It seems like a foregone conclusion that Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is headed toward a National League Rookie of the Year award. It’s not so clear who is going to walk away with the rookie award in the American League—although a strong case can be made for New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Among the teams still standing with World Series aspirations, there are a few with key rookies that could play a major role. Seager, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals, Willson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs, and the list could go on and on.
Here are six times a rookie had a major impact in a World Series championship.
1. John Lackey
Lackey has been around for what feels like forever. Back in 2002, he was a rookie with the then-Anaheim Angels. Lackey was called up for the first time in late June and ended up making 18 starts for the Angels, going 9-4 with a 3.66 ERA in 108 2/3 innings and helping lead the team to a 99-63 season—and the American League wild card.
Between the ALDS and ALCS, the 23-year-old Lackey tossed 10 innings (two appearances, one start) and allowed zero runs while striking out 10 and walking one. When the Angels forced game seven of the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, Lackey was the last man standing in the starting rotation. He pitched five innings, allowing just one run to the Giants offense and helping secure a World Series championship.
2. Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera has spent nine of his 14 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Detroit Tigers, winning back-to-back MVPs and leading the American League in batting average four times. But it was with the Florida Marlins that he came to the big leagues, all the way back in 2003. He was called up in mid-June and hit a walkoff home run for his first major league hit. He ended up playing in 87 games, hitting 12 home runs with a .793 OPS and splitting time between left field and third base.
The 20-year-old Cabrera helped lead the Marlins to the wild card that year, and in a tough NLCS series with the Chicago Cubs that went a full seven games, he hit three home runs with an OPS of 1.027. He didn’t hit as well in the World Series against the New York Yankees, but that really doesn’t matter so much—without him, the Marlins never would’ve been there in the first place.
3. Chipper Jones
Jones was the number one overall pick in the 1990 draft coming out of high school, and he made it to the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves toward the end of the 1993 season. He would sit out the entire 1994 season due to injury, but return in what would be his official rookie season of 1995. The 23-year-old Jones hit .263 with a .353 OBP and 23 home runs that season, getting into 140 games as the team’s primary third baseman.
In 14 games in the postseason, Jones hit for a slash line of .364/.446/.618 with three home runs in 65 plate appearances. The Braves won the World Series in six games over the Cleveland Indians that year, and Jones was a big part of it—he was on base 10 of the 26 times he came to bat in those six games, and only struck out three times.
4. Madison Bumgarner
When you think about Bumgarner and the postseason, frequently your mind will go to his historic 2014. But back in 2010, the rookie was still making a name for himself. He started 18 games for the Giants, throwing 111 innings with a 3.00 ERA that season. He was just 20 years old, but he was a highly-touted prospect and the Giants had a lot of faith in him.
They showed that faith by starting him in game four of the NLDS against the Braves—the clinching game of the series—and seeing him throw six innings and surrendering only two earned runs. Later, he was on the mound again in game four—this time in the World Series. With a 2-1 lead over the Texas Rangers, this would be the pivotal game of the series. Bumgarner didn’t disappoint, going eight innings and allowing just three hits and zero earned runs.
5. Derek Jeter
Although his career with the Yankees officially started in 1995, it was 1996 that was actually considered to be Jeter’s rookie season. He would play in 157 games in New York that season, hitting .314 with 3.3 WAR and winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. He would lead the Yanks into the postseason with a 92-70 record that year.
And in his first October, Jeter wouldn’t disappoint the fans. The 22-year-old shortstop would come to the plate 67 times over 15 games, hitting .361 with a .409 OBP and one home run. The Yankees faced the Braves in the World Series that year, and after going down 0-2 they’d rebound and take the series in six games. Jeter was a big part of that, posting a .389 OBP over the final four games of the series.
6. Jacoby Ellsbury
Ellsbury was thought to be a 23-year-old extra outfielder on the 2007 Boston Red Sox playoff roster, but he ended up being quite a bit more than that. His only big league experience was the 33 games he had in a short midseason call up and the month of September, in which he flashed his glove and hit for a .902 OPS in just 127 plate appearances. He was a highly touted prospect, but nobody could’ve foreseen the impact he was about to have.
Ellsbury would only get one at-bat prior to game six of the ALCS—grounding into a double play. But now in the lineup, he would thrive in the final six games of the postseason. Ellsbury hit 9-for-24 with four doubles, which includes an immensely important 4-for-5 game in the World Series, in those final games. He may play for the Yankees now, but Red Sox fans will always remember Ellsbury for the key role he played on their ’07 World Series team as a rookie.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference