Young Talent Inventory

May 1, 2007
In mid-March, 2007, John Tomase of the Boston Globe asked me if I had any idea as to why there were so many great young players around right now. . .he mentioned Jose Reyes, David Wright and Joe Mauer. I replied that
    1) I don’t know whether the amount of young talent around right now is higher than normal or not, and
    2) If it is, I don’t have any idea why.
It occurred to me an hour later, however, that I could certainly measure whether or not the amount of young talent around was high or low. How would you develop a "young talent inventory"?

I decided to look at it by using the "RCAP" data from Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. RCAP is Sinins’ own stat, essentially grafting my method—Runs Created—onto Pete Palmer’s view of the world. It attempts to answer this question: How many more (or fewer) runs did this player create than an average player at the same position in the same league? It’s park-adjusted.

To measure the young talent around at each moment in history, I compiled lists of all players aged 25 or younger who had RCAP greater than zero from 1900 to the present. I then multiplied each player’s RCAP by (26 minus age), to create the "young talent inventory contribution" of that player. For example, Ty Cobb in 1909 was 76 runs created better than the average player at his position, and he was 22 years old. This makes a contribution to the total of 76 X 4, or 304 "young talent points".

Cobb, obviously, was one of the most formidable young players of all time. . .I actually have him ranked 12th, behind
  1. Ted Williams, 1941
  2. Alex Rodriguez, 1996
  3. Joe Jackson, 1911
  4. Eddie Mathews, 1953
  5. Ted Williams, 1939
  6. Mel Ott, 1929
  7. Joe Jackson, 1912
  8. Mickey Mantle, 1952
  9. Ty Cobb, 1907
  10. Joe DiMaggio, 1937
  11. Arky Vaughan, 1935
  12. Ty Cobb, 1909
Several of those players did go on to fairly decent careers. By doing this, I evaluated the young talent in the major leagues after each season since 1900, and also the young talent on each team each season.

There are a couple of snarky little points I have to recognize here. . ..I hate doing this filadel, but the protocols or science require it. I capped the maximum contribution of each player at 400 points. The reason for doing this was that there actually was a tie for the number one spot—Ted Williams, 1941, and Alex Rodriguez, 1996, both at 528 points (Williams was 132 X 4, Rodriguez was 88 X 6.) Nobody else had a contribution score higher than 385, and the extremely high figures for A-Rod and Teddy were creating distortions on the other lists. Also, for pitchers, I modified the young talent contribution to:
    Integer [RSAA X (26 – Age) * .7 + 1]
RSAA being Runs Saved Against Average. In other words, Dwight Gooden in 1985 (who was the most valuable young pitcher of the twentieth century) was 20 years old and 58 runs better than an average pitcher. That would make 348 contribution points, except that I multiplied that by .7, making 243.6, added 1, making 244.6, and then rounded that down to 244. This was done because,
    a) if you don’t do something like this, more than half of the value in the study is young pitchers,
    b) the runs "saved" by young pitchers are partially saved by the defenders behind them, and properly should be credited to the fielders if we could figure out how to do that, and
    c) young pitchers are less reliably projectable than young hitters, thus making it inappropriate to allow young pitchers to dominate the lists.
The editing dictionary informs me that there is no such word as "projectable", but I’m sticking with it. The adjustment changes the inventory from being about 53% pitching to being about 39% pitching.

It’s not a perfect stat.. .there are no perfect stats.. ..and, to proceed with a real understanding of its imperfections, let me cite a couple of examples. You know Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ third baseman who hit 47 doubles, 20 homers, drove in 110 runs in 2006, aged 21? I couldn’t find him on the list of the best young players of 2006, tried to figure out why and realized that Sinins had evaluated him, somehow, at -2, two runs WORSE than an average National League third baseman, thus excluding him from the study. I’m not really buying that one, and here’s one that’s even worse.

The park run factor for Fenway Park in 1955 is screwy (156). This phenomenal park factor makes the Boston pitchers for 1955 evaluate as if they were the legion of super-pitchers. . .in fact, it makes Frank Sullivan, 1955 (18-13, 2.91 ERA, 129/100 strikeout/walk ratio) evaluate as the best pitcher’s season in the major leagues between 1937 and 1966. It shows Willard Nixon (12-10, 4.07 ERA) as +23 runs, which would make him better than, let’s say, Preacher Roe, 1951 (22-3, 3.03 ERA), or Tom Glavine, 1993 (22-6, 3.20 ERA), or Roy Oswalt, 2004 (20-10, 3.49 ERA) or Jamie Moyer in 2001 (20-6, 3.43 ERA.) It would make him better than a lot of Cy Young Award winners. Trust me; he wasn’t that good.

Anyway, it’s not a perfect stat, but there are no perfect stats, and this is the method I set up to study this issue.

The rather stunning conclusion: there is, in fact, more young talent around right now—after the 2006 season, before the 2007 season—than at any other moment in baseball history.

The previous record was after the 1964 season. The burst of young talent that emerged in 1964 is something that I have written about before. I was 14 years old that summer, and it made a huge impact on me, that all of a sudden there were all of these kids who were just a few years older than I was playing and playing well in the major leagues. Without exaggeration, there were 10 players in each league in 1964 who could have won the Rookie of the Year Award. The actual rookies of the year, Tony Oliva and Dick Allen, were two of the greatest ever.

The players who were in the major leagues and playing well (above average) and who were 25 years old or younger at that time included (but were not limited to) 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 the greatest explosion of young talent in baseball history—until now; what we have now is even better. That collection of talent (1964) scored at 2,550 points. What we have now scores at 2,812.

The top 15 young players post-2006 were:
RSAA
Brian McCann 2006 45 22 Atl Braves 180
Miguel Cabrera 2006 52 23 Marlins 156
Grady Sizemore 2006 48 23 Indians 144
Joe Mauer 2006 46 23 Twins 138
Hanley Ramirez 2006 32 22 Marlins 128
Jose Reyes 2006 37 23 Mets 111
Francisco Liriano 2006 31 22 Twins 87
Robinson Cano 2006 29 23 Yankees 87
Joel Zumaya 2006 24 21 Tigers 85
David Wright 2006 28 23 Mets 84
Scott Kazmir 2006 23 22 Devil Rays 65
Josh Johnson 2006 20 22 Marlins 57
Jered Weaver 2006 24 23 Angels 51
Anibal Sanchez 2006 18 22 Marlins 51
Jonathan Broxton 2006 17 22 Dodgers 48

I don’t necessarily agree that Brian McCann is the most valuable young player in baseball, but I’m kind of glad to see him at the top of the list, anyway; it seems like you don’t hear a lot about him, compared to Mauer, Cabrera, Sizemore, Jose Reyes and David Wright, for example. This is a 22-year-old catcher who had a .961 OPS last year. There are only a handful of players in history who scored that well and didn’t go on to Hall of Fame careers. Even if you go down to 75, 80 points, the bottom of the list is still composed of more players who did go on to Hall of Fame careers than those who didn’t.

It’s an impressive list of fifteen young players—but those 15 account for just over one-half the young talent around now; there’s another 1300 points out there in the terms of players who were not quite as good or a year or two older. Justin Verlander didn’t make the list, or Carl Crawford or Huston Street or Morneau or Papelbon or Bonderman or Sabathia.

The point in history at which there was the least young talent in baseball was 1945—the last season of World War II. Of course, the young talent around now is spread around 30 teams. In 1964 there were 20 teams. Per team, there is nowhere near as much young talent now as there was in 1964—although even per team, there is more now than in any year since 1973.

This chart summarizes the data year-by-year since 1900, first chronologically (left) and second by the amount of talent (right):
YEAR Yr Total Tms Per Team YEAR Yr Total
1900 745 8 93.1   2006 2812
1901 1527 16 95.4   1964 2550
1902 1172 16 73.3   1972 2466
1903 1211 16 75.7   1912 2388
1904 817 16 51.1   1980 2385
1905 855 16 53.4   1977 2374
1906 865 16 54.1   1969 2368
1907 1146 16 71.6   2005 2359
1908 1093 16 68.3   2001 2347
1909 2128 16 133.0   1911 2333
1910 2251 16 140.7   1973 2293
1911 2333 16 145.8   1970 2284
1912 2388 16 149.3   1993 2274
1913 1989 16 124.3   1979 2258
1914 1726 24 71.9   1910 2251
1915 1733 24 72.2   1978 2241
1916 1109 16 69.3   1965 2235
1917 1096 16 68.5   2003 2190
1918 1037 16 64.8   1975 2187
1919 837 16 52.3   2000 2141
1920 1026 16 64.1      
1921 1181 16 73.8      
1922 1217 16 76.1      
1923 1410 16 88.1      
1924 995 16 62.2      
1925 1121 16 70.1      
1926 1157 16 72.3      
1927 1389 16 86.8      
1928 1647 16 102.9      
1929 1669 16 104.3      
1930 2073 16 129.6      
1931 1283 16 80.2      
1932 1548 16 96.8      
1933 1433 16 89.6      
1934 1574 16 98.4      
1935 1587 16 99.2      
1936 1187 16 74.2      
1937 1600 16 100.0      
1938 1113 16 69.6      
1939 1870 16 116.9      
1940 1797 16 112.3      
1941 1828 16 114.3      
1942 1728 16 108.0      
1943 1116 16 69.8      
1944 980 16 61.3      
1945 487 16 30.4      
1946 863 16 53.9      
1947 967 16 60.4      
1948 941 16 58.8      
1949 1048 16 65.5      
1950 1222 16 76.4      
1951 945 16 59.1      
1952 910 16 56.9      
1953 1207 16 75.4      
1954 1317 16 82.3      
1955 1968 16 123.0      
1956 1689 16 105.6      
1957 1552 16 97.0      
1958 866 16 54.1      
1959 1429 16 89.3      
1960 1515 16 94.7      
1961 1649 18 91.6      
1962 1457 20 72.9      
1963 1853 20 92.7      
1964 2550 20 127.5      
1965 2235 20 111.8      
1966 1915 20 95.8      
1967 1902 20 95.1      
1968 1430 20 71.5      
1969 2368 24 98.7      
1970 2284 24 95.2      
1971 1972 24 82.2      
1972 2466 24 102.8      
1973 2293 24 95.5      
1974 1986 24 82.8      
1975 2187 24 91.1      
1976 1789 24 74.5      
1977 2374 26 91.3      
1978 2241 26 86.2      
1979 2258 26 86.8      
1980 2385 26 91.7      
1981 1312 26 50.5      
1982 1694 26 65.2      
1983 1869 26 71.9      
1984 2083 26 80.1      
1985 1985 26 76.3      
1986 1775 26 68.3      
1987 2106 26 81.0   1916 1109
1988 1955 26 75.2   1917 1096
1989 1451 26 55.8   1908 1093
1990 1737 26 66.8   1949 1048
1991 2047 26 78.7   1918 1037
1992 2053 26 79.0   1920 1026
1993 2274 28 81.2   1924 995
1994 1311 28 46.8   1944 980
1995 1347 28 48.1   1947 967
1996 1807 28 64.5   1951 945
1997 1682 28 60.1   1948 941
1998 1936 30 64.5   1952 910
1999 1981 30 66.0   1958 866
2000 2141 30 71.4   1906 865
2001 2347 30 78.2   1946 863
2002 1618 30 53.9   1905 855
2003 2190 30 73.0   1919 837
2004 1757 30 58.6   1904 817
2005 2359 30 78.6   1900 745
2006 2812 30 93.7   1945 487

The team with the most young talent of all time, by this method, was the 1970 Cincinnati Reds—Johnny Bench, Bobby Tolan, Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, Bernie Carbo, Dave Concepcion, Hal McRae, Wayne Simpson and Milt Wilcox. Three of the five best of those players (Tolan, Carbo and McRae) had serious injuries as young players, and injuries also limited the careers of Gullett and Nolan. Still, the team did go on to become one of the great dynasties of baseball history. Following the Big Red Machine on the team-total list were:

The 1928 New York Giants (4 Hall of Famers aged 25 or less—Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, Travis Jackson and Fred Lindstrom.)

The 1942 Boston Red Sox (Williams, Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Jim Tabor)

The 1941 Boston Red Sox

The 1929 New York Giants

The 1953 Milwaukee Braves (Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Del Crandall, Johnny Antonelli, Bob Buhl.) This team added one of the greatest players of all time the next season, the 20-year-old Henry Aaron.

The 1909 Philadelphia A’s (Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Jack Barry, Chief Bender, Stuffy McInnis. Also Joe Jackson, although they led Joe get away from them.)

The 2006 Florida Marlins (Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Jacobs, Jeremy Hermida, Dontrelle Willis, Anibal Sanchez.)

There is an obvious question here with an obvious answer: does a historic concentration of young talent predict future championships? Historically, it has, obviously. . ..all of these teams went on to win numerous championships over the next ten years, except for the 1941-42 Red Sox, who probably lost most of their championship seasons to World War II, won the league in ’46, and the 2006 Marlins, who haven’t won anything yet and will face financial/marketing issues in trying to keep their talent base together.

On the other end. . .historically, there have been many teams that had no young talent that registered by this method. Everybody had at least some young talent in 2006, but the Astros had none in 2005, not much in 2006.

Hmmmm. I started this research not really expecting to find anything significant. . ..I was just kind of messing around. This, however, is a significant contention, that we are sitting in the middle of a historic bubble of young talent, and once I reached that conclusion, it occurred to me that I should make the people I work for—the Boston Red Sox owners and management—aware of this, in that it could impact the organization’s strategic thinking. In order to do that, though, I needed to be more confident that I was correct. I thus decided to study the issue by a distinct and independent method, to see if I could verify this conclusion.

I based the second study on Win Shares, and I used all Win Shares by players aged 26 or younger since 1876. In this study, I multiplied:
    Win Shares at age 26 by .90
    Win Shares at age 25 by 1.00
    Win Shares at age 24 by 1.10
    Win Shares at age 23 by 1.20
    Win Shares at age 22 by 1.30
    Win Shares at age 21 by 1.40
    Win Shares at age 20 by 1.50
    Win Shares at age 19 by 1.60
    Win Shares at age 18 by 1.70
    Win Shares at age 17 by 1.80
    Win Shares at age 16 by 1.90
By this method, all of the most valuable young players in history were 19th-century pitchers. (The same would be true of the other study, as well. . .that’s why I eliminated the 19th century from that study.) The highest-valued young players of all time who weren’t 19th century pitchers were:
1. Ty Cobb, 1907 61.5
2. Joe Wood, 1912 57.2
3. Tris Speaker, 1914 56.1
4. Eddie Collins, 1913 55.9  
5. Ted Williams, 1942 55.2  
6. Eddie Mathews, 1953 54.6
7. Joe Jackson, 1911 54.6
8. Walter Johnson, 1913 54.0
9. Mickey Mantle, 1956 53.9
10. Dick Allen, 1964 53.3
11. Rogers Hornsby, 1917 53.2
12. Babe Ruth, 1916 51.8
13. Alex Rodriguez, 1996 51.0
14. Joe DiMaggio, 1937 50.7
15. Stan Musial, 1943 50.7  
16. Dwight Gooden, 1985 49.5
17. Sherry Magee, 1907 49.4
18. Albert Pujols, 2004 49.2
19. Reggie Jackson, 1969 49.2
20. Lou Gehrig, 1927 48.4
21. Willie Mays, 1954 48.0  
22. Bob Feller, 1939 48.0
23. Jimmie Foxx, 1929 47.6
24. Arky Vaughan , 1933 47.6
25. Rickey Henderson , 1980 47.6

Again, several of these players did go on to have fairly decent careers. . .In compiling this list, I eliminated redundant entries from the same player. A lot of it’s the same list, of course, but you do occasionally get significant discrepancies between the methods. The other method evaluates Frank Sullivan, 1955, at 62 points (62 times 1) and Ryan Zimmerman, 2006, at zero (0 times 5). This method evaluates Sullivan at 22 points (22 times 1) and Ryan Zimmerman at 33.6 (24 times 1.40).

Anyway, that’s fun, but what I was really doing here was not comparing Stan Musial to Albert Pujols, but comparing the young talent of 2006 to the young talent of 1978 and every other year. This method uses a flatter weight ratio for ages, and thus is more likely to give a player his highest number at age 24 or 25, rather than 22 or 23. It thus tends to show peaks arriving a couple of years later than the other method. The other method shows the historic Ty Cobb/Tris Speaker/Walter Johnson/Joe Jackson/Eddie Collins/Pete Alexander/Joe Wood/Home Run Baker talent burst as peaking in 1912. This method shows the peak at 1914. The other method shows the mid-sixties peak in 1964. This method shows a peak in 1966, and then shows the baby boom peak, after a couple of years, pushing on even higher. Interestingly, though, this method tends to show the low points of the graph occurring at the same times or even a year or two earlier than the other method.

By this method, the young talent around at this moment is not at an all-time high. However, the conclusions of this study are essentially consistent with the other study, and tend to confirm that we are, in fact, sitting in the middle of an explosion of young talent. By this method, the total young talent in the major leagues in 2004 was scored at 2,105 points. By 2006 it had gone up to 2,515, the highest total since 1987. History suggests that this figure will move upward even higher over the next two to three years, and will reach a historic peak sometime before 2010.

Years with Most
Young Talent

Year Young Talent
1890 3111
1914 2975
1977 2954
1969 2936
1975 2905
1884 2878
1973 2823
1974 2817
1978 2707
1972 2671
1970 2660
1979 2635
1915 2633
1986 2616
1987 2591
1976 2590
1971 2577
1980 2527
2006 2515
1985 2511

Both of these methods show that the Boston Red Sox are relatively low among major league teams in terms of proven major league talent—not at the bottom, but close. The Yankees as of a year ago (post-2005) were extremely low, but moved up sharply last year with the contributions of Cano, Cabrera and Wang.

Bill James
Ft. Myers, Florida
March 28, 2007
 
 

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