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    Thursday, March 4, 2021

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2021 Edition

    I wasn’t sure if I should do an entry in my annual Future Hall of Fame series this year. In the wake of the shortened 2020 season, I just wasn’t sure how meaningful players’ stats (especially their Wins Above Replacement) would be.

    But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while the specifics differ, players in history have missed time for various reasons: from the labor stoppages of the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the players serving during wartime, to players who got later starts due to the color line barring non-white players, to the less centralized league structure from the turn of the century. Shoot, in the past versions of this series, I’ve even noted that the latest debut for a Hall of Fame position player was Jackie Robinson, or that Ichiro Suzuki debuted just a year shy of Robinson’s mark; they certainly could have been in the league and racking up counting stats much earlier than they did.

    So sure, not every generation has dealt with missed time, but it’s not uncommon. And it’s hard to tell how Hall voters will react to different reasons for missed time, but it’s probably for the best to not try and guess those things just yet, and instead just report the stats as they are.

    So with all of that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on to the article proper. As a reminder, the process for this article is: first, I look at every Hall of Fame position player at a given age, say, where they were at 21, sorting by Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement. The midpoint of that gives me the median WAR; then, I look at how many players in history have had that much WAR through that age. This gives me the percentages. So, to make an example with fake data, if half of the Hall of Famers had 2.0 through age 21, and 50 of 100 players with 2.0 WAR through that age eventually made the Hall of Fame (filtering out non-eligible players and ones still on the ballot), then our percentage is that 50% of position players with 2.0 WAR through age 21 went on to make the Hall of Fame.

    This of course comes with a number of caveats. This is entirely descriptive, and won’t be able to predict things like how the voters will react to steroid users or something. This also obviously doesn’t predict whether a player will go on to deserve induction and get snubbed (a number of the false positives are in fact players I would argue should be inducted). And of course, missing these marks isn’t a death sentence for a player’s chance at Cooperstown; by definition, half of the Hall of Famers didn’t reach these totals. This is mostly just to give us an idea of younger players’ chances at reaching the Hall; after all, they don’t just suddenly appear, fully-formed, with a Hall case ready to go. It takes years to build to that, and we can watch in real time as it happens.

    Now then, we can move on to the post-2020 results! Players are listed based on their ages from the 2020 season.

    Age 20: 0.55 WAR Median; 29.91% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Perhaps unsurprisingly given the weird circumstances last year, there were no 20-year-old position players who passed the Hall median for their age. Luis Garcia of the Nationals was the only one who even played in the Majors, and he landed on -0.1 WAR.

    Age 21: 2.0 WAR Median; 33.55% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Juan Soto (9.7 WAR)
    Fernando Tatis Jr. (7.0 WAR)
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2.1 WAR)

    While there were no 20-year-old position players above the Hall median, all three of 2019’s 20-year-olds returned and remained about the Hall median for their age bracket. Of particular interest is Tatis, who just signed a $340 million deal to keep him in San Diego through 2034, a date so far in the future still that it does not immediately register as a year in my head yet. Honestly, I’m a big fan of the move, though; there’s even a good chance Tatis comes out underpaid, but it seems like a reasonable gamble for both sides. Also, Hall of Fame guru Jay Jaffe wrote about his Hall chances the other day, and he puts the odds right around the same range that I have them, which feels pretty validating.

    Age 22: 4.0 WAR Median; 35.14% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Ronald Acuña Jr. (12.1 WAR)

    Acuña missed out a good chunk of a pretty good season for him, but it might hurt a little less given that he’s already set through the 2022 season. Bo Bichette is the one who needed that extra time a little more. Bichette is already low on service time, between a late call-up in 2019 and injuries costing him half of the already-shortened 2020 season, but he’s still managed to reach 3.2 WAR in just 75 games. There’s a good chance he has a good enough 2021 to make it above the 7.6 WAR mark he’ll need next anyway, but I think a full season would have given him the chance to get ahead of schedule even earlier. After him is AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Luis Robert at 1.8, and again, with a full season, I think he very well could have debuted above his age median.

    Age 23: 7.65 WAR Median; 41.71% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Ozzie Albies (11.6 WAR)

    Once again, we have a single Brave above the median and a handful of players who probably could have made it with more games; that’s what happens with how low some of these early WAR totals are. Albies had something of a down year even ignoring injuries, but like his teammate, he has a buffer built up to help with that.

    Meanwhile, below the line, there’s Gleyber Torres (6.6 WAR), Rafael Devers (6.3), Victor Robles (4.3), and Yordan Álvarez (3.8), none of whom had a particularly great 2020 (I would normally specify that it was their on-the-field years that weren’t great, but I have a feeling most people’s personal lives were also rough in 2020).

