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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Only 20 Years Old, Soto ‘Way Above His Years’

• Soto is one of only three players with two 20-homer seasons before his 21st birthday. The others were Tony Conigliaro (1964-65) and former Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper (2012-13).

• Only two players have hit more home runs than Soto (50, entering Thursday) before their 21st birthday—Mel Ott (61) and Conigliaro (56). Soto has a chance to pass both with a strong finish to the season.

• Soto is the only player in MLB history with multiple seasons of 20 homers and 70 RBIs before turning 21.

• Ott, Ken Griffey Jr. and Soto are the lone MLB players to have an RBI streak of seven games at 20 years or younger.

• Ott is the only player with five multihomer games before turning 21. Soto, Conigliaro and Harper each have four.

Soto is in some very elite company on the Age-20 Leaderboard.

The Yankee Clapper Posted: August 25, 2019 at 10:51 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: great baseball players, juan soto, washington nationals

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   1. Esoteric Posted: August 25, 2019 at 12:04 PM (#5874278)
Even factoring in the "sillyball" issues with MLB in 2019, Soto has been a joy to watch this year. I do hope everyone has seen the wonderful GIF of him getting vultured by Victor Robles in the outfield:
   2. PreservedFish Posted: August 25, 2019 at 03:35 PM (#5874296)
Do you think Soto will continue to improve? If you aged him on a regular curve, he'd turn into a Bonds. Or is it better to expect that he's just bizarrely mature for his age and has less growth potential than other players his age?
   3. Bote Man Posted: August 25, 2019 at 03:40 PM (#5874297)
The defensive prowess of both Soto and Robles has markedly improved this year. I've seen it happen before my very eyes. I don't know what the defensive metrics say since I put little stock in them, but hopefully they agree with the eye test.

Their hitting speaks for itself. It's hard to talk about one and not the other, plus they are reputed to be BFFs with each other, which is nice.
   4. The Yankee Clapper Posted: August 25, 2019 at 03:52 PM (#5874299)
Do you think Soto will continue to improve? If you aged him on a regular curve, he'd turn into a Bonds. Or is it better to expect that he's just bizarrely mature for his age and has less growth potential than other players his age?
Most of the players on that Age-20 Leaderboard got better, or maintained the very high standard they established at a young age. Looking at OPS (last Column is PA):
1. Ted Williams 1.045 675
2. Mel Ott .963 1416
3. Jimmie Foxx .948 664
4. Alex Rodriguez .940 885
5. Juan Soto .938 1018
6. Frank Robinson .936 667
7. Mike Trout .911 774
8. Mickey Mantle .874 1012
9. Tony Conigliaro .865 1029
10. Vada Pinson .860 816
Sure, you’d like to see another season of Soto before saying he could be on his way to Cooperstown, but it’s a very promising start.
   5. filihok Posted: August 25, 2019 at 04:24 PM (#5874302)
1) Soto is awesome
2) He has a fortuitous birthday for these sorts of things.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: August 25, 2019 at 05:41 PM (#5874304)
For "awesome when young" I tend towards "they are not likely to get much better." I still expect a peak in their mid-late 20s and a decline in their mid-30s. That seems to have worked pretty well. But then there aren't many guys I've had to apply that logic to when they were 19-20. Still, by the rules of regression, we have to assume that a bit of this small sample performance is good luck ... but even if it is, we would also assume his true talent gets a bit better with age and that at least balances off the "luck."

Among recent guys, I'll guess that Stanton is a better comp than Trout. Stanton was a year older in baseball terms but only about 6 months in real terms (which can be significant they say). His first exposure wasn't as successful (118 OPS+) but year two was a 141 OPS+ (total 132); he's currently at 144 for his career which possibly would be a bit higher with more PT in his prime. But even for Trout -- his debut was less auspicious then a 168 OPS+ at 20 ... now a career 176. His super peak may last a few more years (or 12 more years, who's to say?) but he'll probably end up somwehre around 168 to 176 when he retires. (I don't expect Soto to reach Trout's performance levels although he might well have a year or two with an OPS+ up there.)

Given his relatively low K rate and very good walk rate, I suppose we have to consider Pujols, ARod and Griffey. It seems unlikely he'll reach Pujols' heights either (the BA gap is very big). Pujols put up 151 and 157 OPS+ at 21-22, had a huge peak relative to that but alas a huge decline such that his career OPS+ is now 147. But even ignoring the worst of Pujols' decline, he was at a 157 OPS+ through 36.

Soto a better hitter than Griffey at 19, about the same at 20. At 21, Griffey put up a 155. From age 21 to 35, Griffey had a 147 OPS+. ARod didn't do much at 18-19 but age 20 was a monster 161 OPS+. This might be an example of the "luck" I mentioned -- his age 21-23 OPS+ was "just" 130. From 21-35, he put up a 145.

