Aug 14, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the late 1970s was an amazing time for young baseball players. I’m arbitrarily choosing 23-and-younger as “young” — but with that age in mind, the late 1970s gave us Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Andre Dawson, Paul Molitor, Gary Carter, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith and some pretty awesome players like Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph and the rather outspoken Jack Clark.
All of those players, as young men, posted good seasons in the late 1970s. In 1978 alone, 14 young players posted a 3.0 WAR or better. That remains the record for a single season. You just don’t have seasons when THAT MANY young players are playing that well.
This year, though, there are 13 or 14 young players who COULD, with a nice finish, post a 3.0 WAR. It probably won’t be quite that many in the end — but it certainly could be 10. There are already seven players with a better than 3.0 WAR.
Anyway, we should celebrate the time. Here’s a quick look at the top 12 young players in WAR:
1. Obviously Mike Trout (6.6 WAR).
2. Obviously, Manny Machado (5.3 WAR), who finally stopped hitting doubles like he was Tris Speaker but is still having a fantastic year.
3. Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons (4.6 WAR) is hitting just .239 with a 74 OPS+ — but his defensive statistics at shortstop are not just good but tilt-the-pinball-machine good. Right now, the Dewan Plus/Minus has him at PLUS-FORTY, which is, well, more or less unprecedented. That means — and remember, there is still six-plus weeks left in the season — the stat estimates he has made FORTY MORE PLAYS than the average shortstop can make. That’s like two per week. According to Baseball Reference’s “WAR — Fielding Runs” he has saved 34 runs — already the second-highest total in the archives.* Fangraphs has a slightly more moderate reading of his defense, but still has him as the best defensive player in the National League.
*In 1975, Baltimore’s Mark Belanger saved 35 runs.
4. Milwaukee’s 22-year-old shortstop Jean Segura (4.3 WAR) leads the National League in hits, has stolen 35 bases, hit 12 home runs and seems to be playing very good defense. He came over from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade — and I’m thinking that will be one they regret in Anaheim for a long time.
5. We’re 62 games into this now, and Yasiel Puig (3.9 WAR) is still hitting .373 and he’s still slugging .589 and the Dodgers are an absolutely obscene 44-18 with him in the lineup (Making them 25-32 when he’s not in the lineup). I realize there’s no way Puig can keep this up, and I also realize that he IS keeping it up.
By the way: It is SO much fun to hear Vin Scully talk about Yasiel Puig. It’s worth a nightly check-in.
6. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman (3.8) is probably more famous at this point for hugging people, but he’s getting on base, hitting with at least some power and seems to be a at the center of the Atlanta mojo.
7. Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado (3.5) is not hitting much at all. So he’s posting most of his value with apparently spectacular defense. His Dewan Plus/Minus is a spectacular plus-30. Here is an amazing play. Here is another. This might be his best one. Here is a noble effort.
8. Jason Heyward (2.5 WAR) has already been up and down and over and out — it’s his fourth full-season in the big leagues. But he’s still just 23 and he still a solid contributor. Don’t know if he will ever become the big star that seemed certain after his 20-year-old season. You know who he kind of reminds me of? Von Hayes. Tall left-handed bat with some power, some speed, loads of talent, lots of charisma — Hayes was famously traded to Philadelphia for five players in the 1980s. He did have a handful of really good years for the Phillies.
9. I kept waiting and believing that Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer (2.3 WAR) would figure things out after a dreadful sophomore season and an even worse start in 2013. On June 5 — my 15th wedding anniversary, thanks for asking — the Royals did something startlingly smart — startling for those of us who have followed them closely for the last 15 or 20 years.They moved Hosmer into the No. 2 spot in the lineup. There are many studies that show lineup strategies make very little difference when it comes to scoring runs, but they do figure in a player’s head. By putting Hosmer in the No. 2 spot (at least this is my theory) they were telling him: Relax. You don’t have to hit home runs. You don’t have to crush the ball and drive in a million runs. Just put a good swing on the ball, keep things going.
For the next two and a half weeks, Hosmer hit .328/.387/.537. He just LOOKED different. The Royals moved him back to the No. 3 spot for a little bit, he’s hitting second again, but his swing has basically clicked back into place. He’s hitting .292/.336/.432, which isn’t All-Star stuff, but he’s slugging about .500 since the switch to the No. 2 slot, and the numbers climb, and he’s a big reason the Royals are playing their best baseball in decades.
10. Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo (2.2 WAR) just turned 24. He’s hitting just .234, but he’s drawing more walks, he will probably hit 25 homers, and he is EXACTLY the sort of guy (powerful lefty-handed hitter with developing plate discipline) who can develop into a big star more or less overnight. That’s what happened to David Ortiz and Chris Davis among others.
11. I love watching Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez (2.2 WAR) play. His offense has dwindled which is not unexpected — he’s never shown any plate discipline and the offense he flashed his first couple of years was a surprise. But he should improve as a hitter. And defensively — I think he’s the best defensive catcher in the American League.
12. Bryce Harper (2.0) was having the sort of follow-up season everyone expected when he ran into the wall and missed a month. He has looked pretty lost ever since, hitting .235/.331/.417 since his return at the beginning of July. Well, more or less everything has gone wrong in Washington. He’s too talented and too determined to be down for long.
Two other young players worth mentioning are Jose Iglesias, who figures to be Detroit’s shortstop for a good while now, and Tampa Bay’s Will Myers.
Ah, Myers. What is that Fitzgerald quote? “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
1. I think the Royals made a bad trade when they dealt Wil Myers to the Rays. He’s already hitting for average and power, he’s just 22, I think he will be one of the game’s really good hitters for the next decade. I think the Royals will regret the trade many times.
2. I think the Royals made the trade because they felt it was time to start winning — and it is working. Maybe the trade is a big reason. Maybe it isn’t. But, again, it is working. They have starting winning. Their surge has energized a great baseball town that was sunk by 20-plus years of incompetence and awfulness. The main pitcher in the deal, James Shields, has pitched well enough, and the Royals lead the American League in ERA. And so, the trade has been good for Kansas City.
I don’t know if those are exactly OPPOSING ideas, but I believe both.
Apr 16, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT
From Tim Britton of the Providence Journal comes word that Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli was removed from Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox with a dislocation of his left ring finger. X-rays were negative, meaning he does not have a fracture.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:28 PM EDT
Josh Johnson’s arm injury woes continue. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, the right-handed starter is still being bothered by discomfort in his forearm and will be examined next week by Dr. James Andrews.
Apr 15, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT
Clayton Kershaw continued his recovery from a teres major muscle strain on Tuesday, throwing a bullpen session with improved fastball velocity.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT
Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes was pulled from the club’s season-opener with tightness in his left hamstring. He is expected to return to action this Friday.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
On the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and with the Red Sox in town for a three-game series, the White Sox wore these “Boston Strong” shirts during pregame warmups Tuesday …
Apr 15, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Mariners top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker was scheduled to make one final rehab start on Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma before joining the major league starting rotation. But that plan can now be torched.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT
Curtis Granderson is not in the Mets’ starting lineup against the host Diamondbacks because of minor rib cage, forearm, and knee injuries that he sustained in a collision with the outfield wall on Monday, but he will be sporting these custom cleats on the bench …
Apr 15, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
According to beat writer James Wagner of the Washington Post, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos got the stitches removed from his surgically-repaired left hand on Tuesday afternoon and has now been cleared to begin basic rehab activities.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Tests taken Monday on the sore left wrist of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia ruled out any major structural damage. He is not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, but ESPN’s Gordon Edes says Pedroia is aiming to return on Wednesday.
Apr 15, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
I can’t vouch for the study, but I do know this much: politics gets this stuff in the news, but money is what will ultimately change things.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Earlier this month journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald announced his retirement via Instagram and he’s already landed a good post-playing gig in the Cubs’ front office as a baseball operations assistant.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Border wars in baseball. Why not?
Apr 15, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT
Michael Bourn is back from the disabled list after being sidelined since the middle of spring training with a hamstring injury and to make room for his return the Indians optioned Nyjer Morgan back to Triple-A.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
There are fewer U.S.-born blacks playing baseball today than there were 20-30 years ago. But how many fewer, and what can be done about it?
Apr 15, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
To some people, Yasiel Puig will always be a problem rather than a person.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Francisco Cervelli injured his hamstring Sunday night and the Yankees have placed the backup catcher on the 60-day disabled list rather than the usual 15-day disabled list.
Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists
Apr 15, 2014, 1:19 PM EDT
Thank God he didn’t suggest people still had the capacity for violence, or else the manner in which these idiots took offense might’ve been even worse.
Apr 15, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
MLB sends an odd message given how open they’ve been about instant replay being a work-in-progress.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
Every year lots of people act like spring training numbers mean something and every year they don’t. I guess there’s really no way of avoiding it, since everyone is so excited to have any kind of baseball to watch again after a long winter that they latch onto some random 20-game sample against varying degrees of competition.
- Jose Reyes is on track to be activated Friday 3
- Dustin Pedroia given cortisone injection for sore left wrist, aiming to return Wednesday 1
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists 209
- John Farrell to get fined for being critical of instant replay 47
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 91
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (210)
- The Red Sox are still steamed that a PED guy played against them in the playoffs last year (129)
- We don’t need to celebrate Barry Bonds, but we should avoid whitewashing baseball history (122)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (121)
- Must-Click Link: Yasiel Puig’s harrowing journey to the United States (95)