    Age 24: 11.1 WAR Median; 43.50% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Cody Bellinger (18.9 WAR)

    Bellinger also had something of a down year after his MVP-winning 2019, but it wasn’t as bad as some: 1.7 WAR, so like, maybe still borderline-All-Star level? Also, I imagine winning the World Series would help ease any disappointment on that front.

    His World Series foe Willy Adames is the runner-up, and this is where the missed time is really starting to hurt. Adames seemed to have taken a step forward from what we saw in 2020, and he finished with 7.4 WAR. That might seem a little far away, but considering that he was worth nearly 2.0 Wins in 54 games, it wasn’t unreasonable to think he might have made it. And even if he didn’t get the full 3.7 that he needed, even another 2 or 3 would have put him in a good position to make up the rest of the difference in 2021. We’ll just have to wait and see if this issue compounds for him going forward.

    Age 25: 16.1 WAR Median; 49.68% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Carlos Correa (26.3 WAR)

    It can be easy to forget just how good Carlos Correa has been, given all of his injuries, but he’s still incredibly good when he’s made it on the field. It’s not every day you see a shortstop with over 100 homers through his age-25 season. He managed to stay on the field for most of 2020, but given that he still ended up with an injury just before the playoffs, maybe it wouldn’t have lasted through a full 162 games. Hopefully he can play a full, healthy season once again some day, and given that 2021 is his final year before free agency, I’m sure he’d also prefer to see it sooner rather than later. The nearest miss after him is Andrew Benintendi, but given that he’s only at 9.8 WAR and his 2020 season was injury-marred and unremarkable, I don’t think he had much of a shot to close the gap to the median.

    Age 26: 20.8 WAR Median; 53.06% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Francisco Lindor (28.7 WAR)
    Alex Bregman (23.4 WAR)

    New Met Lindor is already set through this season, so even if he experiences some Mets-related bad luck, he should be fine for now. Bregman, meanwhile, probably would have passed his age-27 mark with a full 2020, but it’s just another casualty of the shortened year. But the biggest losses in that department go to Corey Seager and Ketel Marte. Seager was having what would have been a career-year, and almost certainly would have passed the 20.8 mark with 100 more games; instead, he sits at 17.8, and he’ll need to stave off a slump this year. Marte didn’t have quite as good a year as Seager, so it’s not a given that he would have made it to the median, but he’s at 16.6 WAR as is. A few extra Wins in 2020 would have made catching up to the median in 2021 would be that much easier.

    Age 27: 25.9 WAR Median; 58.09% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Mookie Betts (45.4 WAR)
    Manny Machado (39.8 WAR)
    Bryce Harper (33.7 WAR)
    José Ramírez (28.1 WAR)

    Having four players above the median for a single age bracket is uncommon, but having that many in one group who are all a year ahead of schedule is extremely rare. The age-27 bunch didn’t quite hit that… but with a full season, it’s not hard to imagine that Ramírez would have made it. And this group might have even set more records; Xander Bogaerts (23.0), Matt Chapman (21.0), and Trevor Story (21.0) all finished close to the line, although Chapman had some injuries that might have cost him a full season anyway. I can’t even remember seeing a seven-person group from one age bracket all above the Hall line in a given year.

    But even disregarding the quantity, missing a full year was still rough. Manny Machado was on pace for his best season yet, and Betts had a chance to top his historic 2018. Again, maybe the wear and tear of a full season would have prevented it, but it sucks that we’ll never get a definitive answer.

    Age 28: 31.6 WAR Median; 65.57%% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Mike Trout (74.6 WAR)
    Christian Yelich (32.3 WAR)

    Speaking of things you don’t see too often, Mike Trout has over double the career value of the next closest person of his age. In non-WAR terms, he passed 300 homers last season, and should cross the 1500 hit mark this year with reasonable health. Yelich, meanwhile, had a down year in 2020 on top of the shortened season, but had enough of a buffer to stay just ahead of the Hall median. He does need a bounce back campaign in 2021 to stay on track, though. Of note, this is about the halfway point on the road to the overall Hall median in Wins Above Replacement, so a permanent downturn now could easily sink a player’s chances. On that note, Kris Bryant is pretty far below where he needs to be next year (24.3 Wins) after several disappointing seasons. I wonder if it’s something to do with hostility with his team, given the trade rumors around him that have become so prominent, particularly in the wake of the Arenado trade. Maybe a change of scenery could jumpstart him?

    Age 29: 36.1 WAR Median; 72.07% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Nolan Arenado (39.1 WAR)

    Speaking of the Arenado trade (wow, am I doing a good job of leading myself into the next topic), the new Cardinals third baseman is on the brink of hitting 40 WAR. His offense took a hit in 2020, but he still put up solid value thanks to his normal stellar defense. Still, I’m hoping for a return to form this year. It did feel like a number of good players had bad seasons last year, and I wonder how much of that was due to general stress over the pandemic. Surely, it got to some players, right? Not that we have a reliable way to empirically test that, even if some of them improve in 2021. Either way, after Arenado, the nearest misses in this bunch are Marcus Semien (22.3) and Marcell Ozuna (21.1).

