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    Sunday, March 5, 2023

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2023 Edition (Tenth Anniversary!)

    Once again, we’re at the point in the offseason where I predict active players’ chances at making the Hall of Fame. And even more notably, this year marks the tenth anniversary of my first entry in the series, from all the way back in 2013! It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but it has.

    And I guess part of the reason it doesn’t feel that long is that the Hall of Fame kind of moves at a glacial pace. For example, the youngest stars I wrote about back in 2013? They’re entering their age 30 season this year (and they’ve posted a remarkable track record in that time, but more on that later!). In fact, very few of the players from my first article have even reached a Hall ballot, since I only covered players 30 and under in that entry.

    A number of those players have retired, sure (not all of them, though!), but it kind of serves as a real-time demonstration of how dramatically slow the Hall’s process is; you need to play for at least ten seasons (so even the 2013 thirty-year-olds likely needed a few more years to be eligible), then you need to wait five seasons after retiring, then you can finally be considered in that sixth year. I think the only names from those first articles to appear on the BBWAA ballot so far are Prince Fielder and Carl Crawford; how long has it been since you’ve thought about either of them?* You get a few more if you expand it the 2014 article, since I raised the bar to 35 that year, but on the other hand, that one also included Albert Pujols, who was of course so young that he was an All-Star as recently as last year!

    *Side note that I just had to drop somewhere: I casually glanced at Crawford’s Wikipedia page to see what he’d been doing since retirement, and it is a lot to take in. The high points include things like his son going in the first round of the draft last year, and the record label he founded signing hip-hop superstar Megan Thee Stallion. The low points include a lot of violence and getting sued by Megan over that contract. I was expecting maybe one or two small notes, not all of that. Fielder didn’t even get a post-career section on his page, and he had a cooking show!

    Anyway, with all of the sentimental stuff out of the way, let’s do a quick refresher of the method I use here. First, I take every Hall of Fame position player, and look at all of their career Wins Above Replacement totals (Baseball-Reference version) at each age. Then, I take the median for each year, to form a sort of “Median Hall of Famer Pace” to follow. From there, I look at how many players in history have been above the pace at each age, Hall member or not. I get the percentages for each age from just doing a simple calculation, (Number of Hall of Famers above the median pace) divided by (Total number of players above the median pace).

    So (to make up an example with fake numbers), if there were 100 Hall of Famers, and their median WAR at age 30 was 40.0 Wins, then I’d look at how many players in history had 40.0+ WAR by the same age. Say it was 100 players total, with 50 of them being in the Hall, we’d say players with over 40.0 WAR at that age have a 50% chance of induction. Also, I group players by their listed age the previous season, so players in the age 20 group will be playing in their age 21 season in 2023.

    Let me know in the comments if you have any questions. Otherwise, let’s jump right in:

    Age 20: 0.4 WAR Median; 23.91% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    There just really weren’t that many 20-year-old position players in the league last year. Only Francisco Álvarez and Ezequiel Tovar saw any playing time at all, totalling just 14 games and 49 plate appearances between them. That might sound normal, but it’s actually a little surprising, since the low WAR total helps offset the small player pool; in fact, 2022 is the first full season (so excluding 2020) since 2017 that we haven’t had an active 20-year-old who made it to the Hall median for the age!

    Age 21: 2.0 WAR Median; 35.76% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Julio Rodriguez (6.2 WAR)
    Wander Franco (6.1 WAR)
    Michael Harris II (5.3 WAR)

    In contrast with the Age 20 bracket, Age 21 is already packed with over-the-line players. We of course have our two reigning Rookies of the Year in Rodriguez and Harris, plus Franco, who makes it despite really only having two half-seasons under his belt so far. And even that set is only scratching the surface here.

    After them, you also have a pair of former first-round picks in Riley Greene and Corbin Carrol, who made it over halfway to 2.0 Wins in under 100 games (1.4 and 1.2, respectively), plus Gunnar Henderson (0.9) and Vaughn Grissom (0.8) just missing the halfway point despite neither hitting a major league roster until August (in fact, Henderson still maintains his Rookie status for 2023!). Given that the median bar is still fairly low for age-22 players, don’t be surprised if this age group has five or six names over the line when the next edition of the series rolls around.

    Age 22: 4.2 WAR Median; 38.15% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    And we’re right back into a slump. Alek Thomas leads this bunch with 1.4, but that means he needs a 6+ WAR season in 2023 to catch back up.

    Age 23: 7.6 WAR Median; 41.90% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Juan Soto (23.2 WAR)
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (13.4 WAR)
    Andrés Giménez (9.2 WAR)

    Soto is technically set on WAR all the way through the 2025 season, which will be his first year after reaching free agency. I imagine he’ll want to keep adding to his WAR total until then to see if he can land that $400 million+ contract. In contrast, Guerrero and Giménez will need to actually work to keep up with the rising median for their age group. I don’t necessarily doubt their ability to keep it up, it’s just worth remembering that this is where that Hall of Fame pace really starts to take off. And after them, you have Dylan Carlson (5.3 WAR) and Alejandro Kirk (5.1). Carlson could make it with a good season or two; Kirk probably won’t, but he will deserve some extra credit for being a catcher, so it’s worth keeping him in mind.

    Age 24: 11.1 WAR Median; 42.86% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Ronald Acuña Jr. (17.6 WAR)
    Bo Bichette (12.9 WAR)

    I was kind of shocked that Acuña is only one season ahead of pace, in large part because he’s topped out at around 5 Wins in a season. However, that’s mostly due to his 2021 injury, the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and his shortened rookie campaign. I’m sure there’s an alternate universe where he’s running two or three years ahead of schedule, although there’s also nothing saying he can’t get back to that point in this one. Similarly, I’m surprised Bichette is only this far ahead, but Baseball-Reference’s defensive metrics really didn’t like his 2022 performance. He should still make his 2023 target, though.

    Also, a shout out to AL Rookie of the Year runners-up Steven Kwan (5.5) and Adley Rutschman (5.2). Debuting that late is a big disadvantage in keeping up with the Hall’s pace, given that this is where the curve starts to accelerate. At this point, making up the difference is more about consistency over time than having one big year (we’ll even see an example or two of that later). Also, again, Adley being a catcher is another bonus towards his case.

    Age 25: 16.1 WAR Median; 52.29% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Acuña’s teammate Ozzie Albies leads this bunch, but for the first time in his career, Albies has slipped below the Hall median for his age. At 15.3 WAR, he could theoretically make it back above the age-26 line, but according to Baseball-Reference, he’s still never even reached 5 Wins in a year, so it will be tough. Rafael Devers is right behind him (15.2), and has certainly been better the last few years, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he leads this group next time around. And then there are a few more interesting names further down, like Yordan Alvarez (13.6), Kyle Tucker (12.8), and Austin Riley (12.0). Their relatively slower starts mean they’ll have to make up a lot of ground in chunks over these next few years rather than all at once, but maybe they can pull it off.

    Honestly, this is probably the first age where the shortened 2020 season has an effect, since these players all would have been old enough that we could maybe start to consider it a “peak” season. Alvarez and Riley probably wouldn’t have made it given that they had other issues that season (Alvarez was hurt for most of it and Riley was still adjusting to the majors), but Tucker could have made a decent dent in his gap with another Win or two that year. And Albies and Devers are close enough as-is that they very likely would have made it with even moderate health.

    Age 26: 20.95 WAR Median; 56.55% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Cody Bellinger could withstand one bad year and still finish above the age-25 Hall median, but his light rebound in 2022 couldn’t keep up to the rapidly-rising trend. He still leads this bunch with 17.8 WAR, but he’s going to need a season just as good as his 2019 MVP campaign to catch back up in 2023. Willy Adames (15.5) has snuck up on Bellinger, and while 25 WAR is almost certainly out of the question, he could pass Bellinger next season if they both repeat their 2022 performance.

    Age 27: 25.65 WAR Median; 59.29% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Carlos Correa (39.5 WAR)

    I feel like some people are going to lose sight of this fact given all of the weirdness in his free agency this past winter, but Correa is really good. Like, he’s essentially two-third of the way to the Hall median in WAR heading into his age-28 season! Correa has a career 129 OPS+ as a shortstop, which, for reference, generally just doesn’t happen; he’s fourth among shortstops with 3000+ plate appearances (fifth if you include A-Rod). Obviously that’s going to go down as he ages, but like, Derek Jeter at this point had an OPS+ of 122. Barry Larkin through age 27 was at 112. Cal Ripken Jr. was only at 125! Correa is really freaking good, even if teams (for whatever reason) aren’t sure whether they want him! And for those curious, he’s completely lapped the runner-up in this group, Andrew Benintendi (15.7 WAR).

    Age 28: 31.0 WAR Median; 64.84% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Francisco Lindor (36.6 WAR)

    Every time I write one of these and do back-to-back blurbs on Correa and Lindor, I remember them finishing neck-and-neck in the 2015 Rookie of the Year race, even though it was seven years ago and both of them have moved on to bigger things. Anyway, Lindor is slightly less secure than Correa, trailing him by about 3 Wins while having around 180 more games and an extra year of age under his belt. But he’s still in a pretty good place, good to go through this season and already working on his 2024 total. It also helps that he bounced back strong after a rough 2021.

    And Alex Bregman deserves a mention as another pandemic-induced miss, finishing exactly half a win shy of 31. A 5-Win season would get him back on track, and he finally seems back in form following his 2021 injuries, although it does mean he doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. Corey Seager trails him, but at 25.3 WAR, even a full 2020 season probably wouldn’t have gotten him the rest of the way.

    Age 29: 35.5 WAR Median; 69.75% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Mookie Betts (56.4 WAR)
    Manny Machado (52.0 WAR)
    Bryce Harper (42.5 WAR)
    José Ramírez (40.3 WAR)

    This group has been the constant of this series, dating all the way back to the start. The first edition came all the way back following Machado and Harper’s rookie seasons back in 2012, and in fact, they were two of the young stars of the time that drove me to devise this system. The 2015 article (which followed Betts’ 2014 debut) was the first one to feature all four of these players over the Hall median for their age, and that’s more or less been the standard ever since (except for 2016 and 2017, where Ramírez briefly swapped places with the first runner-up).

    After his late start, Betts has overtaken everyone else despite his lower playing time. Not only is his WAR total set through his age 35 season (which corresponds to the 2028!), but if his 2023 campaign is as good as last year, he’d actually pass the overall median for Hall of Fame position players. I’m not sure that the more traditional voters would go for his case right now, but I think we can still probably start considering him a player who has already solidified his candidacy.

    After him, we have Manny Machado, fresh off his runner-up MVP finish and big contract extension. He’s not quite to Mookie’s level, but he’s still good to go through at least 2026. And reaching the overall 61.7 Win median might be too much for just one year… unless he, say, finally wins that MVP Award.

    Harper, meanwhile, is set up through next season; it’s less impressive than Betts and Machado, but it still means that his delayed return from off-season surgery is a little less pressing. Even with a shortened 2023, picking up ~2 Wins and staying a year ahead of the median pace seems doable for him. Ramírez has to be a little better than that to stay a season ahead, but ~4 Wins is still well within what he did last year.

    Xander Bogaerts is our first runner-up this year (as well as being the aforementioned player who swapped places with José back in the 2016-17 articles), and he’s yet another player who barely missed the mark, finishing 2022 with 34.9 WAR. Another 5+ Win year like last year and he’s here as a fifth next year. After him, there’s Trea Turner (29.7 WAR) and Trevor Story (29.3), although neither seems like they could make it to the median for next year, even if you gave them back time missed in 2020. Maybe long term, with a few good seasons, they could catch up, but that’s a longer-term proposition.

    Age 30: 40.0 WAR Median; 74.11% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Mike Trout (82.4 WAR)

    This season will mark half a decade since Mike Trout surpassed the Hall median. Last year was his best season since 2019, when he won the MVP to celebrate no longer having to chase the Hall of Fame median. In some ways, discussing Trout’s Hall of Fame chances at this point is a little boring? You can find fun trivia like that, but “Will Mike Trout make the Hall” is a kind of easy question.

    There are a few more interesting cases here in the misses, though. For example, first runner-up Aaron Judge, who looked like he might be too far back (between his relatively late debut and injury history) right up until his 10+ Win, 62-homer 2022. He’s at 37.0 WAR now, so he doesn’t even need to be as good as last year to catch up (and if predicting a 7+ WAR season still feels too aggressive, even a normal, All-Star-level season could leave him well-positioned to finally reach it in 2024).

    After Judge, there’s Christian Yelich (36.1 WAR), who had a pretty good peak, but has fallen off the last few years to the point where it’s hard to envision him catching up from here. The more interesting one to look at is actually probably Willson Contreras, who’s further off (20.8) but will get at least some benefit of the doubt as a catcher. He’ll definitely need a solid next few years to build his case, though.

    Age 31: 44.3 WAR Median; 77.78% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Nolan Arenado (52.2 WAR)

    I didn’t say it in my recent set of articles about third base and the Hall of Fame, but Nolan Arenado has to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Scott Rolen’s induction to Cooperstown, right? He’s probably the closest thing we have to the present-day Rolen, and he’s certainly done better in Awards voting than Scott did, which is maybe our best evidence that voters are evolving there. Anyway, he’s set to stay above the Hall median pace through at least the next two years with his 2025 goal in sight, and a repeat of his MVP-level performance last year would get him about 1.5 Wins away from the overall median.

