Friday, January 2, 2015

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2015 Edition

In what’s becoming an annual offseason tradition, I decided to again look at which young and active players where on pace for the Hall of Fame. As in years past, I’ll start with hitters today and move onto pitchers in the next few days.

Just as a refresher on my methods: First, I look at how Hall of Famers were playing at each age and sort them by career Wins Above Replacement through that season. I look at the median, then see how many players were above the median at that age but didn’t make the Hall. Then, I simply see what percentage of players above that mark made the Hall.

Below is the chart with the results, including how much WAR a player would need to total at each level to stay on pace:


With that out of the way, let’s look at who made each mark this year.

Age 20 (0.5)
No one made the cut this year. In fact, only three 20 year old batters played this year at the Major League level, and only one (Rougned Odor) played in more than 18 games. He’s also the only one that made any top prospect list. But as the numbers show, this one is less indicative than later ages.

Age 21 (2.0)
For as empty as age 20 was, age 21 sees us with a few players. Leading the group is Manny Machado. Even after missing half of this season, Machado still has 10.4 career WAR thanks to a strong (6.4 Win) 2013 and a competent 2.4 Win campaign in only 82 games this season. Continuing the theme of injury-plagued 2014s is Bryce Harper. After a season where the young outfielder only managed 1 Win and a 111 OPS+ in 100 games, he showed that he’s still one of the best when he’s healthy when he hit 3 home runs and posted a 1.251 OPS in the playoffs. For his three season career, Harper has been worth 9.6 WAR.
The last two were mid-2014 debuts, and neither clears the bar to the same extent as those two. Red Sox top prospect Mookie Betts managed 2.1 WAR in his 52 game debut, and comes with a top pedigree. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him build up more of a buffer next year (also, fellow young Red Sox teammate Xander Bogaerts was the top miss, at 0.5 career WAR in 162 games). The other is Jose Ramirez of the Indians. Ramirez looks like more of a fluke than the other three, with a lot of his 2-WAR total coming from his strong fielding at shortstop despite playing mostly second base in the minors. I suppose there’s a chance he keeps it up, but I’m a little more skeptical.

Age 22 (4.0)
Mike Trout is 22, so he naturally leads the way. And not only that, but at 28.2 WAR, he’s already cleared the Hall median all the way through age 27. I know he’s good, I’ve been writing these pieces for three years now, and that still floors me. Last year at this time, he was in the clear through age 25, and he still managed to clear through two more years worth of WAR (and not just two years, but two of the years with the steepest incline) in a single season. I have no idea what this means for his odds; if having that total through age 27 makes you a roughly 60/40 bet for the Hall, what does having it five years early make you? I don’t know, so I’ll just say 95/5.
The only other player to make the list is Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich. With 4.9 Wins through 206 career games, Yelich makes up one-third of an impressive young outfield, with centerfielder Marcell Ozuna (23, 5.1 WAR) and another player that we’ll be covering shortly. The near-misses of this group include Chris Owings (2.2), Enrique Hernandez, and Jonathan Schoop (1.6 each).

Age 23 (7.7)
Yasiel Puig stayed above the line after making the age-22 mark last year. 2014 marked a strong sophomore campaign for the electric right fielder, as he posted a 145 OPS+ over 148 games, giving him 10.4 Wins in two seasons. Joining him this year is last year’s near-miss, Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado. He’s not the hitter that Puig is, but he’s an incredible fielder with two deserved Gold Gloves to his name already. Ozuna is the next miss after them.

Age 24 (11.3)
By some interesting coincidence, there are six 24 year olds to clear the 11.3 Hall median. Leading all of them new Cardinals acquisition Jason Heyward. In five seasons, he’s hit for a 114 OPS+ while playing great defense in right, giving him 24.5 wins. Right after him is new 300 Million dollar man Giancarlo Stanton. He has 3.3 fewer wins than his former division rival in about fifty fewer games, but his value comes much more from his prodigious power (154 home runs, 143 OPS+).
After them, we get a pair of Braves, with slick-fielding shortstop Andrelton Simmons picking up 13.3 WAR on the strength of fielding numbers that look like they came out of Ozzie Smith’s career. Teammate Freddie Freeman is right behind him, at 12.1.
Right on Freeman’s tail is Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Being a backstop makes Perez’s case even more impressive; usually, the lower total of games played by catchers cuts into their WAR totals (and WAR doesn’t even take into things like pitch framing or game calling, which doesn’t help). In fact, only eight other catchers since 1900 have had as much WAR at such a young age.
Lastly, there’s Brett Lawrie. The recently-traded infielder has 11.7 WAR so far to just clear the bar, but a lot of that comes from big defensive numbers earlier in his career, which may be partly due to getting over-credited for defensive shifts. Fangraphs’ WAR, for instance, only says he’s been worth 7.9 WAR so far. We’ll see where he stands next year. After that bunch, Anthony Rizzo and Jose Altuve are next, but they’re only at 9.7 and 9.4 wins, respectively.