So "probably" a guess at a career arc for Soto is that he's around 140 OPS+ right now, he'll peak around 150-160, he'll fall back to 140 in his early 30s, he'll start tacking on 110-120s sometime around age 34-35. With such an early start, he's got as good a chance as a young player could have of 500 HRs and some shot at 3000 hits (he walks too much). 8000 PAs is practially guaranteed and even with some injuries, 10,000 is a good bet (even Griffey made it over 11,000).

In fact, Griffey's line is looking better and better as a comp to me: 284/370/538, 2781 hits, 630 HR. Soto's OBP will probably be higher and projecting anybody to 630 HR is surely a bad idea but that sounds about right to me.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: August 25, 2019 at 06:02 PM (#5874313)
On Soto's defense -- Rfield gave him -5 last year but +3 this year. Statcast put him at -6 outs last year, +3 this year. UZR at -4 then -1. So UZR puts him about the same, the other two show a substantial improvement. For a projection he's still gonna come out as average.

Rfeild loves Robles at +17; Statcast agrees at +16 outs, best in the majors; UZR not very impressed at about +4 (although 74 OOZ plays seems like a lot).
   8. Sunday silence Posted: August 25, 2019 at 08:45 PM (#5874348)
I just came on to echo what Walt said in no. 6.
   9. TomH Posted: August 25, 2019 at 08:58 PM (#5874351)
a quick reminder that not every 20-yr old with great stats becomes Al Kaline or Ted Williams: I believe we are all familiar with the former Brave/current Cub who had a BETTER age-20 yr season (by WAR) than Soto, even if we project Soto for a fine September.

Having said that, I certainly believe Soto will have a finer career than Jason Heyward. But rgeression does happen.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 25, 2019 at 09:44 PM (#5874360)
The recent evidence shows there is no aging curve anymore for hitters. Players arrive in the bigs as good as they'll ever be, and start to decline around 27.
   11. PreservedFish Posted: August 25, 2019 at 09:54 PM (#5874362)
Really? Link?
   12. Walt Davis Posted: August 25, 2019 at 10:01 PM (#5874363)
#10 ... I can believe this might be the case for many ... which is to say that teams hold your standard player down in the minors until they think he's "ready" as service time control. But that mainly means they're not hitting the majors until 24-26 not that they weren't improving from ages 20-24.

I can also believe this is a short-term phenomenon in that the very young players have been trained in LAball from the beginning while some oldsters are still figuring things out.

Beyond that, what #11 said. I'm not even sure that that would mean ... is it the case that players who turned 27 in 2009 in fact started to decline? Because that's just the starting point for any such claim about aging and it's not a big enough sample to say anything reliable from.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: August 25, 2019 at 10:17 PM (#5874365)
Heyward is more likely an example of my point about how we still expect a high-achieving youngster to regress because chances are pretty good some of that performance was "luck." Heyward was either a 20-year-old with a "true" 130 OPS+ who unexpectedly went off an offensive cliff immediately ... or he was more like a "true" 115 OPS+ hitter who had a good season ... then unexpectedly went off an offensive cliff at 26. Of course after one "season" you don't really know -- you just assume he's probably not as good as he looks because so few players that young look so good. Sometime around seasons 2-3 (or maybe PA 1200 or whatever), you start to take such performance seriously.

Soto has just over 1000 PA under his belt with a 140 OPS+ and 50 Rbat. Heyward's first two seasons are just under 1100 PA, a 115 OPS+ and 28 Rbat. That's not particularly close. And if you think stuff like that can't happen for a hitter like Heyward, this year he has had a 27-game stretch with a 972 OPS (260 ISO) and a separate 40-game stretch with a 939 OPS (230 ISO). On the year, a 184 ISO. The primary difference between this year and 2010 is a bunch of walks.

Although most of us (even pessimistic me) missed some of them in real time, there were good reasons to doubt Heyward's bat. After May he hit only 270/386/401. That ISO was a sign of things to come. He also had a rather massive 1.29 G/F ratio (which has bounced around a lot in his career).
   14. Howie Menckel Posted: August 26, 2019 at 01:01 AM (#5874370)
Cesar Cedeno had a 162 OPS+ at age 21 in 625 PA, and a 152 OPS in 576 PA at age 22.

his next-best was a 147 at age 29

also, as a late-season pickup by the Cardinals in 1985 for a never-was prospect, his preposterous 1.213 OPS in 86 PA helped the Cardinals get to the postseason and then the World Series.
   15. The Yankee Clapper Posted: August 26, 2019 at 01:37 AM (#5874371)
Cesar Cedeno had a 162 OPS+ at age 21 in 625 PA, and a 152 OPS in 576 PA at age 22.
Cedeno also had seasons of 114 OPS+ at age-19, and 97 at age-20, which may put him in a somewhat different category than Soto.
   16. Walt Davis Posted: August 26, 2019 at 09:30 AM (#5874391)
Cedeno is a good example, even if probably sub-Soto. Conveniently enough, if you take his first 4 seasons, it comes to a 132 OPS+; if you take the next 7, taking him through age 29, it's 129.

