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Rhys Hoskins and the best 50-game starts in Phillies history

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Even after cooling off in late September, Rhys Hoskins’ start was pretty impressive.

There is nothing magical about a player’s first 50 games, but it has two key attributes: it’s a nice round number, and it’s where Rhys Hoskins stood when the 2017 season came to an end. And in terms of analysis and predictiveness it doesn’t have much going for it — it’s both an arbitrary endpoint, AND a small sample. Not only that, but a player’s first 50 games can be especially fluky, given the adjustment that players often have to make to major league play (and that pitchers make to them) when they first come up.

Dingers

Having said all that, let’s see how Hoskins’ first 50 games stack up with the best 50-game starts in history. His home runs drew the most attention through August and September, including in graphs like the one below.

This is descriptive enough in showing how Hoskins’ progress compared to the MLB record at each point through 50 games. But it’s also kind of sterile, and in the end, woefully inadequate in conveying the magnitude of the feat. The blue line represents the best of the best of the thousands of players who have lasted at least 50 games in the majors — 6,880 players in all (10,947 including pitchers).

Yes, there has been more of a focus on lifting the ball in recent years, and yes, there is evidence the ball has been juiced for the last year or two. But even so, from the 15-game mark, through 44, not one of the great sluggers in MLB history, past or present, had started their careers with more more home runs than Rhys Hoskins.

Runs Batted In

The next graph is just as impressive, despite Hoskins holding at least a share of the all-time record for “only” six games to date. RBIs are to a large extent a team stat, and one highly dependent on where a hitter bats in the lineup, but the pool of players racking up lots of RBIs throughout history is much bigger, since you don’t need to hit HRs to get a lot of RBIs (though obviously it helps).

The table below shows where Hoskins stands on these two all-time lists after 50 games:

- third in home runs with 18, one behind Cody Bellinger and Gary Sanchez
- tied for fifth in RBIs with 48, behind three first ballot Hall of Famers, and the owner of one of the great rookie seasons ever by a not-so-great player:

In terms of Phillies history, Hoskins blew away the HR record for this point in a career that Tommy Joseph set just last year. Three years before that, Darin Ruf was the latest to tie the long standing record of 11 homers in the first 50.

The franchise record for most RBIs through 50 games had stood for 86 years. Pat Burrell got within one of tying it when he came up in 2000, but 32-year-old rookie Buzz Arlett’s start in 1931 (the only major league season he would ever see) withstood that challenge.

Arlett was also tied for the Phils’ HR record until Joseph passed him. His story is worth a read by the way, either in his SABR bio, or the shorter version in Wikipedia. In summary:

- He started as a pitcher and went 106-93 in the minors with a 1.14 ERA before converting to the outfield (he got his nickname from cutting through hitters like a buzz saw).

- He was called the Babe Ruth of the minor leagues and was considered the all-time minor league home run king with 432. He held that record for 78 years, until just two years ago when Mike Hessman passed him with the final home run of his pro career (a grand slam off old friend Dustin McGowan and the Iron Pigs).

- In 1984, the Society for American Baseball Research voted Arlett the most outstanding player in the history of minor-league baseball.

Also on the Phillies’ RBI list:

Leo Norris was the Phillies’ shortstop in 1936. That was one of the best seasons for hitting in MLB history, and Norris is one of a slew of players who debuted that year and hit a ton right away.

Don Hurst was their first baseman from 1928 until he was traded in 1934. Many probably remember Ron Jones, an outfielder who could hit when he wasn’t tearing up his knees.

Other Counting Stats

The tables at the bottom show similar lists for other stats through 50 games, both for the Phillies franchise, and for MLB overall. Some highlights:

- Hunter Pence appears on MLB’s all-time list for hits, doubles, extra base hits, and total bases

- Bob Dernier’s 26 stolen bases, spread across his major league stints in 1980-82, are tied for 5th in MLB history.

- Don Hurst’s 41 walks are only one short of the MLB record held by Reds outfielder Bernie Carbo. Hoskins is tied for 11th on that MLB list with 37, and he’s second only to Hurst in Phillies history. Also on the walks list: Andrew Knapp’s 28 were tied for 4th ever by a Phillie in his first 50 games (he finished the season with 31 in 56).

By the way, if we look at only a player’s first 23 games (what J.P. Crawford has played), Crawford’s 16 walks are 3rd most in Phils’ history, behind only Heinie Sand (18), and Don Hurst (17). Hoskins (13 walks through 23 games) was tied for 4th at that point, with, among others, Kevin Stocker.

- Boy, Javier Baez is in a league of his own on the K list. Also on the list at #5, former Phils prospect Jon Singleton. That list includes pitchers, but the only two who made the lists are Gary Gentry on the MLB list, and Bruce Ruffin for the Phillies.

- There are some Hall of Fame-caliber names on those lists: Gibby Brack (20 doubles), Braggo Roth (9 triples), Truck Hannah (40 walks).

