This season’s best MLB rookie of the year candidates aren’t exactly lighting up the record books, though Aaron Judge and his nightly moonshots are certainly a pinstriped delight. While Andrew Benintendi, Manuel Margot, Amir Garrett, Mitch Haniger, and Antonio Senzatela battle the Yankees’ 6-foot-7 behemoth for elite first-year recognition, the rest of us continue reminiscing over the best MLB rookie of the year duos of all time.
Here we’ll rank these duos based on their combined rookie-year wins above replacement (WAR), a stat that measures a player’s all-around value by analyzing how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at the same position.
Notably, there are 14 former Rookie of the Year winners in the Hall of Fame, and three years in which both ROYs were eventually embalmed in Cooperstown – 1956 (Luis Aparicio and Frank Robinson), 1967 (Rod Carew and Tom Seaver) and 1977 (Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson). Per the numbers we deciphered below, it smells like 2001’s combo of Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols could be next.
2007 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
National League: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Slashing .317 and striking out only 42 times in 139 games is great for a rookie, but what really impressed us about Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was his energy in helping the Sawx start a dynasty with an ’07 world series win three years after breaking the World Series curse in that miraculous ’04 season. Now a four-time All-Star with an MVP award and four gold gloves to his name, Pedroia seems headed for Cooperstown consideration. Braun and his rookie-year 2.0 win s above replacement meanwhile, clobbered a cool 34 home runs and slugged a rather impressive .634, though his PED use may cloud any potential future enshrinement.
Combined WAR: 5.9
1977 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Eddie Murray, Baltimore Orioles
National League: Andre Dawson, Montreal Expos
One of those “three years in which both ROYs were eventually embalmed in Cooperstown,” 1977 featured 3.9 wins above replacement for Expos future Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson and 3.2 from Eddie Murray. While many rookie of the year winners became one-hit wonders, these two batted their way into the Hall together.
Combined WAR: 7.1
1956 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Luis Aparicio, Chicago White Sox
National League: Frank Robinson, Cincinnati Redlegs
Luis Aparicio was a fire rod of a shortstop and a 13-time All-Star, while subtle Frank Robinson (WAR of 6.1) is remembered as the only player to win league MVP honors in both the National and American Leagues, scoring 122 runs and swatting 38 dongs that year. Another tandem to win ROYs and go on to the Hall of Fame.
Combined WAR: 7.6
1951 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Gil McDougald, New York Yankees
National League: Willie Mays, New York Giants
On paper, Willie Mays’ 3.9 wins above replacement don’t scream wow, but keep in mind he went on to finish his 22-year career with 156.2 wins above replacement – which remains fifth on the all-time MLB wins above replacement list. McDougald solidly made five All-Star teams and racked up 40.7 WAR in 10 quality seasons before retiring. But the real story is Mays – together they combined for 196.9 WAR in their career and a heck of a rookie campaign.
Combined WAR: 8.5
1967 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Rod Carew, Minnesota Twins
National League: Tom Seaver, New York Mets
With a 6.0 WAR, 2.76 ERA, and win total of 16, Tom Seaver’s promise as future Mets ace was being cemented Year 1. Rod Carew’s 2.8 wins above replacement aren’t as remarkable, though he was always a consistent contact hitter type of player (only 92 career home runs). He finished his smooth career with a .328 average, 3,053 hits, and 18 All-Star selections.
Combined WAR: 8.8
2006 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
National League: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
51 stolen bases for Hanley (4.9 wins above replacement) and 17 wins for Verlander (4.1 wins above replacement) pretty much nailed the ROY coffin shut in 2006, as these two blossoming stars turned in two quality seasons.
Combined WAR: 9.0
2015 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
National League: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
For Kris Bryant, a whopping 199 rookie-year strikeouts in 151 games wasn’t enough to eclipse his spectacular 26 dingers, 99 RBI, 13 stolen bases, a WAR of 5.9, and an .858 OPS. A sophomore MVP and curse-destroying Chicago Cubs World Series championship was some much-needed sprinkle on top of a great career start. Carlos Correa and his 4.1 wins above replacement helped secure another top-notch rookie class that was statistically the best in 100 years.