And in Dec 73, shortly after that age 22 season, he "accidentally" shot a woman, spent a bit of time in prison before his lawyer got it reduced to involuntary manslaughter, got bail, pled guilty and paid a $100 fine. (Even by DR standards that must be a sweet deal.) That's bound to shake a guy up and suggests that perhaps Cesar was not concentrating on becoming a better baseball player.
   17. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 26, 2019 at 10:01 AM (#5874403)
Really? Link?

This is a bit dated, but shows the trend. Look at the first graph.

   18. PreservedFish Posted: August 26, 2019 at 10:16 AM (#5874415)
Interesting. It's a small sample and also could be influenced by, for example, teams waiting longer to bring up their top guys (service time games). I'd need some overwhelming evidence to believe that that adult hitters progress very differently than they did in the past.
   19. Walt Davis Posted: August 26, 2019 at 06:20 PM (#5874604)
PF, I don't have time for them now but there are three Jeff Zimmermann pieces linked in the link that Snapper provided and those should provide more of the detail that the quick summary does not. I'm a bit surprised to see that for 06-13 ... for, say, 13-19 with all the great young players we've had come into the game, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Still, by WAR, in that 06-13 period, all the top age 21 or younger seasons are in the latter part of that time period -- two Trout, Stanton, two Harper, Machado, Heyward all debuted 2010-13. Nine of the top 11 are that wave of historically excellent very young players.

If we look a bit at the careers -- they're a mix as you might suspect. Trout got better, Harper basically the same, Stanton appeared to be getting better but can't stay healthy, JUpton was pretty constant, Hosmer had that weird pattern but can't say he got any better, Freddie Freeman got a lot better, Zimmermann stayed the same, Castro didn't get better, Billy Butler got better then tanked, Tabata never went anywhere, Machado got a lot better as a hitter, Jay Bruce got a little better, Melky got a lot better, Andrus got a lot better (as a hitter), Tejada same/worse, Profar and Delmon Young were pretty much disasters from the start.

It's always hard to know what to make of aging curves. When a guy debuts at, say, 130 OPS+ or better, we figure that he's probably not really that good to begin with. If he stays at that level, we of course never know for sure whether that's improving as he ages or just how good he was from the start. What we want to see if 115 hitters becomin 130 hitters, 100 hitters becomeing 115 hitters, 85 hitters becoming 100 hitters. Of course those that don't (depending on position), get washed out of the game and therefore out of our data.

Generally if you're in the majors at 21, it's because somebody is convinced you can hit ML pitching well enough now to play ... and will generally be expecting you to hit it better as you age. That means a lot of the guys getting better as they age aren't in the majors yet (and obviously the ones getting worse never will). At 21, a fair number of them aren't even in pro ball yet.

That wave of young phenoms certainly hasn't slowed down in the latter part of the 2010s so I'd guess the aging curve still looks a lot like the 2006-13 one in the link. Maybe it's no different than usual but debuts these days do seem an odd mix of 20-year-old superstars and Muncy-types.

On the bright side, I guess this makes me less disappointed in Addison Russell's complete lack of offensive development.

   20. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 26, 2019 at 07:30 PM (#5874612)
It's always hard to know what to make of aging curves. When a guy debuts at, say, 130 OPS+ or better, we figure that he's probably not really that good to begin with.

BRef shows that there have been 26 players age 22 or younger than debuted with an OPS+ 130 or better. 10 are in the Hall (I'm graciously including Pujols & Trout among those 10). But the list also includes guys like Curt Blefary, Willie Horton, and Jim Ray Hart
   21. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: August 26, 2019 at 08:51 PM (#5874627)
Willie Horton

Hey, don't be knocking Willie Horton. Nearly 2000 hits, over 300 homers and a 120 OPS+ is nothing to sneeze at. So he wasn't bringing much value elsewhere, but for his time; dude had a solid, yet quite long, career.
   22. The Yankee Clapper Posted: August 26, 2019 at 10:41 PM (#5874644)
BRef shows that there have been 26 players age 22 or younger than debuted with an OPS+ 130 or better. 10 are in the Hall (I'm graciously including Pujols & Trout among those 10). But the list also includes guys like Curt Blefary, Willie Horton, and Jim Ray Hart
Getting back to Juan Soto, he’s the all-time leader in OPS (.923) & OPS+ (142) up to and including age-19, so that larger group has a lot of players whose debuts were less impressive and at an older age. That Soto is now well into another 140 OPS+ season also suggests he may be the real thing. Looking at the upper portion of the important hitting categories on the Age-20 Leaderboard where Soto resides, there are an awful lot of Hall of Famers.
   23. TomH Posted: August 27, 2019 at 07:02 AM (#5874679)
Agree, clapper.

Looking at the top 10 in offensive winning percentage, the only 3 not in the Hall are Soto, Tony Conigliaro, and ... who in the world is Dick Hoblitzell?? Who apparently had his best season at age 20, finishing 3rd in the league in OPS, and was part of two Red Sox WS victories (1915 and 18). Never heard of him.

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