    No one else is all that close, but there are some interesting other names. Marcus Semien is a little far off at 34.8 WAR, but he’s still putting up a lot of value; there’s nothing saying a player can’t have most of their peak seasons in their 30s. And the pace drops off notably after age 32; a couple of big years from here will catch you right up. I’m not sure if I’d bet on it, but it’s also not impossible. And then there’s J.T. Realmuto (29.7 WAR), who’s also still putting up good seasons behind the plate, which will again mean he’ll need extra consideration. Maybe he doesn’t follow through either, but again, I feel like he’s worth a shout out here at least.

    Age 32: 48.6 WAR Median; 77.78% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Freddie Freeman (49.0 WAR)

    This is another age group with a few interesting cases. On top, there’s Freddie Freeman, who’s fairly straight-forward; he’s still playing well, he’s at the age where he’s going to start hitting milestones (2000 hits and 300 homers should both come this season). He’d probably have a little more buffer if his MVP campaign had been a full season, but I think he’s probably at the point where he can lock up his case by just being above-average for a few more years, even though he’s still looking like a star. More good years never hurt a Hall case, certainly.

    Then, there’s Jose Altuve (46.5 WAR), who had consistently been above the median until his dismal 2020 season. He played the whole shortened season and was worth negative value, so it’s not like you can just double or triple his numbers for the year and say he would have made it. However, it seems to have just been a one-year aberration, and he was hardly the only player to suffer a 2020 like that (for example, Nolan Arenado, since I was just looking at his stats). Given his bounce back since then, it feels like you can give him a bit of a mulligan. 4 Wins would get him back on pace, which seems like it shouldn’t be too absurd of an ask of a player who just finished fifth in the most recent MVP race.

    And then there’s Giancarlo Stanton (44.7 WAR). Missing basically two seasons to injury is going to make staying above the Hall median an impossible task, although he did kind of manage it for a while. 2021 looked like it might be the start of a return to form, and 2022 started out strong enough to get him an All-Star selection, but a dismal, injured second half ended up putting a stop to that. Can he stay healthy enough to rack up a lot more value? Or at least enough counting stats to win over the BBWAA? He should reach 400 home runs this season, to start. We’ll have to wait and see from there.

    The rest of the list is a bunch of players who once looked strong but fell off hard the last few years, like Anthony Rizzo (39.2 WAR), Jason Heyward (38.7), and Andrelton Simmons (37.3). Salvador Perez is probably the biggest name worth mentioning, since he’s a catcher (with a pretty strong reputation, at that) and still performing well.; he currently sits at 32.3 WAR.

    Age 33: 50.5 WAR Median; 75.68% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Starling Marte leads this age group, with 38.6 career WAR. Elvis Andrus is next at 33.5. More interestingly, he’s at 1997 hits; maybe he can hang around long enough to reach 3000, or at least come close enough to fool some voters?

    Age 34: 53.9 WAR Median; 76.36% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Paul Goldschmidt (58.5 WAR)

    I know I’ve said other players saw their chances of making the Hall increase in 2022, but see those chances increase more than Goldy? In last year’s article, I noted that his stats through age 33 looked a lot like Todd Helton’s (and Helton didn’t exactly set the world on fire after that point). One year later, and Helton has gone from “trending towards induction” to “basically guaranteed to make it in 2024”, while Goldschmidt went and won the MVP while having his best season ever. And that isn’t even getting into Fred McGriff making the Hall this year, which gives Goldschmidt another comp to outshine.

    Distant second place here is Justin Upton, who makes for a wild contrast with Goldschmidt. Both came up as Diamondbacks and were even briefly teammates; Upton looked like a future star after debuting at 19, was nearing free agency by the time Goldschmidt locked down a starting role (their age 24 season), and has fizzled hard since turning 31. I have no idea if Upton will even play this year, but if he does hang it up, it’s still been a solid career.

    Age 35: 55.8 WAR Median; 75.68% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Andrew McCutchen, who will be taking a homecoming lap with the Pirates in 2023, leads here with 47.0 WAR. That’s close enough that you can maybe dream of him coming back with a decent, second-act All-Star year or two plus some other serviceable seasons… but he’s sadly been trending downward for a while now, so it probably won’t happen, despite how fun it is to root for him.

    What makes it more frustrating is that the next two guys at this age have actually kind of managed that! Michael Brantley (34.1 WAR) made an All-Star Game in 2021, and José Abreu (31.9) was MVP in 2020. You take either of their post-30 years and tack it onto McCutchen’s start, and you’re basically at the Hall median for this age. Shoot, you take McCutchen’s stats through age 28 and Abreu’s after, and you’re within a Win of the overall Hall median! I actually kind of wonder if there’s a case for Abreu if you do something to account for his years in the Cuban league prior to coming to America, although that’s probably the subject for another article.

