“65 Mustangs” A Deeper Look at corner infielders: Age 27 power prime breakout, myth or reality?

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.

First Base:

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

  1. Joey Votto                   37        113      .324     1.024     26
  2. Prince Fielder             50        119      .288     1.013     23
  3. A. Gonzalez                  36        119      .279       .871     26
  4. Mark Teixiera             43        144      .301       .954     25
  5. Ryan Howard              58        149      .313     1.084     26
  6. Carlos Lee                     31        113      .291       .830     27
  7. Allen Craig                   22          92      .307       .876     27
  8. Paul Konerko              27        104      .304       .857    26
  9. Justin Morneau         34        130      .321       .934      25
  10. Todd Helton                42        147      .372     1.162     26
  11. Chris Davis                   33          85       .270       .827    26
  12. Billy Butler                   29        107      .313       .882     26
  13. Edwin Encarnacion  42        110       .280       .941     29
  14. Mark Reynolds           44        102      .260       .892     25
  15. Adam Lind                    35        114      .305       .932     25
  16. Carlos Pena                   46        121      .282     1.037    29
  17. David Ortiz                    31        101      .288       .961     27
  18. Kendrys Morales        34        108      .306       .924     26
  19. Adam Dunn                   46        102      .266       .956     24
  20. 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.

Categories: 1st Base, Position Rankings

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Nice work my friend. I cant shake the feeling that 1B is shallow this year, then every time I look at a list I lick my chops again. Freeman, Davis, Goldy, Hosmer, Alonso and the list goes on…. Trademark that “26” before its too late lol

  2. Nice assessments, and let me just offer my 2 cents. Freeman, Goldy, and Hosmer are all going to be top 10 1Bs at season’s end. Davis is kinda a sleeper, and has massive power, but the Mets offense is kinda weak, and they are far from contending. he is still, however, the best power bat the Mets have. The 2 biggest sleepers on this list are Rizzo and Alonso. Both teams have loaded minors and their top prospects should be coming through shortly. Baez, Lake, and some other top Cubs prospects will take longer than the likes of Gyorko, Hedges, and possibly Spangenberg in SD, but both offenses have bright futures. With that said, I see Rizzo as having better power numbers this season, but he’ll also be more of a free swinger than Alonso, hence I expect Alonso to hit for more average. Both will/should be top 15 1Bs at season’s end.
    Overall, great list. One player you and I view similarly is Smoak. The guy can rake, but as long as he hits for a paltry .200 ABs will be limited. He must show he can at least hit for decent average this season, or his starting days are severely numbered.

  3. Very nice assessment by Joe for certain. Very well laid out.

Join the discussion

%d bloggers like this: