Three words best describe how to evaluate Michael Chavis’ astounding introduction to Major League Baseball, or is it Major League Baseball’s astounding introduction to Chavis?
In any case, keep this phrase in mind — Small Sample Size.
This not to say Chavis is the next Ted Cox or Sam Horn, though. Through Friday, Chavis had played 30 games for the Red Sox and was hitting .270 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs. Many players who had debuts as memorable as his went on to become terrific players. In fact, a 30-game sample is a pretty good barometer of future success.
For sheer impact, one has to go back to 1966 and George Scott to make a strong comparison. Through his first 30 games in a Boston uniform, Scott was batting .319 with 11 homers and 27 RBIs, a Triple Crown contender, and that was for a grotesquely bad team.
The 1966 Sox finished a half-game out of last place in a 10-team league and through 30 games were 9-21 even, with Scott overmatching American League pitching.
Scott was the AL All-Star first baseman that year, but finished the season batting .245. His career had ups and downs, but it was a very good one in general. He finished with 271 home runs and 1,051 RBIs, most of them with the Red Sox and Brewers, and received MVP votes in seven seasons.
Before that, Walt Dropo was AL Rookie of the Year in 1950 by hitting .322 with 34 homers and 144 RBIs. Dropo had a brief call-up the year before and was unimpressive, but in the first 30 games of his first full season, he hit .358 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs. Dropo never came close to duplicating his rookie season but had a solid career, playing 13 years in the majors for five teams.
Then there’s Horn.
A midseason call-up in the lost season of 1987, Horn was .269-9-21 in his first 30 games. He wound up playing parts of eight seasons in the majors with one decent one, 1991 with the Orioles.
Cox was 6 for 6 to start his career as a September call-up in 1977. He only played in 13 games for Boston before being traded to Cleveland and owned a .245 lifetime average.
Other noteworthy 30-game debuts:
Ted Williams was .286-6-32 as a 20-year-old in 1939, playing right field. Williams was a quick learner and finished the year at .327-31-145. Carl Yastrzemski was a slow starter and didn’t turn into a Hall of Fame player until 1967, his seventh season in Boston. He was .245-3-17 after 30 games in 1961.
Tony Conigliaro hit the first pitch he saw at Fenway Park over the Green Monster and was .284-5-11 after 30 games. He might have been better than Yastrzemski had he not been beaned in 1967. Carlton Fisk was Rookie of the Year in 1972, but had a pair of look-see visits to the majors in 1969 and ’71. In ’72, Fisk was .248-4-14 through his first 30 games.
Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, the Gold Dust Twins of 1975, are both complicated cases. Both came up late in 1974, Rice playing 24 games and Lynn 15. Rice was pretty good, hitting .269 with a homer and 13 RBIs. Lynn was sensational, batting .419 with two homers and 10 RBIs. Add to that their early-season totals in 1975, Rice was .269-3-18 in his first 30 games, Lynn .380-5-23.
Lynn was Rookie of the Year and MVP, Rice was neither. Rice is in the Hall of Fame, Lynn is not.
Wade Boggs got off to an excellent start in 1982, batting .366 with a homer and eight RBIs in his first 30 games. Power was not what Boggs sought, average was, and he was consistent with it. That .366 Boggs hit in his first 30 games? He hit the same .366 in 155 games in 1988.
Nomar Garciaparra played 24 games at the end of 1996 and was .241-4-16. Tack on the first six games of 1997, when he was Rookie of the Year, Garciaparra was .259-5-21 in his first 30 games.
At all levels, Dustin Pedroia was a notoriously slow starter, and it was the same with his major league career. He actually played in 31 games after being called up late in 2006 and hit just .191. It wasn’t all that much better if you discount that, though, and go with his first 30 games in 2007, when he was Rookie of the Year.
Pedroia’s line at that point was .259-1-7.
Of this year’s players, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts all had solid but unspectacular starts to their careers. Rafael Devers was an impact player in 2017, going .284-8-18, but all eight homers came in the first 20 games, and he hit two in his next 38.
A great start has never been a guarantee of long-term success for a Red Sox rookie, and it may not be for Chavis, but his start has been particularly spectacular, and that is a pretty good indication the Sox have a very promising player on their hands.