Heyward and Greatness

A list:

Mel Ott, 1929: .328/.449/.635, 172 wRC+
Alex Rodriguez, 1996: .358/.414/.631, 169 wRC+
Ted Williams, 1939: .327/.436/.609, 168 wRC+
Al Kaline, 1955: .340/.421/.546, 160 wRC+
Frank Robinson, 1956: .290/.379/.558, 149 wRC+
Mickey Mantle, 1952: .311/.394/.530, 166 wRC+

In the history of baseball, those are the six seasons where a player has posted an OPS over .900 as a 20-year-old. Of those six players, five are in the hall of fame, and the other guy will be when he’s done playing.

To say that Jason Heyward is putting himself in some pretty impressive company might be the understatement of the year. And yet, here he is, a 20-year-old rookie putting up a .290/.409/.580 line for the season (166 wRC+), and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.

In April, Heyward flashed some greatness but also looked young and inexperienced. He struck out 26 times in 89 trips to the plate, and while the walks and home runs still made him a valuable player, there was a pretty easy path to getting him out.

In May, he has 70 plate appearances and just five strikeouts. He hasn’t lost any aggressiveness, as he’s still drawn 12 walks, and his power is still there, as 10 of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases. In his second month in the big leagues, he’s hitting .357/.471/.661, good for a .481 wOBA.

Again, he’s 20 years old. Even the greatest players of all time have struggled to be impact players at age 20. Ken Griffey Jr hit .300/.366/.481. Willie Mays hit .274/.356/.472. Hank Aaron hit .280/.322/.447.

This is an astounding performance from a rookie, the best we’ve seen since Albert Pujols took baseball by storm in 2001. He hit .329/.403/.610 as a 21-year-old. Heyward is matching that performance, only doing it a year earlier in his career. He still has to keep it up for another four months, of course, but if anything, he’s gotten better as the season has gone along.

The hype surrounding Heyward was intense, but it apparently wasn’t intense enough. We’re in the midst of watching one of the great rookie seasons of all time from a player whose peers are still working out the kinks in A-ball.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Tom
Guest
Tom

In that line about Pujols, shouldn’t it read:

He hit .329/.403/.610 as a “21-year-old”.

Kenny
Guest
Kenny

If he lied about his age and was dominating a minor league level where it appeared he was crushing opponents that were 2-3 years older than him but that wasn’t the case, that would be one thing.

But he came into the major leagues and dominated people where your age doesn’t matter as much as your talent. What did he have to gain by lying about his age?

Bill@TDS
Guest

Neither is correct, because ages should not be hyphenated. It should read:
He hit .329/.403/.610 as a 21 year old.
“21-year-old” is an adjective. As in, we ordered a bottle of 21-year-old wine.

…sorry. I’m with Dave and David. At this point, Pujols is as old as he says he is unless there’s convincing evidence to the contrary.

Tom
Guest
Tom

If we are skeptical about most batters in the so-called “steroid era” why wouldn’t we do the same for the birthdates of non-USA born players? Just like steroids there is too much incentive for players to lie about their birthdate.

Teneleven
Guest
Teneleven

Chicago 7.90 — Ages are hyphenated in both noun and adjective forms.

But I agree with Dave, too. The convincing part of Pujols’ age for me is that the rest of his career isn’t some age-curve outlier. His peak wOBAs at age 26, 28, and 29? If he was lying about his age wouldn’t those have happened much earlier?

Bill@TDS
Guest

Huh. The hyphen comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I’m surprised by that. Everything else I’ve ever seen has said no hyphens (and actually I think my adjective comment was wrong, you just never use the hyphens; the example I was thinking of was the “21 year-old” variation, which really means 21 things, each one year old).
But anyway. Tom, you’re starting the assumption that “we are skeptical about most batters in the so-called ‘steroid era.'” When I could care less.
Anyway, as has been pointed out elsewhere here, Pujols has less incentive than most to lie about his age. I just think he would’ve been found out by now if he were lying.

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