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The young player era

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Al Messerschmidt

"Eddie Mathews in 1953 had the best season ever by a 21-year-old player, hitting 47 home runs and driving in 135 runs." - Bill James, from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

Bill wrote that about a dozen years ago, when Mike Trout was still a tadpole. Which made me wonder: Did Trout's age-21 season, just completed, surpass Mathews in '53? Let's see what composite Wins Above Replacement* -- which is just FanGraphs' WAR plus Baseball-Reference's WAR -- has to say:

Composite Wins+, Age 21
Mike Trout, 2013: 19.6
Rogers Hornsby, 1917: 19.4
Eddie Mathews, 1953: 17.0
Rickey Henderson, 1980: 16.5
Jimmie Foxx, 1929: 15.9
Cesar Cedeno, 1972:
15.8

* Favorite Rob Neyer junk stats: 1. Beane Count, 2. composite Wins+ 3. That made-up system he uses to rate movies.

Shoeless Joe Jackson might have made the list, too, but FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference don't agree on when he was born.

Trout tops the list for 20-year-olds, too:

Mike Trout: 20.9
Alex Rodriguez: 18.5
Al Kaline: 15.6
Mel Ott: 15.4
Ty Cobb: 13.8
Ted Williams: 13.8
Mickey Mantle: 13.0
Manny Machado: 12.7
Frank Robinson: 12.6


You know you're in good company when your worst comp is Al Kaline.

It probably won't surprise you to know that Bryce Harper paced the 19-year-old class:

Bryce Harper: 9.7
Mel Ott: 8.0
Edgar Renteria: 6.8
Ken Griffey Jr.: 5.7

It wasn't that long ago that smart baseball men assumed the days of 19 and 20-year-old superstars like Mel Ott were gone with the wind. As the quality of play increases, it stands to reason that it would be harder for young players to break into the league, much less dominate to the extent Trout, Harper, and Machado have. We seem to be living through renaissance of young baseball stars. I don't know why it's happening, but I'm glad it is.