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    Monday, March 14, 2022

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2022 Edition

    I’m not going to lie, I thought I would have a little more time to write this. I put off starting this year’s edition of the Future Hall of Fame Series, since I sort of assumed we’d be missing large chunks of the season, and I would have to say something about having shortened seasons two out of the last three years, and then… we avoided the problem. I suppose it’s likely we’ll have a similar issue five years down the line when the brand-new CBA expires, and most of these players will still be around for that… but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    For now, though, a quick refresher on what this series does: First, I find the approximate “Median Career by Age” for Hall of Fame players, by looking at all AL and NL* position players in Cooperstown year by year. So I line them up by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement at age 20, age 21, and so on, and just follow where the middle of the pack lands.

    *I usually omit other major leagues for simplicity’s sake, since they’re usually a little too different to the modern game in their schedule and such. But it’s an issue I sometimes try and revisit; I just haven’t come up with a good way to do it yet.

    Then, I look at how many Hall-eligible players in history have reached that median total by the same age, and see what percentage the Hall of Famers represent. So, if the midpoint for Hall of Famers at age 21 is 2.0, with 50 above the line and 50 below; and 100 total Hall-eligible players in history have reached the 2.0 WAR mark by 21, our equation would be:

    (50 Hall of Famers over 2.0) / (100 total players over 2.0) = 50% of players to reach the median by this age have gone on to be Hall of Famers

    Players are grouped by their ages last season, so the players in the Age 20 group are in the clear through age 20, and will be working on the Age 21 mark in 2022 (and so on). With all of that out of the way, we can begin our breakdown:

    Age 20: 0.4 WAR Median; 28.70% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Wander Franco (3.5 WAR)

    After everything that went on this past winter, it’s kind of wild that Franco only got 70 games last year. I was all ready to call him “reigning AL Rookie of the Year”, because the 202-22 offseason went on forever and I’ve forgotten everything that happened last year, including how long Tampa stashed him in the minors at the start of the season. Franco was of course a prime example of a super-two player, kept in the minors to squeeze out an extra year of service time. I’m not sure if the new CBA’s rules on service time will totally end that process, but it’s definitely the case that any rule that incentivizes a Major League team to keep a 20-year-old shortstop who can manage a 130 OPS+ on their minor league rosters is fundamentally broken. And then, that gaming of the system didn’t even end up mattering anyway, since Franco signed an 11-year, $182 million deal anyway.

    Age 21: 2.0 WAR Median; 35.81% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Luis Garcia and Geraldo Perdomo lead the way here, with 0.3 WAR. And note, this isn’t the Astros pitcher who finished ahead of Franco in the Rookie of the Year voting; I’m not including pitching WAR in these rankings, and that Luis Garcia is only at -0.1 on that count (in addition to being 25 years old). This Luis Garcia is instead the lower-profile middle infielder for the Nationals.

    Age 22: 4.3 WAR Median; 38.92% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Juan Soto (17.6 WAR)
    Fernando Tatis Jr. (13.6 WAR)
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (9.5 WAR)

    This is one of those age brackets that’s going to be fun to watch going forward, just absolutely stacked with talent, including both 2021 MVP runners-up and one third-place finisher. Vlad Jr. is set through this year, Tatis is good through 2023, and Soto already set through the 2024 season. I almost feel bad for Dylan Carlson and Akil Baddoo, who aren’t that far off the Hall pace (3.3 and 2.1 WAR) but are still completely overshadowed.

    Age 23: 7.55 WAR Median; 41.57% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Ronald Acuña Jr. (14.9 WAR)
    Bo Bichette (9.3 WAR)

    Luis Robert (5.4) is the runner-up here, and there’s a good chance he would have made it if not for his injury last year. Actually, between him and Acuña, this group had some rough injury luck this year. Acuña is at least set through this year, and a year ahead of pace is a lot better than playing catch-up.

    Age 24: 11.0 WAR Median; 42.54% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Ozzie Albies (14.4 WAR)

    Another Brave tops this group; he hasn’t quite reached the peaks of his teammate yet, but Albies is still running comfortably ahead of pace for now. Rafael Devers just missed the line, at 10.8 WAR, but I’m still skeptical he can make it up next year; age 25 represents the first big jump in the median trend with a 5.1 bWAR increase, and even accounting for shortened seasons, Devers has only reached that pace once in his career. Kyle Tucker (7.6) is in a distant third place, although I wouldn’t be shocked if he passes Devers in the next few years.

    Age 25: 16.1 WAR Median; 51.97% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Cody Bellinger (16.7 WAR)

    Yes, even with his atrocious 2021 campaign, which Baseball-Reference pegged at -1.5 WAR, Bellinger is still technically above the Hall median. If he holds on and makes it to Cooperstown, that wouldn’t make it the worst season by a Hall of Famer, but it would definitely be the worst one that didn’t come during the player’s late 30s or early 40s. The Hall is for the exceptional, and we’re dealing with small sample sizes, so you can never totally rule things out… but his position on this list still looks extremely precarious no matter what. Willy Adames (11.1) is second, and a mere 10-WAR season from qualifying in 2022.

    Age 26: 21.0 WAR Median; 56.25% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Carlos Correa (34.1 WAR)

    This one’s notable for a variety of reasons. Obviously, there’s the fact that Correa is still unsigned as of this writing. There’s the size of the buffer; Correa is set through the 2023 season, with 2024 within spitting distance (no small feat given the rapid increase in the median for these years). And then, there’s the fact that Correa is currently the youngest player that’s over halfway to the overall Hall of Fame median for position players (61.8 WAR). It might get lost in the contract discussions, but even if Correa ends up being overpaid by his next deal, it will still likely be the back-half of a Hall of Fame career. Runner-up Yoán Moncada is barely over one-third of the way to Correa’s current total (12.6).

    Age 27: 25.8 WAR Median; 59.56% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Francisco Lindor (31.1 WAR)
    Alex Bregman (26.1 WAR)

    Lindor also just eked past the Overall Halfway line in 2021. His Mets debut might not have been his best, but it wound up being solid enough to keep him trending in the right direction. He’s set up through 2022, although hopefully he’s settled into things in his second go-around and we get to see more of his peak. After Lindor, we see Correa’s past (and possibly future?) partner on the left side of the infield. Injuries have slowed him down the last few years, but he’s generally been good enough while he could play. Of course, these are the ages where the margin for error drops sharply, so Bregman needs a healthy 2022 to keep up. New Ranger Corey Seager (21.3) and hot trade target Matt Olson (18.1) are the runners-up, although both are at the point where they’ll need two or more consecutive great seasons to catch up with the median line.

    Age 28: 31.0 WAR Median; 64.57% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Mookie Betts (50.0 WAR)
    Manny Machado (45.2 WAR)
    Bryce Harper (40.1 WAR)
    José Ramírez (34.3 WAR)

    This is always such a stacked group to be writing about. Had Betts not missed 40 games last season, it’s almost certain that he would be set up all the way through the 2026 season. The only thing that keeps that fact from being even more incredible is who’s coming up in the next age group. But even in, in the incredibly remote chance that Betts can repeat his 2018, 10.7-bWAR campaign… he’d be set up all the way through his age 40 season.

    And that’s only the start with this bunch. Machado is “only” good through the 2024 season, despite the fact that the next three age ranges see the median jump an average of 4.4 Wins per year. Another fun fact, if Machado can duplicate his 2021 season this year (not even his stronger 2020 rates), he’d edge past Ryan Klesko into a tie for 18th-most WAR by a Padre. Technically, a good season from Fernando Tatis can knock that down another spot, but still, in under three and a half seasons with the team, Machado will be in the franchise’s top 20.

    It’s wild that Harper can be coming off his second MVP season and come in third for his age group, but that’s just how tough this bunch is. And José Ramírez is in fourth only because he can’t sit out an entire season and remain above his age bracket’s median. And none of this is even getting into Xander Bogaerts (29.2) being within striking distance, or free agent Trevor Story (26.7) and free-agent-to-be Trea Turner (24.7) putting up strong numbers.

    Age 29: 35.6 WAR Median; 70.69% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Mike Trout (76.1 WAR)

    Four years ago, during the 2018 season, Mike Trout passed the current bWAR median for position players in Cooperstown. Keep in mind, that was only his eighth season, meaning that even if he had retired at that point, he wouldn’t have been eligible for induction. Everything since then has just been climbing up the leaderboards.

