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    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    Best Players 27 and Under and the Hall: Two Separate Ideas

    So, Dan Szymborski ran an interesting article over at ESPN a few weeks ago in which he projected the careers for MLB’s 24-and-under stars to see who might be looking at the Hall of Fame. I enjoy looking many years into the future, and I’ve been meaning to look at the many young stars of the game for a while now. Now seems like a good time to do so, especially with a Hall of Fame context.

    So, I used Baseball-Reference’s Play Index and found the median WAR for Hall of Fame batters and pitchers at each age from 20 to 27 (from 1901 on), then looked at how today’s young stars compared.

    Age 20-47 Hall of Famers, median of 0.4 bWAR

    Mike Trout obviously leads the way, with 11.3 bWAR. And that’s it for 20 year old position players in 2012, actually. Bryce Harper cleared that mark already after only his age 19 season (5.0), though, as did Manny Machado (1.5). The only other 19 year old this year was Jurickson Profar, but he only managed -0.2 WAR in 9 games. Maybe next season, though?

    Age 21-77 Hall of Famers, median of 2.5

    None, other than the already-mentioned Trout and Harper.

    Age 22-97 Hall of Famers, median of 3.9

    The number starts to pick up here. Jason Heyward leads the pack at 14.2 bWAR in his first three seasons, closely followed by division rival (for now) Giancarlo Stanton, who’s at 12.0 through three years. Starlin Castro, first major leaguer born in the 1990s, comes third, at 7.9 in three seasons. Brett Lawrie only has two seasons (totaling to only 168 games, so just over one full season), but his strong defense metrics already have him at 7.6 WAR (granted, I tend to think B-R doesn’t account for shifts properly, so that’s probably a little overrated). 

    Part of the reason I wanted to do this was to see if there were any young players I was overlooking already, who I might want to pay more attention to. Salvador Perez is the first such player; his strong defense behind the plate has helped him to 4.2 WAR in under a full season’s worth of plate appearances.

    Just falling short are Ruben Tejada and Freddie Freeman (both of whom already have 3 seasons in the pros somehow, despite what my mind seems to think) at 3.3 bWAR. In one injury-marred season, Andrelton Simmons managed 2.8 bWAR. Jose Altuve (1.9 WAR) and Anthony Rizzo (1.8) may also do great things.

    Age 23-108 Hall of Famers, median of 7.3

    Another drop off, after a strong year. Elvis Andrus (11.7 WAR) is the only player to have cleared the median. Only Mike Moustakas (3.7) and Yasmani Grandal (2.7) are even worth a mention, and both already have question marks heading in to 2013 (Can Moustakas break out? How will Grandal’s PED suspension affect him?).

    Age 24-114 Hall of Famers, median of 10.7

    For all the talk of how he’s been a disappointment so far, Justin Upton is the only active 24-year old to have cleared this bar. In his six seasons, he’s been worth 13.1 bWAR. The only other 24 year old even halfway to this mark is Dustin Ackley, at 5.9, but he’s going to have to rebound to his offense from his 2011 campaign (120 OPS+, compared to 79 last year) to have a shot of getting back on track.

    Age 25-115 Hall of Famers, median of 16.4

    And here’s the first major jump in WAR between ages. And, once again, only one active player at this age has cleared it: Andrew McCutchen. Austin Jackson (14.8) and Pablo Sandoval (14.3) are the next closest active 25 year olds. Also worth mentioning is reigning NL MVP Buster Posey, with 12.1 WAR in what basically amounts to two seasons of playing time. Catchers usually seem to have a lower WAR standard than other positions though, including in the Hall of Fame, so we can probably consider him at least as close to the target as Jackson and Sandoval, if not closer.

    Age 26-120 Hall of Famers, median of 20.2

    And, with another big jump, there’s only one player ahead of the curve. Evan Longoria’s 28.5 WAR gives him a large buffer over the Hall median. After him, it falls off steeply, with Asdrubal Cabrera (17.1) next. The only other players with even half of the necessary WAR are Carlos Gonzalez (13.9), Adam Jones (13.2), and Matt Wieters (11.5, although, like with Posey, he’s probably unfairly dinged in WAR by virtue of being a catcher).