OPS and OPS+

But if we are going to compare Hoskins overall to the best starts in Phillies history, we need to use a comprehensive stat like OPS, and along with it OPS+, which normalizes it for that season’s hitting environment and the player’s home park.

Based on OPS+, the top 10 best starts in Phils history separate into two groups. Hoskins is fairly close to Arlett for the top spot, and then after a break there are eight players from across many eras in franchise history who are bunched fairly closely:

We’ve briefly touched on Hurst, Ruf, and Jones. Twenty-two year old Dick Allen would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1964 and almost led the Phillies to the World Series.

Twenty-three year old Chuck Klein was tearing it up alongside Hurst in 1928, after being called up on July 30.

Jeff Stone not only hit .372/.397/.486 in 1983-84, but also stole 24 bases in those 50 games (while only being caught 3 times).

In 1946, only two years after Klein made his final Phillies appearance, Del Ennis was one of the first of the Whiz Kids to arrive, joining catcher Andy Seminick. They would help the team to finally turn the page after 30+ years of dismal play.

And finally Ricky Jordan, who got off to a torrid start when he came up in 1988, but was never able to repeat it for any sustained stretch.

* The age for each player is for the season that represented the bulk of their first 50 games.

Back to Jeff Stone though. OPS and OPS+ are easier to calculate, but they do leave something to be desired. For one thing, there is no accounting for the impact of a player’s base stealing. We could make some crude adjustments to try to capture that. For example:

OBP: subtract times Caught Stealing from the times on base
(i.e. for each CS, replace a time on base with an out)

SLG: add Stolen Bases, and subtract Caught Stealing from total bases

Again, crude. But with those adjustments for every player, the list would look like this:

So, in any case, Rhys Hoskins’ 50-game start is one of the two or three best starts in the history of the Phillies franchise.

MLB History

Before we leave the topic, let’s see how that how his 165 OPS+ (i.e. without the stealing adjustment) compares to some other fast starts across MLB history.

Below are all the 50-game starts I found with OPS+ of 150 and up:

Willie McCovey came up at 21 in 1959, and was just insane. For example, in his major league debut against Robin Roberts he went 4 for 4, with two triples and two singles. The first 50 games shown above are almost his entire rookie season. In 52 games total, he hit .354/.429/.656 (188 OPS+), enough to capture the Rookie of the Year award. In fact, based on the voting shown at bb-ref, he was a unanimous selection.

By the way, further down on the list is Tim Raines, with a 143 OPS+. In addition, though, he stole 38 bases in those 50 games, while only being caught twice. Making the same adjustment as above would give Raines an OPS+ of 213 (!).

In summary

Rhys Hoskins certainly cooled off after reaching 18 home runs in just 34 games, but even so, his 50-game start is arguably one of the two best in Phillies history. Perhaps even more amazingly, it rounds out the top 10 all-time.

Other players with similar starts range from Jeff Francoeur to Frank Thomas. Time will tell which way Hoskins’ career leads, but his approach, as evidenced by his rankings on the walks lists, inspires some confidence that the future is bright.

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Reference: MLB and Phillies franchise leaders, first 50 career games

Notes: Roy Weatherly

Roy Weatherly is all over the MLB lists, and deserves a longer look. He matched Joe DiMaggio step for step in 1936:

- DiMaggio, 21, came up on May 3rd, and hit .364/.385/.640 (1.025 OPS) in his first 50 games.
- Weatherly, also 21, came up June 27th, and hit .398/.425/.630 (1.054 OPS).

Eighty-one years later, their 50-game starts are still together at the top in several categories:

- In DiMaggio’s first 50, he had 87 hits (most all-time), 24 doubles (2nd), 40 extra base hits (1st), and 153 total bases (1st).
- Less than 2 months later, Weatherly had 86 hits (2nd), 25 doubles (1st), 35 extra base hits (2nd), and 136 total bases (2nd).

From there their paths diverged. DiMaggio became a fixture as a dominant center fielder on championship teams. Weatherly, listed at 5’6” and 170 lbs, couldn’t sustain the .415 BABIP of his 50-game start, but gradually got playing time and by 1940, at 25, he hit .303 as the Indians’ starting CF and finished 11th in the AL MVP voting.

And in 1943, when Joe DiMaggio enlisted in the Air Force, it was Weatherly, who the Yankees had acquired over the winter, who became their primary center fielder on the way to another World Series championship. And then Weatherly was also off to WW II in 1944-45.

Like many players who lost prime years to the War, when he returned he was mostly relegated to the minors, except for 2 games with the Yankees in 1946, and then finally 52 more with the Giants in 1950.

He stuck around in the minors through 1954, including 1952-53 (at age 37-38), when he was on the Phillies’ AAA team. He must have coached after that because he even got into two games in 1958, at the age of 43.