    The next three names down the list are a mix of players with MVP-ceilings but also a lot of downside. Christian Yelich (33.4) hasn’t come anywhere close to his 2018-9 peak over the last two seasons, and he finally burned up his buffer and slipped below the trendline. And that means he’s going to need another MVP-type season to get back over the line next year. We’ll see if a change of scenery can get Kris Bryant (28.7) back on pace as well. And Aaron Judge (26.4) probably has the best track record of this trio at this point, but his late start (his rookie season came at age 25) has meant that it’s always been an uphill battle for him.

    Age 30: 39.9 WAR Median; 74.11% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Nolan Arenado (44.3 WAR)

    It’s not as big as some of the leads we’ve seen, but Arenado is set for the 2022 season and can start working to the 48.6 he needs by the end of 2023. And if his second season in St. Louis can reach his pre-pandemic levels, the age-33 marker isn’t too much further than that.

    The runners-up aren’t particularly close, but they are at least interesting; Marcus Semien (28.7) was pretty disappointing in 2020, but it also came sandwiched between two seasons finishing third in MVP voting. If that year had just been a normal year, would his performance have improved? And how close would it get him? It probably won’t wind up being the make-or-break factor of a Hall case, but you never know. And J.T. Realmuto (23.3) is the first catcher we’ve come across. The standards for catchers are usually a little lower due to their greater wear and tear, but Realmuto is still pretty far off… he’s definitely going to need a strong next few years to have any shot at the Hall.

    Age 31: 44.3 WAR Median; 77.57% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    This is another area where the shortened 2020 season is going to stand out. Technically, Giancarlo Stanton (44.1) falls short, but even with his injury-marred year, it’s hard to argue that 0.3 Wins was an impossible bar for him to clear. And Freddie Freeman (43.1) is further off the mark, but also, we’re talking a difference of 1.2 WAR in a literal MVP campaign. And Jose Altuve (41.4) is the furthest off, but a -0.2 WAR 2020 sandwiched in between a string of 4-to-5 Win seasons really stands out. After those three, we have Jason Heyward (39.4) and Andrelton Simmons (37.3), and 2020 will probably not be the make-or-break factor in their eventual Cooperstown cases.

    Age 32: 48.6 WAR Median; 77.57% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Starling Marte (34.8) leads this bunch. It’s probably a no, but who knows, maybe his breakout last year is sustainable, and he becomes a true star in the Mets outfield. I wouldn’t bet on it or anything, but at the same time, stranger things have happened.

    Age 33: 50.5 WAR Median; 75.15% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Paul Goldschmidt (50.7 WAR)

    For just the second time in his career (mostly thanks to a relatively-late debut), Goldschmidt is above the Hall of Fame median for his age group. He probably would have pushed back over the line last year had 2020 been a full season, but he wasted no time making up the difference last year. I mentioned back in my Hall of Fame results breakdown that Todd Helton was on pace for induction in 2024 or 2025. I would like to note that his numbers through age 33 are pretty similar to where Goldy is now, especially if you adjust for park and era differences. And Helton’s last six seasons saw him average 112 games per year while mustering just a 104 OPS+, which at least feels like a manageable bar for Goldschmidt to surpass.

    Age 34: 54.1 WAR Median; 76.85% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Andrew McCutchen (46.0) probably needs at least one or two more All-Star-type campaigns to get back into the conversation, and sadly, I don’t know if he has it in him.

    Age 35: 55.8 WAR Median; 75.45% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Evan Longoria (57.4 WAR)

    On May 28th of last year, I published an article* talking about what a good start to the season Evan Longoria was having, and how it might shore up a Hall of Fame case. On June 5th, he sprained his shoulder in a fielding collision with Brandon Crawford, which kept him out until mid-August. He looked good for about a week, but then missed the end of the month and the start of September with hand issues, which seem to have affected his performance upon return. All of which is to say, maybe I’ll just keep my mouth shut next time.

    Anyway, Longoria remains in a precarious spot. He’s within sight of the overall Hall median; a season like his last one but without injury should get him over the line. But if the injuries become too much, he also wouldn’t be the first person to drop down this late in the game (there’s a reason the median continues to go up and the induction rate climbs with it, even at these ages).
    *One thing I mentioned in that article that’s worth updating on: the rule of 2000 hits from Jay Jaffe, that no position player in the post-WWII/Integration era has been inducted without at least 2000 hits. Well, in the most recent Veterans Committee induction, both Gil Hodges and Tony Oliva were selected with fewer than that, so at the very least, it’s no longer totally unprecedented for anyone who falls a little short.

