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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2024 Edition

    Last year’s entries in the Future Hall of Fame series marked my tenth anniversary of writing the series. I remarked at the time that it felt like less time than that because Hall voting moves at such a glacial pace: you need to play for at least ten years (but almost certainly more), and then you need five years of retirement and another year of voting on top of that. Given that I started the series to look at younger players, it made sense that there weren’t many actual Hall results to compare it against; the youngest players from those early articles are still largely in their primes, for the most part!

    But we actually did reach a new milestone this year: Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer are the first players I covered in this series to actually get inducted to Cooperstown! I didn’t actually mention them until the second year of the series, since the 2013 article was focused on players who were 30 or younger. I extended that to 35-and-under the next year, which roped in those two as well as Albert Pujols and Chase Utley (among others), but left out older stars like Derek Jeter or David Ortiz. Those would have given me an easy inductee several years ago, but I didn’t extend the boundaries of my coverage to cover players older than 35 until the 2017 article (which means that I’ve also covered likely upcoming inductees Ichiro Suzuki and Carlos Beltran).

    Sure, it’ll still be a while before we see a non-shoo-in player from the series inducted, let alone one who I tracked over the entire course of their career; but like I said, that’s just a big part of covering the Hall of Fame. We’ll have to take the small milestones as we hit them.

    Before we start going into this year’s numbers, let’s first take a moment to go over what this method actually is, what it tracks, and all of that other stuff. First, I used Baseball-Reference’s Stathead search feature to look at every Hall of Fame position player, ordered by (their version of) Wins Above Replacement. That makes it easy to find the median Hall of Famer, right in the middle of the pack. Then, I search for the same set by age, looking at where the median fell for all Hall of Famers through their age 20 season, then their age 21 season, and so on, all the way until we’re back to the overall median. That gives us our “Median WAR by Age” line, which we’ll be comparing the players to.

    From there, we can get our approximate odds for players who are at or above the median at different ages. First, we look at those median marks for each age and the half of the Hall of Fame members who are above it. Then, I compare it to all of the eligible players who were also above that mark at that age but did not eventually get elected, and take the percentage of players who made it to the Hall out of total players above the median.

    To use some fake round numbers as an example: say we had 100 Hall of Famers, and our median for the set through age 22 was 5.0 WAR. We’d have 50 Hall of Famers above 5.0 WAR. Say also that there were 100 other players, who had 5.0 WAR through their age 22 season but did not make the Hall of Fame. That would give us: (50 5.0 WAR Players in the Hall) divided by (150 total 5.0 WAR players), equaling out to roughly 33% chances of induction.

    Remember, none of this is necessarily commenting on whether a player will be worthy of induction, or should be inducted; there are of course things like normal snubs above the Hall line who are not inducted, below-median players who make Cooperstown anyway, below-median players who are inducted for extenuating circumstances, “worthy” players who aren’t in for non-play reasons (e.g. steroids), players who might yet get in via the Veterans Committee, and a whole host of other caveats. Those are all interesting and important, but not really a thing that we can universally account for. All this method does is serve as an objective measuring stick to give us an unusual perspective: how do active players stack up against average Hall of Famers when they were the same age, and how did those average Hall of Famers stack up against everyone else through that age?

    For additional errata, I’m grouping players by their age during the 2023 season, so the players in the Age 23 group will be in their Age 24 season in 2024. Player Age for a year is based on what their age will be on July 1st in a given season, as is the standard convention. And lastly, I’m only including American League and National League stats, because this whole system is based on comparing precedent to current players, and while the Negro Leagues results are major league stats, I’m not sure they make for a conducive yardstick given the differences in the leagues and the Hall induction methods.

    Okay, all that out of the way, we’re ready to jump in to the position player results (with active pitchers to follow in the next article):

    Age 20: 0.45 WAR Median; 28.10% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Evan Carter (1.6 WAR)

    There were only four 20-and-under position players in the Majors last year, combining for just 52 games and 178 plate appearances. However, the WAR threshold here is pretty low, so it’s still reachable with an even middling performance. Evan Carter’s 23 games were far better than middling (including a .306/.413/.645 batting line and a 182 OPS+), so he even made it most of the way to his 2024 goal, but Jasson Dominguez (0.2 WAR) also game close to 0.45 despite only playing 8 games.

    Age 21: 1.9 WAR Median; 35.03% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Ezequiel Tovar (2.2 WAR)

    We only pick up a dozen more position players by including the age 21 group. Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar just clears it, but he’s also the leader in Games Player in this group by a good margin, with a full 162 under his belt. He can probably keep pace this year by just continuing to stay healthy and fielding well, but he’s actually going to need to hit a little to have a hope beyond that (he has a career OPS+ of 76 right now). Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez (1.0 WAR) also deserves some mention, since catchers are usually given a little more leeway in Hall consideration due to the demands of the position.

    Age 22: 4.2 WAR Median; 38.64% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Julio Rodriguez (11.5 WAR)
    Michael Harris II (8.7 WAR)
    Gunnar Henderson (7.1 WAR)
    Corbin Carroll (6.6 WAR)

    It’s so convenient that I can knock out both the 2023 AND 2022 Rookie of the Year pairs in one blurb! And Rodriguez is already set through the 2025 season! Harris is also already good to go for this year, while Henderson is within half a win. Every so often, we just get age groups with a ton of strong players lumped together like this, and it’s always fun to trace how they do year to year; even if not all of them keep up, they usually at least all wind up interesting discussions! This year’s Age 30 group is another one like this, as is the Age 33 one. I remember back when I started, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano, and David Wright all wound up in a group above their age median together too (and that age group even included Yadier Molina, and Russell Martin on top of that!).

    Outside of these four, CJ Abrams, Riley Greene, and Anthony Volpe all finished within a win of the 4.2 Win benchmark. Also, technically, Julio Rodriguez doesn’t lead this age bracket, Wander Franco narrowly does (11.6 WAR), but I’ll be considering him as “non-active” going forward due to his very serious legal issues.

    Age 23: 7.55 WAR Median; 42.39% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    We have our first set with no one above the median for their age, but there are still promising young players here, like Bobby Witt Jr. (5.3 WAR) or Gabriel Moreno (5.0 WAR). Witt could conceivably get back on pace this season (he’d need 5.7 WAR), even if it’s a bit of a long-shot. Moreno probably won’t reach that, but again, he is a catcher, so he can fall a little short and still remain in the conversation.

    Age 24: 11.0 WAR Median; 43.01% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Juan Soto (28.6 WAR)
    Fernando Tatis Jr. (19.0 WAR)
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (15.2 WAR)
    Andres Gimenez (14.6 WAR)

    We’ve reached the part of the article where the yearly Wins Above Replacement needed to keep up with the Hall trend starts to grow. As such, it’s difficult to build up too big of a buffer; when the median is going up by 4 or 5 Wins per year, even an MVP-level season doesn’t give you a lot of extra value to bank. And yet, in spite of that, Juan Soto is already cleared through the 2026 season. I understand that there are reasons for how his career has gone, but I still agree with this Craig Goldstein piece about how wild it is that a player this historic is already on his third franchise, with the potential to hit a fourth (and maybe even a fifth, should the Yankees melt down and decide to sell?) by this time next year. Yeah, it all makes sense in each individual moment, but the larger picture here still looks weird as heck.

    I’m looking back at last year’s post and realizing that I just didn’t remember Fernando Tatis Jr. He should have been included, I just forgot to look for him after he missed all of the 2022 season due to injuries and a failed PED test. I suppose the drug test puts his “real” Hall chances pretty close to 0%, but who knows where the electorate will be 20 or so years from now when he actually hits the ballot. Maybe they’ll be more forgiving by then? But that would probably also require him keeping his nose clean until then as well.

    Vlad Jr. having an MVP-level season at age 22 got him a good head start on chasing the Hall median, but his last two seasons have not been up to the same level, and if he doesn’t turn that around, it will catch up to him fast. Another 2.0-Win (like 2023) year will be enough to keep him set through 2024, but not any further beyond that.

    I kind of feel bad after long write-ups for the other three, but I don’t really have much to say about Andres Gimenez beyond “keep up the good work”. Also, our top runner-up here is another catcher, Alejandro Kirk (6.9 WAR), so that’s also worth mentioning.

    Age 25: 16.1 WAR Median; 52.56% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Ronald Acuña Jr. (25.9 WAR)
    Bo Bichette (17.7 WAR)

    Acuña’s 2023 MVP campaign was big enough in terms of Wins to set him up through the next two seasons; he’s right now exactly on the median for Hall of Famers after their age-27 season (although technically, there’s a chance that 25.9 won’t be the median anymore by the time we reach 2026, depending on how the next few Hall elections go, but we’ll look past that for now). And for another example of how aggressively the totals here increase, if his 2024 is like 2023 (where, as a reminder, he hit 41 homers, stole 73 bases, and posted a 1.012 OPS/168 OPS+), Acuña would still remain just two years ahead of pace (albeit with a headstart on a third this time rather than right on the mark, at least).

    After him, we see Bo Bichette in second place, although he’s not far enough ahead of pace to already be in the clear for this season. After him, the first runner-up is Luis Robert Jr. at 12.5 WAR, which is actually kind of impressive given that he’s missed 175 games over the last three seasons combined. Between those three years plus his pandemic-shortened rookie season, he’s averaged under 92 games a year, which goes to highlight how important health is here. And finally, Adley Rutschman is after them with 9.6 bWAR, but again, he’s a catcher (plus Fangraph’s WAR likes him a little more than that, which is maybe a little more relevant given that it includes stuff like pitch framing).

    Age 26: 20.9 WAR Median; 56.46% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Ozzie Albies still leads this set with 20.2 WAR, but it’s just a hair short. I mentioned last year that Albies had been above the median pace for years after his debut at the age of 20, but his lack of a high-peak combined with injuries had done that in. Last year, Albies had a strong rebound season (4.7 WAR), but it still counted as losing ground thanks to that 4.8 WAR increase from the age 25 median, and he’ll need a career-best season to get back above the line next year.

    There are also a ton of players in the 18-to-19 Win range here, including Rafael Devers, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, and Austin Riley. On the one hand, getting on pace for next year would be a big lift, requiring an MVP-level performance in 2024; but on the other hand, that’s a talented set of players all in their prime, so I wouldn’t say they’re all guaranteed to fall short.

    Age 27: 25.9 WAR Median; 60.43% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Speaking of “Players who started strong to rise above the Hall trendline, fell off for a few seasons and consequently dropped below it, then had a bounce-back 2023 that didn’t quite get them ahead of the Hall median”, Cody Bellinger leads this age group with 22.1 WAR. His peak was stronger than Albies and his low-points much lower, but there are definitely some similarities. And much like Albies, even repeating his best season won’t get him back above the Hall median next year (despite how great Bellinger’s 2019 MVP campaign was). The players running behind Bellinger here are also a step behind the ones trailing Albies, including Willy Adames (18.5 WAR) and Ha-Seong Kim (12.9 WAR).

    Age 28: 31.1 WAR Median; 65.38% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Carlos Correa (40.9 WAR)
    Shohei Ohtani (34.7 WAR)

    Carlos Correa had a bit of a rough 2023 (1.4 WAR), but he is still keeping up with the Hall of Fame pace; his young start and high peaks mean he’s still already in the clear through 2025. If he doesn’t turn it around, obviously his chances at future induction go down dramatically, but even future Hall of Famers will have injury-plagued (or even healthy) down years during what’s otherwise their peak. With a quick search on Stathead and limiting my search to 100 games played or more, I still counted over two dozen sub-2.0 WAR seasons from future Hall of Famers between the ages of 25 and 32, even just limiting my search to the integration era (and you can easily double that total if you extend your search window to the start of the live ball era). Part of being Hall of Fame-level good is that you can cover for those unexpected rough years.

    Last year, I wasn’t sure how to include Shohei Ohtani on these lists; he didn’t have enough hitting WAR to make the hitter list, he didn’t have enough pitching WAR to make the pitching list, and if you combined them both, he still fell short of the hitter mark (he did make the pitching median in that scenario, but that one is much less indicative of future election at age 27). I think combining the two and comparing it to the hitter total is probably the best call, but also at a certain point, I think it’s fair to recognize that comparing a generational player like Ohtani to the idea of the Hall median feels a little… incomplete. To put it another way, we can’t go off the historical precedent to predict such an unprecedented player; he’s simply going to be judged differently than most players, and there’s no getting around that.

    With all that being said, he’s still holding up well in this regard! He’s above the line, and in a good spot to stay above it for next year. After him, the age-28 cohort drops off substantially, with Pete Alonso (17.3 WAR) leading the way.

    Age 29: 35.9 WAR Median; 73.28% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Francisco Lindor (42.7 WAR)

    This is a deceptively deep group to talk about, in spite of having only one name over the median. But at the top is Francisco Lindor, who has recovered nicely over the last two years following a rough Mets debut. It’s kind of funny he still hasn’t picked up an All-Star selection in New York, despite two straight ninth-place finishes in the MVP vote. Once again, he’s in the clear for 2024 and already working towards his 2025 total.

    Our first runner-up is Alex Bregman, missing the median mark by just half a win (35.4). That’s close enough that you easily see how mildly better luck would have put him over the mark (getting called up a little earlier in 2016, a slightly longer pandemic year, a slightly healthier 2021…). The good news for him is that just repeating his 2023 season would get him over the age 30 mark for next season.

    After Bregman are two players who had huge 2023s, Corey Seager (32.0 WAR, second in AL MVP voting) and Matt Olson (29.1 WAR, fourth in NL MVP voting). Both of them are far enough away from the age 30 mark that even repeating their stellar 2023 seasons wouldn’t be enough to carry them over the line. But they’re so good that it’s hard to totally rule them out, and it’s not like there isn’t a path forward for either of them. Plenty of players have come back from later or slower career beginnings to build Hall of Fame careers. It’s going to take several great and healthy years in a row, almost certainly including a big season or two in your mid-30s, which is always the big risk compared to a player who starts hot at a young age and can weather a freak injury year or something. But despite all that, it certainly isn’t impossible.

    Age 30: 40.0 WAR Median; 74.78% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Mookie Betts (64.5 WAR)
    Manny Machado (54.9 WAR)
    Bryce Harper (46.2 WAR)
    Jose Ramirez (45.6 WAR)

    In this group, we have our first player already above the overall Hall median for position players: Mookie Betts. Last year, I mentioned that just repeating his 2022 season would get him above that line, but he actually went and improved from there in basically every way, playing 10 more games, upping his batting line from .269/.340/.533 to .307/.408/.579, and even picking up nearly 500 innings at second base and another 100 at shortstop on top of his normal stellar play in right field. He’s also officially at 10 seasons, meaning he would now be eligible for Cooperstown if he were to retire. Would Hall voters actually go for him in that extreme hypothetical? Maybe not, but that might also depend on the specifics of the scenario; either way, I imagine that question will remain no more than a thought experiment. But if you want to start describing Betts as a “Future Hall of Famer” at this point, I certainly have your back.

    It would take a little bit of a long-shot, but Manny Machado can join Betts above the Hall median this season. If he has a year like his 2022 campaign (where he finished second in NL MVP voting), he’ll basically land exactly on the Hall median. However, if he can “only” replicate his 2023, he’ll… be in the clear for the rest of the 2020s, with nearly a decade left on his contract to pick up the remaining 3 WAR. I don’t expect him to ease up from here, but even if Machado ran into a Ken Griffey Jr.-shaped injury minefield from here, he’s pretty well set-up for eventual induction. Also, if you want a related thing to watch for here, Machado is already an MVP-level season away from moving into third in Padres history for Wins Above Replacement.

    After those two, we have Bryce Harper and Jose Ramirez in a virtual tie, separated by less than a win. Both have hit their goal for 2024 already and are working towards their 2025 marks; repeating their 2023 seasons would keep them a year ahead of schedule. Yes, that even goes for Harper, despite his injury-woes; hopefully the plan to move him to first base for health reasons pays off and we get to see more of him.

    And then there’s honorable mention Xander Bogaerts, who has managed to make it above the Hall median a few times in the past. Right now, he sits at 39.6 WAR, less than half a Win away from where he needs to be. If he can bounce back to where he was his last two seasons in Boston, he’s back above the median, but even repeating his 2023 San Diego debut would mean he was essentially staying even with the Hall of Fame median. That’s certainly not a bad place to be, even if it doesn’t come with the insurance of being a year or two ahead of schedule.

    After Bogaerts on the list is Trea Turner, but with just 33.0 WAR, he’s got some ground to make up still. As some interesting trivia, though: Turner is (by WAR) already the second-best player in MLB history born on June 30th, behind only Tony Fernandez. You may recall that’s the cut-off for season-ages that I mentioned earlier; in fact, he’s almost a full year younger than Manny Machado, despite the two of them being grouped together here (Turner was born on 6/30/1993, while Machado was born on 7/6/1992). I don’t know how or even if this should factor into any predictions going forward (Is Turner a “young” 31 this year? Is it more reasonable to compare him to the year below him? Does this actually matter in estimating aging curves?), but it came up while I was researching, so I wanted to mention it all the same.

    Age 31: 44.55 WAR Median; 78.90% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Mike Trout (85.2 WAR)

    Mike Trout has been above the overall Hall median since the 2019 edition of this article. My first “Future Hall of Fame” article came out back in January 2013, following Trout’s 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign. So officially, Trout has now been over the Hall median for as many “Future Hall” articles as he was below it, at six each.

    Despite being the same age as Trout, Aaron Judge took an extra half a decade to reach the majors, winning the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year for his age-25 season. Historically, your odds of making the Hall after a start that late have not been great… and yet, Judge sits at 41.5 WAR, about 3 Wins shy of where a future Hall of Famer his age would be. A healthy 2023 might have gotten him the rest of the way! It’ll be hard to catch up this year (not impossible, but another 62 homer season is probably a long shot), but realistically? The 4.1-Win jump from 31 to 32 is the last big one along the way to the overall Hall median; 32 to 33 is a 3.7 Win increase, and everything else is under 2.0 Wins per season. Three more All-Star seasons isn’t nothing, but it’s also not impossible to imagine that for Judge as long as he can stay healthy, and that would get him right up to his age’s median. And four of them would basically take him all the way to the Hall’s overall median.

    If nothing else, it’s easier to imagine Judge doing that than Christian Yelich, who’s less than 2 Wins behind him at 39.8 WAR. I hesitate to rule him out entirely; after all, new Cooperstown inductee Adrian Beltre at 31 hadn’t even reached his days as a Texas Ranger, the hat he’ll be wearing on his Hall plaque. Nothing is impossible at this level of play. And yet… Yelich’s last four years are noticeably worse than even Beltre’s days in Seattle. If he wants to turn things around, he’s going to need at least a few more All-Star-level seasons, the sooner the better.

    Age 32: 48.65 WAR Median; 78.18% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Nolan Arenado (54.4 WAR)

    We have another player set through the end of next season in Nolan Arenado, and he’s about 7.4 Wins away from the overall median. Two good years should put him over, but even if all he can manage in the final four years of his contract is average, 2-Win seasons followed by retirement, I think that would probably be enough? That would put him just over the Hall median, with maybe something like 2200 hits, over 400 homers, 8 All-Star Appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, 6 top-ten finishes in MVP… like, it’s a little on the light side, and maybe the Hall voters’ bias against third basemen would keep him out, but that seems like a pretty strong resume, right? Hopefully he can manage a lot more than that though, just to be safe.

    Marcus Semien could be another one of those late bloomers who catches up to the mark. Right now, he’s at 41.8 WAR and coming off a 7.4 Win season and a three-season average of 6.7 WAR. Like I mentioned for Judge, any All-Star-level seasons Semien can manage from this point forward will go a long way to catching him up: two seasons like last year’s or three at a 5-Win level will get it done. Of course, even if he can stay healthy and play well for long enough to reach the mark, will that convince voters? They’ve historically struggled to recognize late-bloomers who split their careers across teams (not that it’s Semien’s fault that he started with Oakland or hit free agency after a pandemic year, but it still will come up for the surlier voters), he might not reach any big milestones, and unlike Arenado, Semien is actually under-decorated given his output (for example, Semien still only has 2 All-Star selections, despite finishing third in MVP voting three different times). I’m hoping he can pull it off, but he might have less leeway than most other candidates I’m discussing here.

    And before we move on, I’ll mention J.T. Realmuto, who’s third in this age group with 33.3 WAR. I know I’ve said that catchers get a little more leeway than other players, but that still feels a little far off. Like, he’s still nearly a dozen Baseball-Reference WAR behind Buster Posey (who I think will make it in despite a short career, although Joe Mauer’s close cut this year makes me unsure if he’ll be a first ballot choice), and again, that’s not even accounting for Posey being a very good pitch framer while Realmuto is slightly below-average. I think Realmuto will also probably need several more good seasons to even get in the Hall conversation.

    Age 33: 50.45 WAR Median; 76.11% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Freddie Freeman (55.7 WAR)

    I feel like I’ve been a little too pessimistic in the last few sections, worrying that great players might not have any more MVP-level years in their early 30s. Freddie Freeman is a good reminder that that’s not really a given, coming off a pair of top-four finishes in MVP voting. Freeman is in the clear for 2024 and within spitting distance of where he needs to be through 2025, but really, just repeating 2023 would get him over the overall Hall median with some room to spare. That’s realistically the bigger focus at this point.

    In a world where Jose Altuve didn’t miss a month and a half last year to a freak HBP injury in the World Baseball Classic, he’s up there with Freeman. Right now, he’s just shy at 49.3 WAR, but a healthy 5-WAR season (his 162-game pace over the last few years) would get him back over the median line for the first time since before the 2020 season.

    After those two, we have quite the mix of fallen stars. Giancarlo Stanton (44.0 WAR), Jason Heyward (40.7 WAR) and Anthony Rizzo (39.6 WAR) all used to finish above the Hall of Fame pace for their age (as did Andrelton Simmons, although he officially retired back in December), but they’ve all been on a downward trend for a while. Maybe one of them can somehow put it back together and build a second act to their career, clawing their way to a Cooperstown finish? It’s not impossible, but I’d definitely want to see evidence of that before I call it anything more than “not impossible”.

    This is also where we find catcher Salvador Perez (33.0 WAR); again, catcher’s have some extra leeway, and I already see some people throwing around comparisons to likely future inductee Yadier Molina. But Perez is still a step behind Molina (who I imagine will still be a contentious candidate, even if I think he makes it) even before factoring in that most of our more advanced catcher defense metrics don’t like Perez very much (let alone as much as Molina). I’m going to call this “unlikely” for now, but with some wild card potential; pay attention to things like how Baseball Writers talk about him as his career winds down to see if there’s wider support for him than it might seem.

    Age 34: 54.15 WAR Median; 77.48% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    This age bracket has always been a little on the light side. Elvis Andrus (34.0 WAR) led it for a while by starting so young, but his lack of a high peak (only one 5+ WAR season, only 2 more 4+) meant he couldn’t keep up. Starling Marte (37.9 WAR) passed him eventually, and while he has more of a peak than Andrus (two 5+ WAR seasons, four more 4+ WAR ones), it’s still not really a Hall of Fame-level peak. Like, I don’t want to say that MVP votes are necessarily everything, but there’s a reason Marte has only received one MVP vote in his career (a tenth place vote in 2022).

    Age 35: 55.9 WAR Median; 76.11% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Paul Goldschmidt (61.7 WAR)

    Technically, Goldschmidt is below the overall Hall median, but only by the thinnest margin. That milestone should be in the cards for him this year, in addition to 2000 hits and 350 homers. We are again probably at the point where you can call him “Future Hall of Famer Paul Goldschmidt” and everyone will just kind of agree with you. No one else here is remotely close (J.D. Martinez is a very distant second, at 30.0 WAR).

    Now that I think about it, we only have three active players above the position player Hall median this year (Trout, Betts, and one more that we’ll get to shortly). That seems like a new low in the time I’ve been writing the Future Hall of Fame series? I could always rely on Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera for an easy two for most of that time, and Mike Trout made it right around the time we finally lost Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre to retirement, plus there were always a handful of other players to fill out our list. Goldschmidt’s closeness to the mark means we probably won’t drop below this anytime soon, but depending on how Arenado, Freeman, Machado, and the rest do, we might be stuck with only three for a bit.

    Age 36: 57.85 WAR Median; 77.48% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Andrew McCutchen (48.6 WAR) is just barely within 10 Wins of this mark, but that’s it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he finishes within 10 of the overall median, but making up that full gap sounds highly unlikely. Jose Abreu is quite a ways behind him in second place (31.9 WAR), although a lot of his early peak seasons were spent in Cuba. I did write an article on that topic last June, although I couldn’t really approximate a WAR total to go with it. I don’t know if he’d pick up a full 26 WAR to put him over the median, but I feel like he would at least be very close. No idea if Hall voters will go for that argument, though.

    Age 37: 59.5 WAR Median; 81.90% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Evan Longoria (58.6 WAR) is within a win of this age median. Despite a shaky 2023, if he can stay healthy and wants to play, I can see him reaching 61.8 career Wins, right in line with the overall median… but even if he does, will Hall voters actually go for him? It took them a while to come around on Scott Rolen, and his case was more overwhelming than Longoria’s. I can see him at least hanging around the ballot for a few years, though, especially if he comes back this year and makes it to 2000 hits and 350 homers. If David Wright can make a second ballot (or more), then Longoria certainly deserves it. That’s all a lot more than I can see for the next runner-up, Josh Donaldson (46.8 WAR).

    Age 38: 60.15 WAR Median; 81.90% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Justin Turner (36.5 WAR) leads this age bracket among position players, largely because he is the only one still in it. Everyone else has retired.

    Age 39: 60.6 WAR Median; 83.50% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: Joey Votto (64.4 WAR)

    And now, we have our final active player over the Hall median: Joey Votto, who remains unsigned at the start of Spring Training. I have no idea if anyone will change that, but he seems willing to play, and it appears that Cincinnati has decided to move on. It makes sense given their crowded young infield, but it does mean that this year is going to give us either Joey Votto in something other than a Reds uniform, or no Joey Votto at all, and both of those options seem really weird to think about. Either way, depending on how that plays out, I think you can pencil him in for either the Hall of Fame Class of 2029 or 2030

    The only other position player of this age last year was Yuli Gurriel, who also remains unsigned but seems open to playing more. And since I highlighted my piece on Jose Abreu in the Cuban league earlier, I might as well use this space to highlight my similar piece on Yuli Gurriel from a few years ago.

    Age 40: 61.1 WAR Median; 84.31% of all players at this mark elected
    Overall: 61.8 WAR Median; 82.15% of all players at this mark elected
    Active Players: None

    Technically, Miguel Cabrera just finished his age-40 season and is over the Hall median, but he’s also no longer active, so he doesn’t get included here. Look for him to hit the BBWAA ballot for the 2029 Hall election.

    In fact, the only other over-40 position player in the league last year was Nelson Cruz, who has also announced his retirement. That means that Justin Turner is technically the oldest position player in the league right now, at least until one or both of Joey Votto and Yuli Gurriel sign somewhere.

    And with that, we can close the book on the 2024 Hitters article. As per usual, the next thing we cover will be the Pitchers; still no estimated release date there since the writing is still happening, but it will hopefully get posted sometime in the next week or two. If you’d like to get notified when that post goes up, you can subscribe to the Hot Corner Harbor mailing list in the box below (or the ones above, they all go to the same place). And on a similar note, if you’d like to subscribe to my non-baseball writings over at Out of Left Field (mostly music and video games), I have a separate mailing list for that which can be found here.

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      1. Very cool analysis! Congrats on surpassing ten years with this and actually seeing your work be proven correct in a number of cases already. There will be more for sure!

        ESPN should be hiring you!

      2. Some very interesting notes and questions for you.

        The age 22 bracket was most interesting with 4 Rookie of the Years in back to back years making the grade already.

        Do you think they are aware of their successes and competing with, or pushing each other in some sort of competition for their age group making them all better?

        And I guess I missed the whole criminal issue(s) with Wander Franco. Thanks for making me aware of it. No matter how good MLB doesn't need that influence in the league.

        1. Not sure how they view each other? They're kind of spread out (one in the East and West for each league). If they're grouped with any other young players, it's probably Harris and Henderson being grouped with the rest of their young teammates, since the Braves and Orioles have done so well on that front lately; I'd have to imagine those comparisons probably help them, though.

      3. Hard to believe Juan Soto is only 24! Why do teams keep trading him? Is his ego too big for the teams?

        And it looks like Acuna is off to an awesome start

        1. Soto is kind of just a confluence of bad timing. He made the majors young enough that he's hitting free agency right at his peak, and he's going for a big contract. The Nationals decided to go for a hard rebuild and didn't see a reason to hold on to him for two and a half more years if he was just going to go to free agency; the Padres took him and might have given him another one of those big deals they've been handing out, but ended up going through a financial crisis this winter (their TV partner went bankrupt and left their deal, and their owner who had been underwriting the spending passed away), and trading him was the easiest way to free up a lot of money at once. He seems pretty committed to testing the market at this point with just one year left, plus no one seems to know if the Yankees are willing to sign him long-term given that they have both Judge and Stanton already on big deals (not to mention that the Steinbrenner children seem less keen on spending than their dad did).

      4. Your discussion on Carlos Correa brings up an interesting point. Do you think his move to Minnesota has hurt his chances? When he was in Houston he was surrounded by excellent players and always had chances to drive in runs because it seems that Altuve, or Bregman, or others were always on base when he came up to bat. I know that's not the main way to accrete WAR but it certainly helps to be on a team like that. I don't think he has had the same situation in Minnesota and the numbers seem to correlate to his decline in WAR.

        1. Yes and no? On the one hand, the chunk of the electorate that heavily weighs individual achievements over team success is growing, and will likely continue to do so leading up to Correa hitting the ballot in the 2030s. But among the writers who do heavily weight team-based things... he was probably already going to be marked down less? He's a shortstop, and those are already judged less by things like RBI (at least among more traditional voters); if he had been a 1B and his numbers declined, maybe that narrative would be more prevalent.

          The bigger thing might be playoff stuff? He already has some postseason success to ward off the biggest sticklers on that front, but I also imagine the Twins will be going to the playoffs anyway over the course of his contract (their front office is doing some interesting things, plus playing in the AL Central leaves them an easy opening even in tougher years). Plus staying in Houston wouldn't necessarily have guaranteed more opportunities in the long-haul (who knows where each team will be in three or four years), even if their a little stronger out of the gate. For the Hall ballot, I think the biggest factor is not being a total non-factor in October, and I think Correa has that covered.

          ALL THAT SAID: moving teams *does* actually affect him in a different way. Basically every other bit of research we have says that guys get a little bit of a boost from mostly sticking with one team, or not neatly splitting their career into "halves". Some voters will wind up thinking of it as "he was pretty good for 8 years in Place A, and pretty good for 7 years in Place B" rather than "he was really good over 15 years!". Plus, the easier you make it to divide your career into "was good, then suddenly wasn't", the more risk there is in voters applying that narrative and weighing it against you. Granted, Correa is also young enough that if everything he does post-Astros is bad... he probably doesn't wind up with a Hall of Fame career anyway? Or if he does, the rapid drop-off will hurt him as much as anything (see: Andruw Jones, although he's slowly overcoming that). Also, sticking with one team might help a little bit, but it's also not necessarily a defining factor for a candidate (just look at, say, Alan Trammell getting ignored for 15+ years).

          There probably is a risk in Correa falling into a zone similar to, say, Bobby Grich and getting snubbed (at a cursory look, he's not too far off from Grich career-wise: about 3 WAR difference over their career thru age 28, they moved teams around the same time, one has 3 ASG the other has 2 ASG plus a ROTY...), but I also feel like a modern-day-Bobby Grich would do better on today's ballot than actual Bobby Grich did back in 1992, since we can better appreciate the combo of OBP/power/up-the-middle defense...

      5. Shohei once again proves he is in a category all by himself!

      6. Wait Bryce Harper is 18 points behind Mookie Betts?? Seriously!! Wow that is a huge surprise to see they are the same age and yet Mookie is rated so much higher in terms of WAR! I know he is good but that really puts his performance into perspective!

      7. Very interesting age 30 group. Particularly your comments about Trea Turner. If you read Malcom Gladwell's book "Outliers" he devotes his entire first chapter to the same age issue you describe about an athlete's birthday in relation to the sports cutoff dates. In his case it is Canadian hockey players, but the same theory is true for baseball players. Very few players that are born at the end of the year just before the cutoff make it to a career in the big leagues.

      8. Trout was on a pace to join the elite guys in the history of baseball, Mays, Bonds, Ruth until all the injuries. He still has 9 years left if he can stay healthy, but the Angels sure could use some help around him. With the loss of Otani it may be harder for him to rack up WAR.

      9. Final comments:
        Bad juju for Altuve. That injury never should have happened but hopefully he will bounce back and get above the median.

        I think Judge will continue to be stronger for the next few years and make up the difference from starting in the majors so late. Why did it take the Yankees so long to bring him up in the first place????

        I'd love to see McCutheon have a couple more good years. Love his attitude and effort. He is getting older but it would be very nice to see him rebound for a few more years.

        Why hasn't anybody scooped up Votto? What has his WAR looked like the past few years?

        1. RE: Judge versus Trout, it was actually only about one extra year in the minors. The biggest differences are mostly draft-related, namely 1) the birthday thing again, Trout is an August 1991 birthday and was eligible for the 2009 draft, Judge is an April '92, so he needed to wait until 2010; and 2) Trout was already seen as a top prospect in 2009 and went in the first round, while Judge was not. He went in the 31st round (to local Oakland at that, so they probably had more scouts in the area), and decided to instead attend Cal State-Fresno (which is where I first saw him, playing in the Cape Cod collegiate summer league: and thus, had to wait three more years.

          2) Votto is... looking his age, unfortunately. Can't speak to the scouting side as much, but both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference have him in the 0 to -1.0 WAR range for the last two seasons. He might still be able to hit okay, but being limited to just 1B or DH doesn't help him. Maybe someone like the Angels or Mets would go for him in a part-time role?

      10. So does going to college hurt one's chances for a HOF run?

        1. Not necessarily? A lot of Hall of Famers won't debut until they're age 22 or 23 anyway, so it's a bit of a disadvantage, but nothing you can't overcome with some good seasons. Usually, they move a little quicker thru the minors too (not sure why Judge didn't, really, in retrospect; maybe concerns about his strikeout totals?)

          All that being said... sometimes the best players take some time and effort to develop, but a lot of good players were also highly sought-after right out of high school too. That describes guys like Henderson, Carroll, Harper, Machado, plus some historic examples like Mauer, A-Rod, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr, Derek Jeter... I don't know if there's an easy way to compare numbers on college vs. non-college (or success rates on either), but neither route to the Hall is unheard of.