Young Talent Inventory
Ranking baseball's top 50 up-and-coming stars
Posted: Friday November 2, 2007 12:16PM; Updated: Friday November 2, 2007 11:33PM
Groundbreaking analyst Bill James, senior baseball operations advisor for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, has published this provocative Young Talent Inventory in The Bill James Handbook 2008, available as of Nov. 1, 2007. He is also working on a new book to be published in February, entitled The Bill James Gold Mine 2008. For further information on these books go to http://www.actasports.com/.
We are sitting in a historic bubble of young talent. About a year ago a reporter (John Tomase) asked me an extremely interesting question: Why do you think that there are so many great young players around right now? I replied in my usual annoyingly cautious fashion that I didn't know whether there was or was not an unusual amount of young talent around at the moment, but then later I decided to study the issue.
Conclusion: There is no doubt that there is an unusual amount of great young talent around right now. Arguably, there is more outstanding young talent around right now than at any other moment in baseball history -- not more per team, but there are more teams. The moment at which there had been the most young talent in baseball, before 2007, was 1964. Among the players in 1964 who were 25 years old or younger and already doing some good work in The Show: Dick Allen, Ken Berry, Jim Bouton, Lou Brock, Gates Brown, Wally Bunker, Johnny Callison, Rico Carty, Dean Chance, Tony Conigliaro, Willie Davis, Larry Dierker, Al Downing, Sammy Ellis, Dick Ellsworth, Ron Fairly, Bill Freehan, Jim Fregosi, Dave Giusti, Dick Green, Jim Ray Hart, Alex Johnson, Deron Johnson, Jim Kaat, Mickey Lolich, Jim Maloney, Dick McAuliffe, Tim McCarver, Sam McDowell, Dave McNally, Tony Oliva, Claude Osteen, Milt Pappas, Gaylord Perry, Vada Pinson, Boog Powell, Pete Rose, Ray Sadecki, Ron Santo, Willie Stargell, Mel Stottlemyre, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre, Pete Ward, Don Wert, Zoilo Versalles and Carl Yastrzemski. That was greatest explosion of young talent in baseball history -- until now.
Who is the best young player in baseball? A deceptively tricky question, in that it requires us to combine two unlike factors -- youth and talent -- into one measurement. C. C. Sabathia is certainly a better pitcher right now than Felix Hernandez, but Sabathia was 26 in 2007; Hernandez was 21. Does Hernandez' youth outweigh Sabathia's production? Alex Rios is probably a better player right now than Jeff Francoeur, but Francoeur is three years younger. Both players are 1) clearly still young, and 2) clearly very good. How do you balance Francoeur's additional youth against Rios' additional accomplishments?
You just have to pick a method and roll with it. We're not talking here about prospects or minor league players. We're discussing proven major league players who are still young. This was my method, in short. First, I eliminated from my study all players who were 29 years old in 2007 or older, since 29-year-olds in 2007 are now 30, and 30-year-old baseball players are not young. A 28- year-old player can be considered to have a little bit of youth left; a 30-year-old, no way. Second, I figured the runs created by each player -- for Rios, 105. Third, I made a "speed adjustment", since speed correlates strongly with defensive value, and defensive value is more difficult to measure. Fourth, I divided that total by the runs scored/runs allowed per game by the player's team, thus building in context adjustments. Fifth, I multiplied that by the number of years the player had left before he was 33 years old. For Alex Rios, this creates an output of 216, which ranks ... well, I'll get to that in a moment. For the pitchers, I developed a similar method based on runs allowed.
Why 33 years old, rather than 30? I tried it the other way and it doesn't work. Suppose that you have a 27-year-old player and a 24-year-old player of the same accomplishment...Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols, or Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett, or Edwin Encarnacion and Felipe Lopez. The 24-year-old is more valuable, and we want him to rank higher, but he's not twice as valuable. If we subtract his age from 30, that's 3 "years left" for the 27-year-olds, 6 years left for the 24-year-olds. It causes moderately good 22-year-olds to vault ahead of MVP-level 27-year-olds. Subtracting from 33 flattens the slope, creating better balance.
Combining youth and performance, Felix Hernandez ranks well ahead of Sabathia, Francoeur a little ahead of Rios, which is just my ranking ... feel free to second guess, bitch and moan, or do your own ranking. Without further ado, here is my post-2007 Young Talent Inventory, starting with the 25 best young players in baseball today:
1. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee first baseman.
Fielder has a "score" in our system of 323, but since the numbers are only relevant one to another, I'll skip those from now on. But I will list their ages, so that I don't have to comment on that ... ages are as of June 30, 2007.
2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida shortstop (23).
3. Fausto Carmona, Cleveland starting pitcher (23).
5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle starting pitcher (21).
6. Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay lefty (23).
7. Jose Reyes, Mets shortstop (24).
8. Matt Cain, San Francisco starting pitcher (22).
9. Grady Sizemore, Cleveland center fielder (24).
The Indians had Hall of Fame center fielders for most of their first 55 years, in Tris Speaker, Earl Averill and Larry Doby. It's been awhile. Kenny Lofton has had a fantastic career, and I wouldn't dismiss the notion that he deserves Hall of Fame consideration, but he's bounced in and out of Cleveland like a bad penny, chopping up his career into little parts until he wound up as the premise of a moving company commercial. Let's hope that doesn't happen to Grady.
10. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia starting pitcher (23).