Players who have been in the Major Leagues 2-4 years often find themselves at a career crossroad where we wonder what type of career he will have. Will he be a stud in his prime years like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, David Wright, or Adrian Beltre? Will he merely be a serviceable CI option, which has value, but won’t carry your team to the promised land? Perhaps he will not be either. Maybe he will never adapt to the adjustments that MLB pitchers make to exploit his weaknesses, and he will be destined to a career of platoon, defensive part-timer, or all or nothing slugger.
Baseball analysts like to find trends or markers that allow us to predict future outcomes for players. They look at K Rates, Walk Rates, Contact Rates, FB/HR Rates, Line Drive Rates, BABIP, and a lot of other metrics that reduce players to statistical robots in the name of predictability. One popular belief is that baseball players reach their prime power hitting acumen, and thus define their career trajectory, around the season that they turn 27. Of course the true Superstars, like Pujols and Cabrera and hopefully, for some of you, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, start hitting with authority and power the moment they first cross the white lines in the Majors. For the most part, though, the natural development of a good, but not otherworldly, power hitter takes some time to manifest itself.
So, is 27 the magic season? Let’s take a look at some star corner infielders who had their first breakout season in the last 10 to 15 years. I’m not going back further than that, as we’d have to start parsing out developmental differences between eras, and who thinks that would be fun? For this exercise, I looked at the career stats of the most prolific power hitters of our current generation (BaseballReference.com). I scanned down their career stats, without looking at age, until I found that true “breakout season.” Often it is the season in which they were trusted enough to play nearly every game at their position and showed spikes in basic metrics such as Slug %, OBP, and K/BB rates. They also show exponential gains in counting stats, such as going from a mid-teens homer threat to full-blown 35 HR slugger, or 100 RBI man. How old was that player when he turned those doubles into homers and had this magical, and career defining type of season? Let’s look.
Skipping Pujols (age 21) and Miggy (21), who have transcended all established norms and put up monster stats seemingly since they were out of diapers, let’s put up the basic stats from the first breakout season of this current generation of 1bmen (and DH’s). For the sake of simplicity, and 6 X 6 relevance, we will skip some of the more advanced sabermetric stats and only concentrate on HR, RBI BA & OPS. Someone else can debate the advanced metrics and WAR if they so choose, but we’re not doing that here.
Player HR RBI AVG OPS Age
- Joey Votto 37 113 .324 1.024 26
- Prince Fielder 50 119 .288 1.013 23
- A. Gonzalez 36 119 .279 .871 26
- Mark Teixiera 43 144 .301 .954 25
- Ryan Howard 58 149 .313 1.084 26
- Carlos Lee 31 113 .291 .830 27
- Allen Craig 22 92 .307 .876 27
- Paul Konerko 27 104 .304 .857 26
- Justin Morneau 34 130 .321 .934 25
- Todd Helton 42 147 .372 1.162 26
- Chris Davis 33 85 .270 .827 26
- Billy Butler 29 107 .313 .882 26
- Edwin Encarnacion 42 110 .280 .941 29
- Mark Reynolds 44 102 .260 .892 25
- Adam Lind 35 114 .305 .932 25
- Carlos Pena 46 121 .282 1.037 29
- David Ortiz 31 101 .288 .961 27
- Kendrys Morales 34 108 .306 .924 26
- Adam Dunn 46 102 .266 .956 24
- Adam Laroche 32 90 .285 .915 26
- Age 23 – 1
- Age 24 – 1
- Age 25 – 4
- Age 26 – 9
- Age 27 – 3
- Age 28 – 0
- Age 29 – 2
These 20 1B/DH fall into a nearly perfect Bell Curve of age at which they put it all together. Looking at that curve, it appears the most common breakout season for a 1B is between 25 & 27, with age 26 being the most common breakout season. So, what does this mean? It means that the theory looks accurate, albeit one year earlier than stated, at least for 1B. You might ask, “How does this help me?” Well, just like in my 2b and SS articles, you may get shut out of the top 10 choices at first base for one reason or another. If that happens, how should you decide which 1b to take a flier on in the later rounds? You’ll need a CI as well. Well, if it happens to me, I’m going to grab Justin Morneau and hope that he recaptures that past glory he had before he got beaned, but if someone beats me to him, I need a “Plan B.” I see quite a few 1b that are nearing the magic ages of 25-27 that we just proved out. Perhaps I should take one of them and hope to get the next Joey Votto. That sounds a lot more exciting than taking Adam Laroche, Brandon Moss, or Garret Jones. I’ll leave you with the short list, and later in the week we’ll look at 3b and see when they have their power coming out party.
1.) Paul Goldschmidt – Age in 2013 – 25. This guy is no sleeper, and is probably already in most top 10 lists. He can only go up.
2.) Freddie Freeman – Age in 2013 – 23. Freddie already had 2 seasons with more than 20 HR & improved his W/K ratio in the meantime.
3.) Anthony Rizzo – Age in 2013 – 23. Hit 38 HR & 110 RBI between Wrigley & AAA in 2012. He tried to win the NL Batting title for a while.
4.) Ike Davis – Age in 2013 – 26. Despite a horrendous start to 2012, Ike hit 32 HR. This guy looks like a 40 HR monster heading into his age 27 season.
5.) Eric Hosmer – Age in 2013 – 23. Patience folks. He’s still only 23.
6.) Brandon Belt – Age in 2013 – 25. We know he can hit for average, but what season will those doubles start to clear the wall. Maybe this season?
7.) Yonder Alonso – Age in 2013 – 26. Like Belt, we know he can hit for average. He also hit 39 doubles in 549 AB. PETCO fences are moving in.
8.) Mitch Moreland – Age in 2013 – 27. It’s not too late, is it?
9.) Justin Smoak – Age in 2013–26. Once a top prospect, it’s not too late, is it?
10,11.) Brett Wallace and Gaby Sanchez – Ages in 2013 – 26 and 29. Do you feel lucky?
There. That’s 10 or 11 players outside the top 10. Who said 1B is not deep anymore? I think it is just the start of a changing of the guard. See you later in the week, when we move across the diamond to 3b.