Because MLB’s math works a little differently.
To qualify as a rookie for MLB purposes, a player cannot have more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 non-September days of service time on the active roster total in previous seasons.
Mike Trout would seem to have none of those things. He finished 2011 with 123 at-bats and 38 non-September days on the Angels’ active roster.
Trout’s rookie status, however, will be a casualty of one of MLB’s most obscure transaction rules. Trout’s midsummer demotion last year lasted 17 days, which is short of the 20 days MLB requires for the demotion not to count against service time.
So while Trout only spent those 38 days on the active roster, he’ll be credited with an extra 17 days of service time, which, for these purposes, is counted as being the same thing.
Hopefully, MLB will look at its rookie rules one of these years and clarify them. This technicality shouldn’t be held against Trout. The league could also tweak it so that the position player cutoff is based on plate appearances, rather than at-bats, and so that a reliever called up right after the All-Star break who pitches 30-40 innings doesn’t qualify as a rookie the next year.
But there’s also a bigger concern for the Angels here. Instead of having 66 days of service time (the original 38 plus the 28 days in September), Trout now has 83 days. That’s not going to be an issue for arbitration and free agency if Trout opens 2012 in the majors and goes on to establish himself as a star, but it could if the team follows through with its plan to have Trout begin the season in the minors.
Hat tip to the Orange County Register’s Sam Miller, who has the official word from MLB over on his blog.