    Age 30: 40.1 WAR Median; 74.07% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Giancarlo Stanton (41.0 WAR)

    This is one of the areas where this exercise will get tough. Last year, this age bracket had five players above their Hall median, however, none of them were a year ahead of schedule (probably because having 40 WAR by the age of 30 is, technically speaking, extremely difficult). And on top of that, they’re all weird cases.

    At the top, there’s Stanton, who managed to tread water despite only playing 41 games over the last two seasons. Thankfully, he hasn’t been bad when he’s played during that time, so a full season might do enough to keep him on track. Granted, how likely is a full season? Like, it’s not only his fault he played just 23 games in 2020, but how many games would he have had to sit out in a full year? I wouldn’t be shocked if he is below the threshold this time next year.

    Then, there’s Freddie Freeman. Despite winning the MVP award in 2020, there weren’t enough games for him to keep up with the Hall pace, in part due to tweaks to Baseball-Reference’s WAR formula before the 2020 season costing him 1.7 WAR. Freeman never had a big lead on the pace, taking until 2016 to make it above the Hall projection, and so his 3.2 WAR last year landed him at only 38.8 for his career. Losing so much of a peak year, especially one as good as Freeman’s, is rough, but I have to imagine he’ll get more credit than most given the recognition he still got. Hopefully he has a good enough year to make it back here.

    Jason Heyward is somehow third? After going through a rough patch that goes all the way back to the start of his Cubs deal, Heyward’s 50 games last year made for what looked like his best season since 2015, and included his best offensive output (rate-wise, at least) since his rookie year back in 2010. I honestly have no idea if he can keep this up? He has a lot of ground to make up, sitting at 38.4 WAR, but it’s not like that doesn’t describe everyone else here.

    Andrelton Simmons had an especially rough 2020, culminating in him opting out of the last week of the season. Hopefully, he’s in a better place this year, and it shows up on the field. As is, he has 36.8 career WAR.

    Jose Altuve, like Freeman, took a while to climb above the Hall median for his age, finally reaching it in 2017, so he didn’t have a huge buffer to work with. Unlike Freeman, he had an outright-bad 2020, on top of injuries, and it’s left him even further from returning to Hall pace, at 36.5 WAR. Seeing all of these players who were once above the line and now aren’t is partly what got me wondering about how it might be seen down the line by voters. Hopefully, they’ll at least keep it in mind, but it can be hard to tell, especially this far out.

    Then, there’s a handful of players who were in the honorable mention level last year. Anthony Rizzo was once above the median, but slipped below it a few years ago. His 2020 season wasn’t bad, but wasn’t really what he needed to count as a turnaround even before considering the pandemic. He sits at 34.5 career WAR right now. Anthony Rendon (31.2) and George Springer (27.5), in contrast, had pretty great 2020s, and are behind in part due to late debuts. They really could have used the extra playing time to help make up for the existing gaps.

    Age 31: 44.7 WAR Median; 76.92% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Elvis Andrus is the closest at 30.5 WAR, but it’s been a while since he’s been on schedule here.

    Age 32: 49.1 WAR Median; 79.21% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Last year, I mentioned that Paul Goldschmidt would need to have a pretty good season after his Cardinals debut campaign was on the rough side and he dropped below the median (again, he had a late debut, with his first full season at the age of 24), but sure enough, his batting average on balls in play returned to where it was before, and his offense rebounded. Of course, the shortened season meant he couldn’t catch all the way back up (he’s at 45.1 career WAR), but it does make you feel a little more confident about his chances to have a few more good seasons and make up the difference eventually. After Goldschmidt, Justin Upton is the next closest (33.9), but like Andrus, it’s been a while since he was above the median.

    Age 33: 51.4 WAR Median; 76.92% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Andrew McCutchen has had a rough few years, between his injury that cut short what looked like a resurgent 2019 and then the pandemic last year. Granted, his 2020 wasn’t as good, but again, it’s hard to tell how much of that was the result of everything going off the rails. On the one hand, his 44.6 WAR is about three-quarters of the way to the overall position player median, but at the same time, it’s hard to give too rosy of a projection when his last few years have felt stuck in neutral. Players only get so much time, and two years is a lot to miss out on.

    Also, while he sat out 2020, Buster Posey is right there with McCutchen, at 41.8 WAR. Of course, catchers generally aren’t held to the same statistical standards due to the greater demands of the position, so he’s still in a pretty good place, even if he isn’t at this mark.