    I still feel like I should mention Josh Donaldson (44.4) here as well. Yeah, he’s way off the mark, but he managed all of this in a ridiculously compressed timeframe (his first full season didn’t come until 2013!), and he’s still good. It probably won’t be enough to convince Hall voters, ultimately, but it’s still definitely worth appreciating. (Edit: An hour after I wrote this, Donaldson was traded to the Yankees, which might make appreciating him this year a little harder…)

    Age 36: 57.6 WAR Median; 76.85% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Active age-group leader Ryan Zimmerman (40.1) retired this offseason, leaving Justin Turner (32.6) atop this list. He hasn’t quite matched Donaldson’s peaks, but Turner has still done pretty well for himself despite the late breakout.

    Age 37: 59.5 WAR Median; 82.18% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Joey Votto (64.6 WAR)

    Votto is just our second player already past the overall Hall median, thanks to a strong 2021 that not only got him over the line, but also got him past a few other milestones (including 2000 hits and 300 home runs). And it’s anecdotal, but I feel like I’m starting to see more people accepting that he’s a Future Hall of Famer as well, which is an important sign. But if he can make the last two-to-three years of his contract (counting the extra option year) reasonable, I imagine it will only seal the deal even further.

    Age 38: 60.1 WAR Median; 82.18% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Robinson Canó (69.6 WAR)
    Miguel Cabrera (68.7 WAR)

    In contrast, the end of Cabrera’s megadeal (two more years, plus two vesting option years) feels like it’ll be a lot more frustrating. I kind of wonder if he’s going to play for the entire thing, or just ride out the year after reaching 3000 hits some time in the first month of the season, then hang it up afterwards. His legacy is safe either way, and I can’t imagine this having any effect on his performance on the Hall ballot, so it’s mostly just idle speculation.

    Inversely, a second failed PED test and the missed 2021 season that resulted means that Robinson Canó has basically no shot at Cooperstown either way. He could have been racing Cabrera to 3000 hits, but nope. Also entering his age-39 season is Yadier Molina, who announced this season will be his last. As mentioned, catchers usually have different, slightly lower WAR standards, so Yadi’s 42.1 bWAR shouldn’t be at all disqualifying when he eventually reaches the ballot.

    Age 39: 60.5 WAR Median; 83.84% of all players at this mark elected
    Age 40: 60.5 WAR Median; 83.84% of all players at this mark elected
    Overall: 61.8 WAR Median; 84.69% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Albert Pujols (99.6 WAR)

    The Designated Hitter coming to the NL seems like the perfect excuse for Albert to return to St. Louis, and have one final season with long-time teammates Molina and Adam Wainwright* before they all hang it up. I have no idea if it will actually play out that way, but now that the rules are official, it feels hard to see it playing out any other way. But then again, if he goes elsewhere, I guess it’s not going to look that much weirder than him wearing #55 for the Dodgers.

    *Related fun fact: partially by outlasting the rest of his age cohort, and partially by managing an OPS+ of 37 as a pitcher, Wainwright now leads all 40-year-old players with 4.3 position player WAR.

    And speaking of beneficiaries of the expanded DH, right before I started this section, news broke of Nelson Cruz signing with the Nationals. At 42.4 WAR, he’s definitely not going to reach that 61.8 WAR mark, but 500 homers remains in play. It’ll still take two seasons, though, and at his age, anything more than one season can become out of reach; remember when Edwin Encarnacion hit 34 home runs, was only 86 away from 500, and then fell apart after only hitting 10 more? He was in his age 37 season when he collapsed. Or what about Johnny Damon, who was still a productive hitter with under 300 hits until 3000? He wound up dropping off a cliff at 38, and finished that season (and his career) with only 2769. Again, Cruz is already older than both of them, so maybe he’s dodged a bullet, and double the DH spots means more chances for him to latch on somewhere. But who can say; I’ll be rooting for him, at least (if for no other reason than I’m sure it will make for some fun Hall of Fame debates).

    And with that, we can bring the first half of this series to a close; hopefully, the pitchers half will be up soon as well!


    1. Favorite read to get excited about the season. Love being able to go back and read the old lists/articles.

    2. Great job pulling this data together. Very interesting to compare current players to HOFer's

      Those age 22 & 28 will be fun to watch at they progress in their careers.