By the time Hanley turned 25 he had amassed 22.2 WAR (per Baseball-Reference). In baseball’s history, only 57 position players have had that sort of exceptional start to their career and an astonishing 75% of those players have been inducted into the Hall of Fame (if eligible). So when Hanley’s age-26 season came to a close in October of 2010 with his final WAR tally at just 2.6, there was a clear, unmistakable sense of disappointment. Fans were perplexed; this was not simply a ‘slightly above-average’ shortstop, this was g.d. Hanley Ramirez!
...Is this planet-sized sense of disappointment in Hanley Ramirez justified? How often in baseball’s history have we seen such a promising young player rack up WAR totals so quickly and then utterly disintegrate with the coming of his so-called prime years?
I took all players from baseball’s past and present that had at least matched Hanley’s 22.3 WAR before their age-26 season and then compared the sum of their WAR from the subsequent 3 seasons.
...Similarly, Orlando Cepeda at #3 was hit hard with three years riddled with knee injuries at the ages of 27-29, amassing just -.3, .3, and 2.3 WAR in those seasons. He did manage to bounce back at the age of 29 with a strong 6.6 WAR, earning himself the MVP award which may have been the deciding factor in the Veteran’s Committee’s decision to elect Cepeda to the Hall of Fame in 1999.
That leaves David Wright with the third most disappointing prime which was not attributable to a significant loss of playing time—although injury is almost certain to have had an effect. Wright suffered a concussion in mid-August of the 2009 season which likely played a significant role in holding his WAR totals to just 2.9, 2.5, 1.9 through ages 26-28. Like Cepeda, however, he is currently rebounding as a 29 year-old to the tune of a 5.5 WAR in 2012.