    Age 36: 57.5 WAR Median; 76.36% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Evan Longoria (58.1 WAR)

    I’ve talked at length about Longoria’s Hall chances, most recently in my previous article on third basemen and most at length here. Basically, I think he has a good chance of doing all the right things to have a Hall-worthy career: pass the 2000 hit barrier that has long been a disqualifier, reach the Hall median in Wins, add some other nice awards and milestones like 350 homers. And all of that might mean nothing anyway, because of other inherent factors cutting against him, like the Hall bias against his position or getting overlooked in awards voting. I hope he can at least stay on the ballot and not get kicked off after one try, like a lot of other third basemen of his level. And if he can manage that, maybe he’s not a lost cause; we’ve seen some Hall candidates seriously grow their candidacies as of late.

    First runner-up Josh Donaldson (46.6 WAR) will probably also run into some of those issues, although his case will also be hurt by his very late start (his first full season came at the age of 27), the numerous injuries, and the other problems that brings about (like a lack of counting stats).

    Age 37: 59.5 WAR Median; 81.55% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Age-group leader Justin Turner (34.6 WAR) isn’t as high up as Donaldson, but he’s overcome a lot of similar issues. Through 2013, his age 28 season, he had played in just over 300 games and been worth 0.6 WAR. In that context, what he’s managed over the last decade and ~1000 games has been pretty amazing.

    Age 38: 60.1 WAR Median; 82.35% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Joey Votto (64.3 WAR)

    I don’t think there’s any question of whether Votto will make the Hall at this point, right? I feel like the chatter around him the last few years has kind of shifted, from “Will he make it?” to “Definite future Hall of Famer”, even though he likely won’t reach any major milestones (he’s another late bloomer; his Rookie of the Year award back in 2008 was for his age-24 season). Maybe he won’t be a first ballot guy, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if he is. Also, I guess we’ll know either way relatively soon; 2023 is the final year of his deal with the Reds unless they exercise an option. Will he retire after this year? Come back for one more year with Cincinnati? Move elsewhere to try one last season (or even more)? It’s something to keep in mind for this season.

    Age 39: 60.5 WAR Median; 83.17% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:
    Robinson Canó (68.1 WAR)
    Miguel Cabrera (67.7 WAR)

    And in contrast with Votto, we have Cabrera, who after reaching 3000 hits and 500 home runs, has already confirmed that 2023 will be his final season. So you can start booking trips to Cooperstown or placing bets on his first-vote percentage or whatever else you want to get ready for 2029.

    I have no idea if Robinson Cano is done or not. He hasn’t said he’s retired, but it’s hard to imagine a team picking him up. Like, I imagine he signs for cheap (he’s still getting paid by the Mets and/or Mariners anyway), and he’s clearly pretty flexible about his opportunities (as seen by his willingness to hop teams and even play in AAA last year), but like… he was still awful, there’s little upside given his age, and of course there are the two PED suspensions on his record. Maybe he plays in 2023; unlikelier things have happened. But given the record of steroid-linked players on the ballot, the Hall is clearly not happening any time soon.

    Age 40: 60.5 WAR Median; 83.17% of all players at this mark elected
    Overall: 61.7 WAR Median; 84.85% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players:

    Albert Pujols finally decided to hang it up and begin his long Hall of Fame wait, so our leader in the over-40 category this year is Nelson Cruz at 42.4 Wins. I kind of figured his performance last year might make his retirement decision for him (Cruz was only worth 0.1 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference), but the Padres decided to give him one more shot to bounce back. And you know, why not? There would be worse things than trying to see Manny Machado and company win one for Cruz before he calls it quits. And best case scenario, maybe he has a good enough year that he can justify coming back again next year to try for 500 home runs. I’d bet he’d be willing to hang around chasing if it looked plausible, and it would make the discussion around his eventual Hall of Fame candidacy that much more contentious, which I think would be funny.

    As is usually the case, I’ll be following this up with a list for the pitchers. If you’d like to be notified right when that list comes out, why not subscribe to the new Hot Corner Harbor mailing list? I send out an email every time I publish a new article here, and… that’s really it, it’s basically just a notification for new posts. But if you’d like to be added to that, use the box below. (And if you’d like a similar list for my non-baseball writing, I have a separate list for that, which you can learn more about here!)

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      1 comment:

      1. Always love this series every year. Hard to believe you have been doing it ten years already. It is a truly unique and very ingenious way to mathematically look at hall of fame contention.

        Great job!!