Seems like the last 3 or 4 years there have been a lot of very excellent, very young baseball players in the major leagues.
Seems like, in that time, there has been a lot of talk about all the very excellent young baseball players in the majors, with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper leading the way. But our impressions are sometimes wrong, as analysis of the relevant data can reveal. So, to see if these impressions are right or wrong, I looked at the data.
The data agree, overwhelmingly.
Using Baseball-Reference.com, I looked at the highest-WAR seasons for players 22 and under from the last 40 years. Though rather than using WAR numbers outright, I scaled WAR to 150 games, to adjust for differences in playing time. Because WAR behaves more like a cumulative statistic, like hits, than a rate statistic, like batting average, this effectively converts it to a rate statistic. Because rate statistics are untrustworthy over small sample sizes, I only looked at seasons in which the player played in most of the games, so, at least 82 games.
Here are the top 40 such seasons from the last 40 years:
I then grouped these into 10 groups of 4 years. As it turns out, the period from 2012 to 2015 contains 5 of the top 10, 8 of the top 20, and 14 of the top 40 of these seasons, as shown by these charts. This, when the average group has 1 in the top 10, 2 in the top 20, and 4 in the top 40.
Of course, sometimes a single player produced more than one of these seasons. But these past four years also dominate in terms of the number of different young players on these lists. Here are all the players having top 40 seasons, listed under their 4-year groups, with their overall placements on the list next to their names. I’ve bolded those with top-20 seasons.
|1976 – 1979||1980 – 1983||1984 – 1987|
|Paul Molitor (27)||Rickey Henderson (4, 6)||Barry Bonds (33)|
|Willie Randolph (28)||Cal Ripken (8)|
|Robin Yount (31)||Tom Brunansky (17)|
|Chet Lemon (34)||Tim Raines (29)|
|Jack Clark (36)|
|Lou Whitaker (40)|
|1988 – 1991||1992 – 1995||1996 – 1999|
|Ken Griffey (13)||Ken Griffey (26)||Alex Rodriguez (3, 7, 30)|
|Andruw Jones (11, 20)|
|2000 – 2003||2004 – 2007||2008 – 2011|
|Hank Blalock (15)||Troy Tulowitzki (18)||Jason Heyward (14)|
|Albert Pujols (25)||Grady Sizemore (21)||Evan Longoria (32)|
|Austin Kearns (35)|
|2012 – 2015|
|Mike Trout (1, 5, 9)|
|Bryce Harper (2, 38)|
|Yasiel Puig (10)|
|Francisco Lindor (12)|
|Giancarlo Stanton (16)|
|Manny Machado (19, 24)|
|Carlos Correa (22)|
|Mookie Betts (23)|
|Jason Heyward (37)|
|Brett Lawrie (39)|
Again, these past 4 years dominate.
Now that we know for certain that we’re experiencing a very special surge of young talent, the next thing to ask is, why? Has the surge in the amount of free analysis available (on the web and in ESPN in-depth commentary) over the last decade or so allowed parents to self-coach their youngsters more effectively? And is this finally coming to fruition? Or is this just a fluke? Is it a Cuban invasion? Or something else?