Judged by any standard, Los Angeles Dodger rookie Yasiel Puig is having a rookie season for the ages. The heralded phenom out of Cuba has torn through the first 31 games he’s played in the majors, compiling a batting average of .407 with 8 home runs and .683 slugging percentage. While he may not be able to sustain those numbers over the second half of the season it’s a safe bet that Puig will end the year battling for the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. But how will Puig’s fantastic first season rate among those of past Dodger players? Here then is a list of the top 10 Dodger rookies of all-time.
Jackie Robinson (1947)
Picked in 1947 to be the first African American player to break the color line in baseball, Jackie Robinson would go on to deliver a season for the ages. Playing with as much pressure on him as any player past or present, Robinson would go on to hit .297 while scoring 125 runs during his rookie season. Along the way he would lead the league in steals (29), win the N.L. Rookie of the Year and finish fifth in the race for the MVP award, an award he would win a short two years later. In 1987 Major League Baseball honored Robinson further by naming the Rookie of the Year award after him.
Fernando Valenzuela (1981)
Capturing both the N.L. Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season is no small feat, and the combination of the two places Fernando Valenzuela’s debut season as one of the best in Dodger history. How did the hefty southpaw do that season? For starters he pitched eight shutouts, led the league in strikeouts (180), innings pitched (192.1), complete games (11), and starts (25), while compiling a 13-7 record with a 2.48 ERA. The numbers are made all the more impressive if one considers that they were accomplished during a strike shortened season.
Mike Piazza (1993)
Though he was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft and had 21 major league games under his belt prior to his 1993 rookie season, Mike Piazza put up a rookie season like no other. The star catcher batted .318 with 35 home runs and 112 RBI’s, and easily ran away with the Rookie of the Year award by capturing all first place votes that year. As an added measure, Piazza would also finished ninth in the voting for the N.L. most valuable player.
Hideo Nomo (1996)
If Fernando-mania swept L.A. in 1981, then Nomo-mania swept it again in 1996, the latter, of course, being ushered in by the debut of Japanese import Hideo Nomo. Like Valenzuela before him, Nomo would lead the league in shutouts (3) and strikeouts (236) while compiling a 13-6 record with a 2.54 ERA. Selected to the All-Star game that season, Nomo would go on to finish fourth in the race for the N. L. Cy Young award.
Jim Gilliam (1953)
Jim Gilliam is the man that took over second base for the Dodgers when Jackie Robinson was moved to the outfield. Filling in aptly for the Hall of Famer, Gilliam would go on to win the N. L. Rookie of the Year award by batting .278 with 17 triples, while scoring a team high of 125 runs. A threat on the base paths, Gilliam would also ranked third in the league in steals with 21.
Don Newcombe (1949)
A pitcher who was as capable a hitter as you will find at the position, Don Newcombe had a stellar debut in 1949 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodger ace, who would later win both the MVP and Cy Young awards, compiled a 17-8 record and completed 19 games on his way to the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. That year Newcombe would also lead the league in shutouts (5) and strikeouts per 9 innings of play (5.5).
Joe Black (1952)
By starting three World Series games against the Yankees, Joe Black capped off an outstanding rookie season in 1952. The N.L. Rookie of the Year award winner would win 15 games and save another 15 for the Dodgers that season. In doing so, his 2.15 ERA would have paced the N.L. has he logged another 8 innings that season. Unfortunately for Black, he would never regain the touch he showed his first season.
Rick Sutcliffe (1979)
An imposing 6’7″ lefty, Rick Sutcliffe logged 242 innings on his way to 17 wins and a 3.46 ERA in 1979. His impressive stats helped him to easily outdistance Jeffrey Leonard for the N.L. Rookie of the Year award, as Sutcliffe would garner 83% of the votes.
Frank Howard (1960)
Though he would only appear in 117 games in his debut season, Frank Howard would finish ninth in the N.L. in home runs (23). The hulking slugger (6’7,” 255lbs), also drove in 77 runs that season on his way to being named the N.L. Rookie of the Year. A four time All-Star, Howard would go on to hit 382 home runs in a career that would stretch 16 seasons.
Steve Sax (1982)
While he would go on to be remembered more for his errant throws to first base than his offensive prowess, Steve Sax turned in a rookie season worthy of an All-Star selection and a Rookie of the Year award in 1982. Sax, who beat out such players as future Hall of Famer Ryan Sandberg for the award, collected 180 hits and 49 stolen bases that season.