For all her conspicuous virtues and manifest talents, late singer Aaliyah was almost certainly mistaken in her assertion that age “ain’t nothing but a number.” It is a number, that’s true, but it’s a number that represents the number of years a thing or person or some other manner of noun has existed. Which, that’s more than nothing.
In the context of baseball prospect analysis, age is decidedly not nothing. As both anecdotal evidence and also more rigorous statistical evidence* suggest, age relative to level is predictive of future major-league performance, where younger relative to level is better. One finds, for example, that players who debut at a younger age produce higher prorated WAR figures than players who debut at an older one. It’s not because they’re younger that they’re better, of course. Rather, their respective teams have generally recognized that they’re capable of handling the highest level of competition. And it follows that, if they’re able to handle that level of competition en route to their respective peaks, then they’re also generally able to handle it in the decline phase of their careers, too.
*Such as the sort produced by Chris Mitchell.
The relationship between age and performance and level is the foundation for the considerable and deserved excitement regarding Mike Trout’s career — not only for his career up the to present day, but also the prospect of what his career will have been once it’s finished. Trout has recorded the highest WAR among all hitters ever through his age-22 season, for example. That’s not only impressive, but probably also predictive. Because consider: basically all of the next 20 guys on that particular leaderboard are now in the Hall of Fame.
Players who, like Trout, combine youth and talent are notable. And, all other things being equal, it’s reasonable to expect that the prospects who are producing the top performances at the youngest ages will develop into the best players.
This question of talented youth is relevant today largely because of the Dodgers, their rotation, and their top pitching prospect left-hander Julio Urias. The Dodgers possess the largest major-league payroll by roughly $50 million. They also possess the sort of expectations associated with that kind of payroll — and, over the first month of the season, the club has more or less met those expectations. As of today, for example, they lead the NL West by two games and feature nearly a 90% chance of winning that division according to the numbers and methodology used at this site.
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