Age 25 (16.0)
Elvis Andrus had a pretty bad 2014. While he’s usually been a below-average hitter, he made up for it with a good glove at shortstop. This year, though, his defense took a drop as well, leaving him with only 1 win above replacement for the year. But thanks to being above-average at a young age, he stands at 17.6 WAR right now. No other 25-year old makes this cutoff; Starling Marte is the next closest, at 11.7.

Age 26 (20.35)
After all of those names, we reach our second age (and first since 20) with no representative. Justin Upton came close, though. He stands just shy at 20.0, and a return to his MVP form in San Diego could get him back on track for next year at this time. After him, we have Paul Goldschmidt (15.6) and Kyle Seager (13.1) a ways off.

Age 27 (25.6)
Again, we only have one player to make the grade: Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen. But, with 33.2 wins to his name already, he’s the first player since the age-24 bunch to already be set through next season. Also, a fun fact: he’s the first player we’ve covered with more career WAR than Mike Trout.
The closest miss after McCutchen is Buster Posey, but as mentioned, he faces a different set of challenges as a catcher. His 23.2 career wins is eleventh-best among catchers since 1900. After him, the next-best totals belong to Pablo Sandoval and Austin Jackson, who are unlikely to catch up for next year given that they’d need 10.3- and 11.1-win seasons in 2015, respectively.

Age 28 (31.4)
Evan Longoria is our sole 28 year old on pace. And he’s our first one in a while to have passed the next two landmarks, with 40.0 wins across his first seven seasons. He’ll need all of that, though, given how reluctant the Hall has been to induct third basemen in the past. After him, we have to go all the way to Adam Jones at 23.9 for our next 28 year old.

Age 29 (35.4)
Troy Tulowitzki missed 71 games this season, and only played in 264 games over the past three seasons. In spite of that, he leads all players of his age group and makes Hall median for the age with 37.6 WAR. Hopefully he can bounce back in 2015 and build up even more of a buffer.
Speaking of injury-plagued stars, the first runner-up is Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman had been above the mark for each of the last few years, but an arm injury that zapped his throwing and then limited him to only 61 games limited him to only 0.4 WAR this year. Hopefully a shift to an easier position helps get him back on track. After them, Matt Kemp is next, but he’s only at 21.3 WAR.

Age 30 (39.5)
For the fourth straight year, we get exactly one player above the mark. Dustin Pedroia saw his offense drop off a little this past year, but played his usual strong defense up-the-middle en route to a 4.8-win season. He finds himself just 0.6 short of making the age-31 median.
There are no other 30s who make the 39.5 needed, but there are a lot more near-misses than at other ages. Leading the group is Pedroia’s new teammate, Hanley Ramirez. With good health each of the last two years, he might have made it this year (5.4 WAR in 86 games in 2013, 3.5 WAR in 128 games in 2014). Instead, he stands three wins short. Half a win behind him is Ryan Braun. Maybe the Hall electorate will be of a different mindset fifteen years from now, or whenever Braun winds up on the ballot, but I don’t think we should expect anything based on precedent so far. And lastly, we have Joey Votto. He entered the year with a good chance to catch up, entering with 33.7 WAR, but he missed 100 games instead, setting him a ways back.

Age 31 (43.8)
This is about the age where we start to see the tag “Future Hall of Famer” applied to active guys. And this year’s crop of age-31 guys is probably the best that we have of any age group, with four players all in excess of 45 career wins. In the lead is Miguel Cabrera, who’s already set through age 35 at least (since that’s as far as I go). He currently stands at 59.4, and I struggle to think of a scenario where he doesn’t make the Hall.
Next we have Robinson Cano. The second baseman had a successful transition to the West Coast, posting 6.4 WAR in his Seattle debut and bringing his career value to 51.5. Right on his tail is David Wright. Wright entered the season with a slight lead on Cano, but had a down year. Even working through an early season injury, though, he had a 2.8-win season, bringing him to 49.7 total. And finally, there’s Joe Mauer. Again, though, as a catcher (and even though he’s now a first baseman, he’s still several seasons away from having more games at first, and will likely get considered as a catcher first even after then, similar to how Ernie Banks is thought off first as a shortstop), he gets an additional boost (on top of being a three-time batting champ as a catcher, which is pretty impressive in its own right). His 46.3 WAR is sixth among all catchers through age 31.
After them, we have Jose Reyes (36.2), Russell Martin (30.1), and Yadier Molina (29.5), all of whom are well off-pace. But Reyes may reach 3000 hits (he’s at 1772 now, but looked like a better bet a year or two ago), and the latter two are both catchers, so they may merit additional consideration. And just a reminder, since I haven’t said it yet: not making these marks isn’t an end to a player’s chances, even at this late an age. After all, by definition, half of the Hall’s hitters didn’t make these.