    Age 34: 54.4 WAR Median; 78.43% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Evan Longoria (56.7 WAR)

    Evan Longoria is another case where I’m worried the shortened season might actually matter, if only because it’s extremely easy to imagine Hall voters underrating him. He’s going to need as many points in his favor as he can get, and missing time means missed chances to put up higher career totals. Either way, he’s more or less still a solid every day player, and a few more seasons like that are all he needs to climb the rest of the way to the overall median. And hitting the age 35 mark this season really shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

    Also of note here is Josh Donaldson at 41.5 Wins, which is kind of far away, but shouldn’t be a problem for Donaldson at his best. He’s only a year removed from an MVP-type campaign. It’s just… wow, is his playing time low, with only 1066 games played in parts of ten seasons. Half of those ten seasons saw him fail to play under 81 games, even (and even in a shortened 2020, he still missed half of the games). It’s shocking that he’s put up a WAR total that large, given that. Who knows what it means for the next few years, too; can he put up yet another 6-Win season like 2019? That would close the gap a good amount.

    Age 35: 57.2 WAR Median; 79.21% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    There’s nobody here, and unlike the last few nobody-years, there’s not even an interesting miss. Justin Turner (29.5) and Matt Kemp (21.6) are the only ones with even 20 career Wins.

    Age 36: 60.2 WAR Median; 83.33% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Joey Votto (62.1 WAR)

    It shocks me a little that Joey Votto still has three years on his contract (plus a team option!). I was worried he might not have the time left to make it to various milestones, like that 63 Win total or 2000 hits (currently at 1908) or 300 homers (295), but with at least three more seasons, he should be fine even if he suffers an injury in 2021 or something. Also, it’s a little shocking his counting stats are so low, but again, he didn’t play a full season until he was 24. On top of that, his extreme patience makes it hard, since he’s taken 1217 walks. Not that those are bad (in fact, he has a .419 career OBP!), just that voters usually don’t give them their proper due. It made me go check out the career walk leaderboard, and Votto is currently 57th all-time. Another 200 (just throwing out a number) gets him to 26th, right in between Frank Robinson and Wade Boggs. It kind of makes me want to set a milestone mark for walk totals, in the vein of 3000 hits or 500 walks. Maybe another time.

    Age 37: 61.4 WAR Median; 84.21% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Miguel Cabrera (69.6 WAR)
    Robinson Cano (69.1 WAR)

    I feel like both of these entries are pretty self-explanatory either way. Technically, Miguel Cabrera is under contract for even longer than Votto, since he has vesting options for both 2024 and 2025, but it’s not like he needs to do much more to secure his spot at the podium down the line. I mean, ideally he’d hit some more big milestones, since he’s already at 487 homers and 2866 hits, but even if he decided to step away right this second to co-star on Prince Fielder’s cooking show or something, Hall voters would still have no problem voting for him. Which is good, since his last few years have been pretty rough.

    Robinson Canó, in sharp contrast, looks like he could still be a useful contributor on a winning team even at 38, if not for the fact that he keeps getting popped for performance enhancing drugs. He won’t hit the field again until 2022 at the earliest thanks to another suspension, and he is, like Cabrera and Votto, locked up through 2023 (but with no options this time). It probably doesn’t matter, though; if Manny Ramirez isn’t getting in with his two steroid suspensions, Canó’s chances are probably nil for the foreseeable future.

    We should also mention Yadier Molina here, who sits at 40.4 WAR. Of course, catchers have a lower WAR bar to clear, so his chances are still very much alive. It also helps that his WAR total probably underrates him; Fangraphs credits him with a decent amount of value for pitch framing (B-R doesn’t use it in their formula), and that isn’t counting all of the other aspects of catcher defense that don’t get included in either version of the stat. I was skeptical of his case for a while, but I think Yadier’s a lock for the Hall at this point, unless he pulls a Canó or something.

    Age 38: 62.2 WAR Median; 86.02% of all players at this mark elected
    Age 39: 61.6 WAR Median; 84.21% of all players at this mark elected
    Age 40: 62.8 WAR Median; 86.96% of all players at this mark elected
    Overall: 63.0 WAR Median; 87.91% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Albert Pujols (100.7 WAR)

    2021 is the last year of Pujols’s ten-year contract with the Angels, and very likely the final year of his career. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s still pretty obvious that he’s going into the Hall on his first ballot in 2027 or whenever, with the big question being whether he can get 100% of the vote, joining Mariano Rivera in that club (and maybe someone else by then, perhaps Adrian Beltre or Ichiro Suzuki? We’ll see). The only other position player in these age groups who’s still active is Nelson Cruz, who has 39.7 Wins to his name and counting. I don’t really know what to make of his case, especially since he’s still really good, but I’m curious to see how long he can keep this up. I hope he at least plays long enough to build a case that makes things difficult for Hall voters.

    And with that, part one for the year is complete. Check back soon for the follow-up dealing with pitchers!

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