Watching good baseball is so much more fun than I remember, and in among the fun has been David Lough. Lough has finally gotten a shot this year, and he has run with it. So far he has put up 1.9 fWAR (2.4 bWAR). That means he is pacing to 3.5 give or take on wins above replacement. Last year that sort of WAR comps him with Josh Willingham and Carlos Beltran, but Lough will only end up playing in a 100 or so games with Justin Maxwell stealing some starts the rest of the way. I have really enjoyed seeing a guy like him finally make it, and I am rooting for him to continue to play well. David will not be getting a lot of rookie of the year votes (though we all know an AL right fielder who will), but his first year has been very good so far, which is not all that common for a 27 year old rookie.
Even including the dead ball era there are only 21 out of 371 players that had rookie seasons of 3 or more WAR in their 27 year old rookie campaign according to Fangraphs. If you go on to 27 year old rookies with less than 3 WAR there are still some useful players (like Jarrod Dyson at 1.4 fWAR), but it gets pretty rough pretty fast. Generally speaking, a player who does not make the big leagues until 27 did not for a reason, and that reason usually has something to do with them not being ridiculously gifted ball players. Their paths through the minors are going to be longer and more arduous and their ceilings are not typically high. Also, I am throwing out the player with the second highest WAR of these 21 because his name is Ichiro Suzuki, and calling him a rookie in his first season in the US would be unfair.
That leaves us with a lot of players that flamed out quickly like Bill Kenworthy (who had the best rookie season of the bunch by fWAR), a few who had lengthy but unspectacular careers like our old friend Mike Aviles, and only a couple that really became high level players for any length of time.
The expectation for this sort of player can be summed up by the more recent names like Scott Podsednik and Lew Ford. They can be useful players, but it is unlikely they will become an every day solution for more than a brief time. The aforementioned Josh Willingham might be the most successful of the recent bunch.
There are two players that went on to have pretty fantastic careers. Bob Johnson played until he was 39 and amassed 57 fWAR, which is the highest career WAR total, but he is not in the Hall of FAme. Earl Averill did make The Hall from this group, though it is not clear to me why he would over Bob, since they are from the same time period and look very similar as players.
I don’t think there are a lot of people assuming David Lough is going to go on to have a Hall of Fame career, but what you see historically, is that he isn’t likely to be around in a few years, and even if he is the level he is playing at is likely unsustainable. What is good for Lough is his skill set, at least from a longevity standpoint. He is very good defensively, and can play all three outfield spots well. This bodes well for him being in the majors as long as his bat doesn’t become a liability, but it also points to him being a 4th outfielder because…
David has two main deficiencies at the plate, especially if he is to play a lot of right field. He does not hit for a lot of power, and his plate discipline is lacking. Traditionally right fielders are expected to hit for power. Lough’s .448 slugging percentage in 1763 AAA plate appearances does not project him as a thumper. He also does not walk much, which is to say that he’s a Royal. His best walk rate in the minors for any season was 7.5%, but that looks like the anomaly and his 2.2% walk rate in the majors this season is really bad.
At this point though, there is no reason he needs to play every day. The addition of Maxwell has given Ned Yost a second right handed bat in the outfield, and one that does have some power (still no plate discipline though). This gives Lough the opportunity to be what I think he should be, and that is a co-3rd outfielder. Think rich man’s Mitch Maier. Lorenzo Cain needs rest regularly, and Maxwell has a pretty large platoon split so Lough can face a lot of righties for him. This will help the whole outfield be in a position to succeed.