Age 32 (48.4)
For the first time in six age groups, we have no hitters above the line. Carl Crawford and Ian Kinsler are our top misses, at 40.2 and 40.1 WAR. Adrian Gonzalez is a little behind them at 38.2. Even then, though, I’d say all of them are long-shots.

Age 33 (50.9)
33 is even more barren than 32. Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson are in a virtual tie, with 36.6 and 36.5 wins, respectively. As a brief aside, though: it’s a shame that Ben Zobrist didn’t pull it all together sooner. 2009 was his first full season, and he hit .297/.405/.543 for a 149 OPS+ and 8.6 WAR at second base. But he was already 28 at that point, way to late to make a dent on any lists like this.
Since then, though, he’s been fantastic. Over the past six seasons, he’s been worth 37.4 WAR, a total that ranks 30th in all history for age 28-33 seasons. This is the type of late-career success that solidifies Hall cases. But with Zobrist, it was the start of a career, rather than a continuation. We’ll see where it goes from here, and I guess there’s a chance that he keeps it up and makes a Hall case, but I doubt it (although I guess there’s an incredibly small chance he becomes the Randy Johnson of position players, who figures it out in his late 20s and just remains really good into his late 30s).

Age 34 (53.3)
I forgot that Albert Pujols was only 34; his last few seasons are well below his peak, but still pretty good. In all, he’s been worth 97.0 WAR, and I struggle to think of a way he could any more of a lock. I mean, he’ll keep playing and ticking of milestones and such, but I don’t think that will convince anyone else. Because let’s be honest, if the first 520 home runs and 561 doubles didn’t convince you, I don’t know what else there is for him to do to win you over.
Mark Teixeira is first runner-up here. Believe it or not, he was only 0.6 WAR behind pace two years ago. But in the two injury-affected seasons since then, he’s managed just 138 games and 0.8 wins, giving him 48.6 total. Still, I’ve heard people give him prospective Hall chatter in the past (although it was more common a year or two ago). Also, there’s Pujols’s former partner in power-hitting, Matt Holliday. He’s only at 43.9, but he hasn’t slowed down too much yet, and valuations of his defense can greatly swing his WAR totals. Fangraphs, for example, likes his defense more by about 6 full wins worth. Still not on the pace, but more within striking distance.

Age 35 (56.0)
We close it out with a duo atop the age-35 leaderboards. First is seventeen-year veteran Adrian Beltre. Since his debut in 1998, Beltre has been worth 77.8 wins, and shows no sign of slowing down after a 7-win 2014. He’s always sort of flown under the radar of a lot writers, but that will probably go away as he hits more milestones (he’s five home runs short of 400 and 396 hits short of 3000).
Chase Utley, another underrated star, is his counterpart. He’s had five fewer seasons than Beltre, but has still but up 61.5 WAR in the time. He’s still going pretty strong, although not quite on Beltre’s level (3.6 WAR in 2014), and the five years difference in playing time means that he probably won’t reach the counting stats that Beltre will. The Hall also has a history of overlooking second basemen, so only time will tell how his case shakes out.
The only other 35 year old even over 35 career WAR is Utley’s now-former double play partner, Jimmy Rollins. The Dodgers’ new shortstop stands at 45.7 WAR. He reminds me of Reyes, in that reaching a milestone like 3000 hits could do him wonders, and there’s still a chance. But it’s a lot easier to dream about big comeback seasons for Reyes than a player four years his senior (plus, Reyes averages more hits per 162 games than Rollins did at his age). Still, it could happen, and since no one else at this age is close, I may as well bring it up.

 In all, that’s 26 players. There’s no way all of them make it, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see 15-20 of them in Cooperstown down the road. Plus, a good rule of thumb is that somewhere from 30 to 40 active players at any one time will one day make it to the Hall.

If we were to make a list of 40, I’d definitely start with a slightly edited version of this list before filling it out with older players (I didn’t even mention Derek Jeter, or Ichiro Suzuki, or Carlos Beltran…) and pitchers (there are usually fewer of them than position players anyway, but I’ll cover them soon). And then, from there, you could pick a few more who fell below the line based on other factors, like being a catcher or postseason success (after all, by definition, half of the Hall of Fame didn’t hit these marks).

 Either way, I think this is a much better method than what I usually see, which is “just go down the list of current leaders in WAR/some other stat”. You need to get a more even distribution of ages. Even if we do have more information on how the older players will turn out, we can still project the young players pretty reasonably. And in most cases, I think the best of the younger players has better odds than the fringe veterans that frequently make these lists, and that potential of young stars is what I wanted to highlight.

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