Javier Baez, Mookie Betts, Matt Chapman, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Ramirez are among the game’s best players. Together, they have averaged more than 6 WAR a piece this season. Six wins is the generally the point at which a player enters MVP contention. As a group, in other words, Baez and Betts and company have all played like MVP candidates.
Excellence in baseball isn’t the only trait shared in common among the aforementioned players, however. They’re all also basically the same age: each is currently competing in his age-25 season. If that seems like a lot of players all excelling at roughly the same point, it is: it’s quite possible, in fact, that we are witnessing the best group of 25-year-old position players the game has ever seen. The table below features the best seasons by a 25-year-old dating back to 1901.
|2018||Mookie Betts||Red Sox||30||180||9.4|
|1913||Tris Speaker||Red Sox||3||180||8.6|
|1978||Jim Rice||Red Sox||46||162||7.7|
|1983||Wade Boggs||Red Sox||5||155||7.7|
This is a fascinating list, and I’ll ask you to note a few things. First is this: of the 33 players presented above, 18 of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Betts and Ramirez are obviously among the 15 who haven’t haven’t been elected to the Hall. Adrian Beltre, Buster Posey, and Albert Pujols are all probably bound for the Hall, but remain active. Aaron Judge isn’t as probably bound for the Hall of Fame but also remains active. That leaves just nine of 33 great 25-year-olds who both (a) are absent from the Hall but also (b) have finished their playing careers.
Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez are two of those nine: have Hall of Fame numbers but also problematic cases. Another four players began their careers before World War I, while Snuffy Stirnweiss benefited from an absence of players during World War II. Only Sal Bando and Will Clark have failed to produce Hall of Fame-type careers among the 14 players who’ve been this good at age 25 since World War II.
The other thing to note here is that only one season other than the 2018 campaign appears on the list more than once. More than 100 years ago, in 1912, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, and Heinie Zimmerman all recorded 7.5+ WAR seasons at age 25 — and two position players haven’t done the same thing in the same year until this season. Lowering the bar to 7.0 WAR adds a handful of seasons, including Andrew McCutchen and Posey in 2012 as well as Grady Sizemore and David Wright in 2008. Heading into this season, there had only been 18 seasons of at least 8.0 WAR at age 25 and only four in the last 50 seasons. We are likely to have two players accomplish that feat this season.
The success of this season’s 25-year-olds isn’t just a product of Betts and Ramirez. This year, 25-year-olds have produced more position player WAR than any season in history.
|Year||25 Y.O WAR||%*||5.0+ WAR||4.0+ WAR||2.0+ WAR||Top-Three Players|
|2018||83.1||15.5%||5||9||19||Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Matt Chapman|
|2009||71.7||12.6%||3||6||18||Hanley Ramirez, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun|
|1915||70.2||16.1%||3||6||16||Benny Kauff, Jack Fournier, Heinie Groh|
|2008||70.0||12.3%||4||7||16||Grady Sizemore, David Wright, Jose Reyes|
|1999||67.3||11.8%||5||7||16||Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Nomar Garciaparra|
|2012||66.5||11.7%||3||3||14||Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Austin Jackson|
|2005||64.5||11.3%||3||5||14||Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Coco Crisp|
|1963||64.3||17.0%||5||9||13||Willie McCovey, Billy Williams, Orlando Cepeda|
|1993||62.4||11.7%||6||6||14||Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell|
|1985||61.7||12.5%||4||5||14||Tim Raines, Jesse Barfield, Ryne Sandberg|
|2015||61.1||10.7%||2||4||11||Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Jose Altuve|
|1971||60.6||13.3%||4||6||11||Bobby Murcer, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Bonds|
There are some pretty star-studded groups above. The class of 1963 produced three Hall of Famers. So did 1993. The 2009 group hasn’t quite lived up to those great 25-year-old seasons, though Joey Votto (who finished fourth among 25-year-olds) is still playing at a very high level. That 2008 group is full of disappointment and unfilled potential. On a percentage of total WAR basis, the 1915 and 1963 seasons actually top this one — as does 1912, 1913, and 1942 — but in terms of total WAR, no other season is even close. This isn’t a new development for this group of players, either.
- In 2017, 24-year-olds put up 61 WAR, the fourth-highest total in MLB history.
- In 2016, 23-year-olds put up 43 WAR, the biggest total ever.
- In 2015, 22-year-olds put up 36 WAR, the biggest total ever.
This season, five of the top-12 position players by WAR are 25 years old.
The list above doesn’t even include the most famous 25-year-old playing today: former MVP Bryce Harper is having a decent, but not great year. There are actually quite a few big names lower on the list including Michael Conforto, Rhys Hoskins, Gary Sanchez, and Kyle Schwarber. The table below features the players with at least 1.0 WAR this season.
While not as decorated, 25-year-old pitchers include Kyle Freeland, Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, and Noah Syndergaard. What does it all mean? Probably not a whole lot as it relates to this specific post. It has more trivial significance than actual meaning, though this season does seem to bode well for the careers of Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez. The game is currently getting younger. The last four seasons have produced four of the highest five WAR totals for players 25 years old and younger. How long that trend continues is something to monitor. The crackdown on PEDs over the last decade likely affected the aging process and the talent level for players over 30. The lack of expansion and dilution in talent that comes with it would provide more work for aging players. There are a lot of great, young players in the game. Perhaps this post is just a reminder to appreciate the game’s stars.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.