my 2001 hindsight, I had the benefit of knowing how well that 1986 class had turned out, but I knew nothing of what to expect from that 2001 class except what these players had done in the very early stage of their career.
But boy oh boy, it is now 2009. So as we approach the middle of the final month of the final year of this baseball decade, we look back at that Class of 2001, and it is pretty remarkable how well that class has fared. Let’s have a look:
Catcher, Ben Davis
Ben Davis had all the promise of a solid major league catcher, but it was not to be. A good player made infamous for breaking up a Curt Schilling perfect game with a bunt, and subsequently being (wrongly) rebuked for it in the media by Schilling and Arizona manager Bob Brenly, the second overall pick in the 1995 draft never played another full season after 2001.
First Base, Albert Pujols
Pujols shocked the baseball world in 2001, coming literally from no where to make the Cardinals as a 21 year old and put up huge numbers, much of which was done in the place of an injured Mark McGwire. Pujols has only gotten better each season in the league and will likely win his third Most Valuable Player Award this season at the age of 29.
Second Base, Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Alfonso Soriano
Hairston has enjoyed a career as a solid major league contributor for the Orioles, Cubs, Rangers, Reds, and now Yankees. 2001 was his only full season, but he has been regularly employed and this year has a career high ten homeruns.
Alfonso Soriano is slogging through the first truly down season of a remarkable career. He has been traded for Alex Rodriguez, is one of the only three players ever to go 40-40 in a single season, and the only one to have 40 doubles to boot. Soriano has been shifted to the outfield where he can be both magnificent and disastrous. He is ten homeruns away from 300 for his career, and needs 43 stolen bases to join the 300/300 club.
Third Base, Eric Hinske
Hinske was purely a prospect in 2001, making his debut in 2002 and winning the AL Rookie of the Year. He has never lived up to that promise, though, and has played sparingly throughout his eight major league seasons.
Shortstop, Jimmy Rollins
Consistently an overrated counting stat demon, Rollins has nevertheless become a Philadelphia icon, an indispensable part of one of the best offenses in baseball, the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player, and a World Champion. In 2007, Rollins became just the fourth player ever to finish a season with 20 doubles, triples, homeruns, and stolen bases, in addition to setting major league records for plate appearances and at-bats. Like Soriano, Rollins is currently suffering through his worst season but remains one of the majors’ best shortstops.
Outfield, Ichiro Suzuki
Like Pujols, Ichiro has taken the baseball world by storm since his emergence in 2001. He has an AL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Award, eight (soon to be nine) straight seasons with 200 hits, two batting titles, and a career .333 batting average. Ichiro is the second fastest player ever to get to 2,000 hits (1403 games, behind Al Simmons’ 1390), and now has well over 3,000 hits as a professional baseball player. At the age of 35, Ichiro is currently batting .357 in his ninth season and shows few signs of slowing.
Outfield, Corey Patterson and Vernon Wells
Vernon Wells is one of the highest paid players in baseball, considered one of the elite defensive centerfielders in the game, and is approaching 200 career homeruns. He has also been very overrated, remarkably inconsistent, and has left Blue Jays fans with more to be disappointed about than excited over.
All of which is to say that Wells has outperformed Corey Patterson in every aspect of the game. A cautionary tale as to the downfalls of rushing players through the minors, Patterson enjoyed three to four seasons of “Patterson looks like he’s ready to break out next year” with the Cubs without ever breaking out. His 2008 season was a disaster with the Reds, and in 2009 he has played less than 10 games after spending the season in Triple-A.
Outfield Juan Pierre and Tim Raines Jr.
Juan Pierre is one of those unique players who is fabulously talented but not particularly valuable. He has collected 200 or more hits four times, leading the league twice, but never walked more than 55 times, and usually far less than that. He has led the league in stolen bases twice, but in caught-stealings five times. He never strikes out – he has 334 strikeouts in 1414 career games – but he also has an incredibly low career homerun total of 13, including one in the last three seasons. He enjoyed a streak of playing every game from 2003 to 2007, but then has his streak ended when he lost his starting job with the Dodgers (how often does that happen?). He is a lifetime .301 hitter, but his career slugging percentage is just .372. He is currently the active leader in stolen bases with 454.
Pierre’s talent will also trump his value, which is unfortunate because he can be fun to watch.
Tim Raines, Jr. is this generation’s Pete Rose, Jr. Great name, but absolutely zero marketable talent.
Designated Hitter Daryle Ward and Adam Piatt
Daryle Ward has never been a DH; I clearly was just trying to fit guys in. Ward also played 119 games in 2000, which means he essentially doesn’t even belong here. Ward has been a consummate professional and adequate part-time contributor to several teams in the last ten years, most recently spending 89 games with the Cubs in 2008.
Adam Piatt is probably one of the biggest disappointments of the decade. This is a guy who had endorsement deals before he ever played a major league game with the Oakland A’s. Despite an amazing minor league career, Piatt just never got untracked in the majors.
Pitcher, Wade Miller
One of the mind-blowing things about this list is seeing that I placed Wade Miller ahead of Roy Oswalt. Wow. In 2001, Miller went 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 212 innings for the Astros, giving up only 183 hits. Injuries were his undoing, however, and he never got over 200 innings again.
Pitcher, Roy Oswalt
Even in 2001, Oswalt was better than Miller, though through fewer innings. Roy went 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA and a 144/24 K/BB ratio in 141.2 innings. One of those rare “immediately successful” starting pitchers, Oswalt has seemed less dominant in recent years, but only pales in comparison to himself; Oswalt is one of baseball’s best, and has been for a decade. Closing in on 2000 innings and 150 wins, Oswalt is probably five or six more successful seasons from putting himself in the Hall of Fame.
Pitcher, C.C. Sabathia
Like Oswalt, one of the elite pitchers in baseball. Sabathia has a Cy Young Award under his belt, 133 wins at the age of 28, and is one of baseball’s highest paid players. Now with the Yankees, C.C. should start rapidly climbing the career wins list, though his peripherals will likely take a hit.
Pitcher, Joel Pineiro
As to Joel Pineiro, this is a funny time to be writing this article as 2009 marks only the second or third good season of Pineiro’s career since going 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 75.1 innings with the Mariners in 2001. Pineiro steadily declined throughout the decade, but joined the Cardinals in 2008 and has resuscitated his career under the tutelage of Dave Duncan. He currently leads the NL in homeruns and walks per nine innings, and has a 14-9 record to go with his 3.28 ERA.
Pitcher, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder
Two thirds of what was at one time known as “the Big Three” in Oakland (with Tim Hudson), Zito and Mulder both had short periods of dominance, taking the A’s to the playoffs four years in a row from 2000-2003, but then followed with significant drop-off.
To be fair, Zito’s 92 inning debut came in 2000, but in 2001 he led the AL in starts and went 17-8 with a 3.49 ERA. The following season he won the AL Cy Young and made his first All Star appearance. He then became a solid but not great inning eater for the next four years before signing an enormous contract with the Giants and subsequently kind of being terrible for two seasons. This season, he is “only” 9-12 after leading the league in losses in 2008, and his ERA has “improved” to 3.99 after peaking at 5.15 last season. At this point Zito is a number four starter making ace money.
Mulder also debuted in 2000, actually pitching 154.0 innings. He led the AL in wins in 2001 and won 40 games from 2001-2002. But like Zito, he dropped off afterwards. Traded to St. Louis after the 2004 season, he had a very good first season but injuries limited him to 23 games from 2006 to 2008. He has not played since 2008.
Lest I get too self-congratulatory for how well all these guys turned out, there are a couple of balls I missed – guys who made their debuts around 2001 that I for some reason did not feel merited a mention. Let’s have a look:
I’m not completely sure what point in the year it was that I wrote my article, but Adam Dunn had 19 homeruns in a 66 game callup with the Reds that season, and posted a .948 OPS. Not including him on my future stars list was a big swing-and-a-miss (though I guess a big swing-and-a-miss is appropriate for Adam Dunn). All this guy has done is hit 313 homeruns, including five seasons in a row with 40 or more, while compiling a 132 OPS+ in 1269 games. Before the age of 30.
In retrospect, it is hard to think of a more highly touted rookie in the last 15 years than Beckett. He debuted in 2001 with 24 innings of 1.50 ERA work, and has sense won two World Series titles while compiling a record of 103-68, much of which has been earned in the hardest place to pitch in baseball, Fenway Park.
In his first full season, he pitched 117 innings and put up a 3.69 ERA. Not bad. He has since pitched over 1800 innings and has 115 career wins. Not bad indeed.
One of the most successful pitchers in the history of Wrigley Field, Zambrano made his major league debut in 2001, at the age of twenty, and gave up 13 earned runs on 11 hits and eight walks, to go with four strikeouts, in 7.2 innings pitched.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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