Combined WAR: 10.0
1997 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Nomar Garciaparra, Boston Red Sox
National League: Scott Rolen, Philadelphia Phillies
Scott Rolen was always known as a superhuman glove man capable of grabbing any hot shot to third base, but it was his sensational rookie year (WAR of 4.5, .283 batting average, 21 home runs, 92 RBI, and 16 steals) that had people thinking hmm. Combine that stellar campaign with Nomar’s 30 home runs, 98 RBI, 209 hits, 11 triples, .306 average, and godly 6.6 WAR and we’ve got quite the rookie infield tandem.
Combined WAR: 11.1
1993 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Tim Salmon, California Angels
National League: Mike Piazza, Los Angeles Dodgers
Most fans know the story about Mike Piazza, a 62nd round draft pick whose career start can be credited to Tommy Lasorda – it’s a tale that never gets old. But once you look at the rookie-year stats (.318 average, 35 home runs, WAR of 7.0), you realize this was no Lasorda favor, but instead a rough diamond that was simply found. Merge those metrics with Tim Salmon’s 5.2 wins above replacement and 31 home runs and you’ll see a quality early ’90s duo.
Combined WAR: 12.2
1975 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Fred Lynn, Boston Red Sox
National League: John Montefusco, San Francisco Giants
A nine-time all-star, Fred Lynn is best known as the first player to win the Rookie of the Year award and MVP in the same season. His end of season WAR was 7.4. Montefusco, not to be confused with a Monte Cristo sandwich, won 15 games in 1975 to the tune of a 2.88 ERA and 6.8 wins above replacement. He is also interestingly one of the only pitchers to hit a home run in his first at bat.
Combined WAR: 14.2
2001 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
National League: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Likely the next in line for Hall of Fame enshrinement, Ichiro is remembered for his undeniably auspicious Major League start. After years of dominating Japanese competition, the rifle-armed right fielder made the US treck and calmly introduced himself as the best MLB rookie – 242 rookie-year hits (the most since Bill Terry’s 254 in 1930), 56 stolen bases, a gold glove, a silver slugger, and 7.7 wins above replacement. How could 13th round draft pick Albert Pujols compete? 37 fingers, 130 runs batted in, a 1.013 OPS and 6.6 wins above replacement, that’s how.
Combined WAR: 14.3
1964 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins
National League: Dick Allen, Philadelphia Phillies
In 1964, Dick Allen scored 125 runs, hit 13 triples and 29 home runs, and touched 352 bases. But his 8.8 wins above replacement is really what gets us jazzed up. Combine that with outfielder Oliva and his .323 average, 43 doubles, 217 hits, and 6.8 WAR and we’ve got a chicken dinner.
Combined WAR: 15.6
2012 Rookie of the Year Winners
American League: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
National League: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
The new age powerhouse, these two have absolutely crushed baseball with their new brand of all-around ability. 2012 was just the tip of the iceberg, as Bryce finished the season with a 5.1 WAR. Now he’s got an MVP and three All-Star appearances, all earned before turning 23. For Trout, a complete stat line was the goal – and boy did he deliver, as he stole 49 bases and hit .326 with 129 runs and a revolutionary 10.8 WAR.
Combined WAR: 15.9 + WINNER
Honorable Best MLB Rookie Mentions*
1926 Best MLB Rookie Duo: Paul Waner (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Tony Lazzeri (New York Yankees) combined for 36 triples and a WAR of 8.0.
1936 Best MLB Rookie Duo: Johnny Mize (St. Louis Cardinals) and Joe DiMaggio (New York Yankees) combined for 342 hits and a .325 average in their first year, with a WAR of 9.4.
*the award was first introduced in 1947, when Jackie Robinson won Rookie of the Year)