    Age 27-123 Hall of Famers, median of 25.1

    Now we’re finally back to multiple players passing the threshold. Ryan Zimmerman leads the way, with a 28.7 mark that gives him a comfy 3.6 WAR lead on the pace. And, even with missing most of last season to injury, Troy Tulowitzki clears 25 WAR too, with 25.7. After that is, again, a drop-off, led by Matt Kemp at 18.2. If he had only been healthy last year, he might have wound up within striking distance, but alas, it was not to be. Of the rest, only B.J. Upton has even half of the WAR necessary to match the Hall median (and just barely, at that, at 13.1).

    Now, this is by no means that a player is on pace for a Hall of Fame career. Lets take age 24, for example. By ranking the best pre-24 careers in history, the Hall median of 10.7 has been matched 169 times, with several near-misses. With 114 Hall of Famers in the sample, that means that only 57 of those 169 above that mark made it to the Hall eventually.

    However, it’s worth noting that another 34 of those players haven’t even gone through one Hall election yet, and another three are still on the ballot. Of the remaining 132 seasons, that means over 43% of the players to top the Hall median were eventual Hall of Famers (if my math is right, of course). Not perfect, but still pretty good, and without a career projection tool, I’ll take that.

    Basically, I looked every hitter who had matched the median historically, then subtracted out players not eligible for the Hall yet and players still on the ballot. From that, I compared the number of Hall of Famers to the remainder.

    I would imagine that this chance gets better with younger players, but let’s test it 

    20: 47 Hall of Famers, 27 matched or topped 0.4 WAR
    116 players matched or topped it
    22 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet

    21: 77 Hall of Famers, 39 matched or topped 2.5 WAR
    107 players matched or topped it
    22 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet, plus 1 on the ballot last year

    22: 97 Hall of Famers, 51 matched or topped 3.9 WAR
    172 players matched or topped it
    37 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet, plus 2 on the ballot

    23: 108 Hall of Famers, 56 matched or topped 7.3 WAR
    163 players matched or topped it
    31 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet, plus 2 on the ballot

    24: 43% (see above) 

    25: 115 Hall of Famers, 58 matched or topped 16.4 WAR
    134 players matched or topped it
    24 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet, plus 3 on the ballot

    26: 120 Hall of Famers, 60 matched or topped 20.2 WAR
    138 players matched or topped it
    25 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet, plus 4 on the ballot

    27: 123 Hall of Famers, 62 matched or topped 25.1 WAR
    131 players matched or topped it
    25 haven’t been on a Hall ballot yet, plus 4 on the ballot

    So, it would appear I was exactly wrong. Taking no factors other than WAR and age into account, you can predict whether certain players will make the Hall with over 50% accuracy. And that’s not even taking into account near misses that should be in the Hall, like Bobby Grich, or Ted Simmons, or Dick Allen, or Lou Whitaker, or... (although I can’t imagine they swing the percentage much higher than 60%).

    Still, that seems pretty impressive. We think of ballplayers as having long careers, lasting until they’re in their 40s, etc. However, we can say 25-year old McCutchen has a greater than even chance of being a Hall of Famer based on precedent, even though he may very well have 15 years left in his career (and his chances of being worthy of the Hall by the time he hangs it up are probably already around 60%).

    Heck, by the time they reach 27, the chance of just being a Hall of Famer (not Hall-worthy, just being inducted) is already around 60%. Now, not reaching these marks isn’t an automatic condemnation of their chances-obviously half of Cooperstown’s hitters didn’t even reach them. But the next time someone says a lot can happen and it’s too early to be thinking about Player X’s Hall probably isn’t.

    Check back soon for a look at pitchers.

    EDIT: For the sequels to this study, see here and here.


    1. Good stuff. This is a good early indicator of chances. I suspect that adding high individual seasons (over 6 WAR, perhaps) would also factor in heavily. The Hall of Fame usually looks for a strong peak as well.

      1. Possibly. I just figured I'd start with something simple. I'm surprised it's as accurate a predictor as it is, though.