Man, Ronald Acuña is good at baseball. Destroys baseball at an average 90+ MPH exit velocity. Chases down everything in left field. Hits grand slams in the playoffs, as well as home runs in his first AA and AAA games. Only 21 years old and just getting started.
It made me wonder about other young stars in MLB history. How would you compare him to other players that had very early debuts? One yardstick could be that their talent is so great that they forced themselves onto a MLB team when your average prospect is sitting in the Southern League. What if a player got enough PAs to qualify for the batting title before their age 21 season? Ronald Acuña completed his age 20 season in 2018. He did not qualify for the batting title as he finished with 487 PAs, 15 short of the mark. But let’s be real. His talent didn’t keep him from getting into the lineup on Opening Day. It was his
hat-straightening that needed work . bat control that needed refining. extra year of control. So let’s assume he would have qualified.
There are 35 players since 1946 that have qualified for the batting title before their age 21 season. 27 of those players have ended their careers five or more years ago. 13 of those retired averaged out with pretty nice careers. 14 are in the MLB Hall of Fame. Just over half of those fully retired are in Cooperstown. By this metric, Acuña has a slightly better than a coin flip’s chance of a Hall Of Fame career.
The 35 players that qualified for the batting title in their age 20 season fit into 4 basic groups: current players (including those that retired in last 5 years) (8), HOFs (14), non-HOFs with very good careers (6), and the rest (7). So flip one coin (14 vs. 13) for the Hall Of Fame, and failing that another coin flip (6 vs. 7) at a pretty solid career. Here is the list of players that qualified. There are 38 seasons listed, but that’s because three had 2 pre-age 21 qualified seasons.
Current players and recent retirees
Mike Trout not only qualified for the batting title in 2012, he put up 10.0 WAR. Bryce Harper qualified in 2012 as well, and he along with 2013’s qualifier Manny Machado are the most prized free agent of 2018. The Braves pulled the wrapper off Jason Heyward, and he qualified in 2010 when every ounce in production was needed. Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro round out the current players, and Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez are not eligible for HOF ballots yet. These players put up an average of 4.41 WAR/600. It would take a player 16 seasons at that rate to amass the 70 WAR typically needed for induction.
Non-HOFs with very good careers
These qualifiers had some Dale Murphy-level career numbers. Buddy Bell put up 61.7 WAR and his 2514 hits are #99 of all time. Rusty Staub put up 47.9 WAR and made the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Vada Pinson, Cesar Cedeño, Edgar Renteria, and Eddie Yost round out the list that put together at least 35 WAR.
Names like Butch Wynegar, Tony Conigliaro, Rick Manning, Bob Bailey, Ed Kranepool are qualifiers on this list. Claudell Washington spent some time with the Braves. Ken Hubbs won the Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and broke Bobby Doerr’s record of 74 consecutive errorless games. He was a terrific fielder, but his career was tragically cut short due to a plane crash.
Hall of Famers
Strap yourselves in. These list of players include Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Johnny Bench, Roberto Alomar, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Alan Trammell, Bill Mazeroski, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Roberto Clemente. Of these greats only Yount, Griffey, and Kaline qualified in their age 19 seasons as well.
It’s just one metric. It’s only one 26 HR, 3.7 WAR season at age 20. Can he really hang with the greats?
I can’t wait to find out.