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Harper, Trout and the future

Apr 29, 2013, 11:33 AM EDT

Cincinnati Reds v Washington Nationals Getty Images

In honor of Bryce Harper playing his 162nd career game, here is the list of the top 12 home run hitters through their age 20 seasons:

1. Mel Ott, 61

2. Tony Conigliaro, 56

3. Alex Rodriguez, 41

4. Ken Griffey, 38

5. Frank Robinson, 38

6. Mickey Mantle, 36

7. Mike Trout, 35

8. Al Kaline, 32

9. Bryce Harper, 31

(tie) Ted Williams, 31

11. Orlando Cepeda, 25

(tie) Eddie Mathews, 25

Now, some of these players — Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams and Cepeda — actually turned 21at some point DURING the season, something Bryce Harper will not do until October.

There are a couple of points worth making here. One, Harper is on pace to hit 60 home runs this year. And while he probably won’t do that, he has to hit a more manageable 40 homers this year (31 more in the last five months) to pass Mel Ott for most home runs through age 20 season. He’s a pretty decent bet to do that.

But here’s an even more significant point, I think. Look at the 12 players. Tony Conigliaro seemed on his way to an extraordinary career until he was hit in the face by a Jack Hamilton pitch. the pitch fractured his cheek, dislocated his jaw and caused serious problems to his eye. His comeback  was stirring and magnificent — he hit 36 homers in 1970 — but his vision was never the same and he was done at 26 (he did try another comeback at 30, making it back to the Majors). He goes down with Herb Score and a couple of others as the greatest “What might have beens” in baseball history.

So take away Conigliaro. And take away Trout and Harper because they are active. That leaves nine players.

All nine are either in the Hall of Fame or will be in the Hall of Fame (depending on how the voters treat A-Rod). That’s amazing to me. All nine are all-time players.

It just goes to show you that displaying this sort of brilliance as an extremely young hitter is very telling and predictive. It’s interesting. Take a look at the pitchers with the most strikeouts through age 20 (since 1901):

1. Bob Feller, 712

2. Dwight Gooden, 544

3. Bert Blyleven, 359

4. Gary Nolan, 317

5. Larry Dierker, 290

6. Mike McCormick, 287

(tie) Pete Schneider, 287

8. Chief Bender, 276

9. Felix Hernandez, 253

10. Smoky Joe Wood, 244

11. Rick Ankiel, 233

12. Walter Johnson, 231

Sort of a mixed bag, isn’t it? You have all-time greats and a few OK pitchers and some washouts. Pitcher wins through Age 20 looks more or less the same — you  add Wally Bunker and Milt Pappas and Ray Sadecki, take out Walter Johnson, Rick Ankiel and King Felix. It still gives you an inconsistent mix. Pitchers get hurt: Gary Nolan did, Smoky Joe Wood did. Dwight Gooden lost his way. Rick Ankiel, well, this happened.

That sort of thing does not seem to happen as often to young hitters. Sure, they will occasionally get hurt like Conigliaro. Vada Pinson, Claudell Washington, Cesar Cedeno and a handful of other precocious young players all ran into various problems or inconsistencies along the way. But, generally speaking, brilliant young hitters stay brilliant for an extended period of time. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are obviously a long, long, long way away from becoming all-time players. But I’d bet on both of them.

  1. thenaturalmevs - Apr 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Couple of questions I have for Hardball Talkers:

    1) what is a Bryce Harper contract extension going to look like if things continue on this path?

    2) any chance the Nationals are able to sign him to an extension when the time comes?

    • Jeremy T - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      I’d like to say they should have gone the Rays route and signed him to a 10 year deal before he even came up, but the hype around him was crazy enough from the day he was drafted that it probably couldn’t have happened. The Nats financial situation seems to be pretty solid, so I’d think they have as good a chance as anyone to extend him.

    • El Bravo - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:05 PM

      Don’t the Nats already have him locked up for a awhile at what is clearly a bargain rate? They can probably extend him early at a less bargainy, but still bargain, rate in the next couple seasons too I would think.

    • voteforno6 - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      If money is the only consideration, then I don’t think that the Nationals will have any problem signing him to an extension. The Lerners are loaded.

    • kollin7 - Apr 29, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      1) A lot.

      2) Damn you Jayson Werth.

      • thenaturalmevs - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:19 PM

        Werth will be off the books by the time that Harper goes to negotiate any extension in 2018

      • kollin7 - Apr 29, 2013 at 3:20 PM

        thenaturalmevs- I’m aware. It was just a Jayson Werth joke.

  2. Jeremy T - Apr 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Shortest Pos piece ever written! I feel like most of this stuff has been said over and over again, but it’s still interesting to have it displayed so clearly. First, getting to watch two amazing talents like Trout and Harper come up together is one of the most exciting things a baseball fan can experience. And second, it’s really, really hard to project pitching.

    • Jeremy T - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:49 PM

      Hmm, I know I should ignore the thumbs, but… did I say something wrong/controversial?

      • historiophiliac - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        It might be that folks around here are defensive about Pos.

      • larryhockett - Apr 29, 2013 at 1:01 PM

        You should clarify that Pos stands for Posnanski and not “piece of sh*t.”

      • Jeremy T - Apr 29, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        Oh yeah, that could be it. Just to be clear, Posnanski is my favorite sportswriter on this or any site. I suppose “Poz” might be a better abbreviation for his name.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Apr 29, 2013 at 3:24 PM

        Yeah I didnt read who the writer was at first so I actually thought you meant piece of sh**. Although I never gave any thumbs.

  3. dondada10 - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    What I took away from this article is this: Holy shit Bob Feller was good.

    • beefytrout - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      Isn’t Bob Feller the only pitcher to strike out his age in a game? 17 at 17 if I’m not mistaken.

      • theonlynolan - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:40 PM

        Kerry Wood was 20 when he struck out 20.

      • mediocore - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:43 PM

        Kerry Wood was 20 when he K’ed 20 in 1998, although it was his age-21 season.

    • kollin7 - Apr 29, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      Yeah Bob Feller was amazing. I know a guy who had some sort of distant relation to him.

    • dr227 - Apr 29, 2013 at 2:07 PM

      not only was Feller an all-timer, he also spent 4 prime years as a gunner on battleship in WWII.

      • louhudson23 - Apr 29, 2013 at 3:10 PM

        USS Alabama……the rack he slept in is marked…..

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Apr 29, 2013 at 4:09 PM

        The man then came back from the war and pitched two more no-hitters! Oh, his first one was in 1940, on Opening Day, a feat that will remain unmatched until at least 2014.

  4. melkipershero - Apr 29, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    Arod* needs an asterisk.

    If you dont think he was juicing his whole career, well, wake up.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 29, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      Could someone help me move this dead horse?

      • jwbiii - Apr 29, 2013 at 1:08 PM

        It’s easier to butcher ’em in place and move the pieces. Hang on, I’ve got a chainsaw in the garage.

    • nategearhart - Apr 29, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      Not putting an asterisk doesn’t mean you deny his steroid use, it just means you don’t care.

  5. Jason Lukehart - Apr 29, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Harper has been incredible so far this season, he and Trout were quite an impressive pair of Rookie of the Year winners, not just for their performance, but also for being the youngest duo in the award’s history. I was wondering who the very best pairs have been, not just by rookie seasons, but for their entire careers. Trout and Harper have a long way to go to catch 1967’s duo (Tom Seaver and Rod Carew), easily the best ever. If you’re curious about other great pairs:

  6. jimeejohnson - Apr 29, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    Remember Mickey Mantle’s early career? I don’t, either. But these guys remind me of Mantle: unlimited potential.

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