News flash - rookies struggle. I know this comes across as a report from Ric Romero or Captain Obvious to some of you, but realism tends to set in for every rookie. Most of us are guilty about getting overly excited about rookies when they are called up to the big leagues and this week has been a great example of that. In case you missed the Hallelujah chorus on Sunday night, Matt Moore has been called up by the Rays since Kyle Farnsworth is out indefinitely with elbow tenderness. Despite the fact Moore has never pitched out of the bullpen in his professional career, people were already debating on Twitter whether Moore should be the closer a la David Price in 2008. Price too did not do any relief work in the minors, but he also made a start in his first and third appearance in 2008 before moving to the pen for the rest of the season. Now that the Rays are in a "wonderfully improbable" playoff race, the odds of Maddon giving Moore the ball in the ninth also seems improbable, but Maddon is also a huge proponent of matchups in high-leverage situations so anything is possible.
Josh Reddick was one of the first rookies to come up this season and he provided immediate benefits to the Red Sox with some first half heroics. Yet, if you take a look at his seasonal wOBA graph at FanGraphs, one cannot help but hear Tom Petty singing the chorus to Free Fallin' while looking at the trend on the graph. I have always liked Reddick's potential and his overall slash line of .298/.347/.491 is terrific for someone that was an endgame pick, at best. He made the big early splash, but July tapered off and August was painful to watch as he put up a .208/.265/.338 slash line in 77 at-bats just when fantasy owners needed him most. Thankfully, he has made some adjustments and is out of the gate strong in September with a .368/.368/.553 slash line that includes six runs, a homer, and two runs driven in.
Making those adjustments is everything because the scouting network is to baseball what TMZ is to the entertainment industry. Once someone sees a weakness in a batter, the word spreads quicker than a juicy Hollywood rumor and the damage to a rookie's stat line can be just a damaging as a bad rumor to a star's Q rating. Two excellent examples of that these days are Brandon Allen and Desmond Jennings.
Brandon Allen, like Reddick, has had a couple cups of coffee in the big leagues before being recalled this season. In 2009 and 2010, the power would show up but so would some big holes in his swing. In 149 at-bats across those two seasons, he walked just 22 times while striking out 60 times. 2011 showed some hope for Allen as his walk rate was up to 17 percent and his strikeout rate was at 24 percent for the Reno Aces in the Pacific Coast League and during his time there, he had a .426 OBP. He was eventually called up by the Diamondbacks and shortly thereafter traded to Oakland who called him back up to the majors on 8/13. On August 23rd, Allen hit two home runs at Yankee Stadium that included a prodigious blast into the upper deck and later that week homered at Fenway but scouts were watching and word got around quickly where Allen's problems were.
Against right-handed pitching, he has done rather well as his cold zones do not have much of a sample size to look at but lefties are eating Allen alive in pretty much every way possible. In the 15 games since Allen's last home run, he has had 10 contests in which he has struck out at least twice in a game and has posted four hat-tricks while walking just seven times. If we look at his entire time with Oakland, he has struck out at least twice in more than half of the games he has played with Oakland. We know that Oakland is a bit more tolerant than most teams with this type of hitter since they have had Jack Cust on this team several times, but Allen's numbers are tough to separate from Cust's numbers these days and that is not a good thing. Maybe Oakland can combine Allen and Chris Carter into a first-base platoon that could hit 40 homers while striking out 250 times in 2012. I joke about the strikeout total, but it would be an interesting platoon situation for two guys with a lot of pop but a lot of holes in their swings.
Desmond Jennings started off with even more noise than Allen, but most of the noise was coming from Rays fans and fantasy owners screaming for Andrew Friedman to call Jennings up. (By the way, for an excellent read on that, check out Heath Baywood's recent article at DRaysbay.) He finally came up in late July and went .333/.436/.576 in 33 at bats that month. August was more success as he hit .333/.400/.611 in 108 at bats that month giving him back to back months of 1.000+ OPS.
One thing fantasy players often are guilty of is letting overall numbers cloud current performance. On the season, Jennings has a .286/.360/.510 slash line but that does a good job of masking his recent struggles. Jennings is 8-for his last-55 with just four walks and 16 strikeouts; that is a .145 batting average and one of the reason he only has two stolen bases over the past two weeks. It is not that Joe Maddon is not sending him, it is that Jennings is just not getting on base. Like Allen, pitchers have found where they can get Jennings out:
Jennings has been unable to lay off the high fastballs from both righties and lefties and his overall results while going after those pitches have not been desirable. If you have the ability to go back and watch his at-bats over the past few weeks on mlb.tv, you will see a heavy diet of high fastballs by pitchers as they change his eye level with pitches on the outer halves of the plate. Pitchers clearly feel they can get Jennings out by elevating pitches that he will chase and it looks to be snowballing because Jennings has but three walks in his last 43 at-bats.
Jennings and Allen provide exhibits 1,456 and 1,457 to fantasy owners why counting on rookies later in the season can be an extreme risk or an extreme reward. While Jennings was a huge reward for a good portion of the second half, his most recent performance is most assuredly hurting fantasy owners in tight races down the stretch while Brandon Allen once again teased before reverting back to the problems that have plagued him in the past. Both have adjustments they need to make moving forward so that the current rumors in scouting reports do not become gospel in 2012.