Regarding young players peaking early …

This article by Tim Marchman for SI.com about the development (or lack thereof) of young prodigies is an interesting read, and not just because it manages to mention Tom Brunansky twice in the third paragraph:

Since the most valuable thing in baseball is a young star signed to a cheap contract, I was fairly shocked when I learned the Arizona Diamondbacks are, if not actively shopping outfielder Justin Upton, at least willing to listen to offers for him. Perhaps they know secret things about him; perhaps new general manager Kevin Towers simply doesn’t like the cut of his jib. Most likely he’s available in the sense that all players are available. (Scoop: The Atlanta Braves would happily trade Jason Heyward to the Giants in exchange for Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.) Possibly, though, the Diamondbacks have been doing some math.

Here is a filthy secret about young stars: They don’t generally improve. Baseball fans have it in their minds that a player will, at 27, be a better version of the player he was at 21. On average, that’s true. This chart, for example, is a bit technical, but shows that the typical hitter will, at 27, be about 10 percent more valuable per plate appearance than he was when he was six years younger.

What defines a great player, though, is that he isn’t anything like an average one. And Justin Upton is a great player, or close. Two years ago, when he was 21, he hit .300/.366/.532, good for an adjusted OPS of 129. In the last 30 years, just eight other hitters have done as well by that age: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, Jason Heyward, Miguel Cabrera and… Tom Brunansky. That’s five players who are or one day will be in the Hall of Fame, one who’s on course to join them, a player who turned 21 in August, and… Tom Brunansky. Upton’s prospects are obviously high. …

Take our other young stars as guides to what may be in store for the lucky owner of Upton’s contract over the next five years. From ages 23 to 27, Rodriguez’s adjusted OPS of 153 was actually lower than the 160 mark he posted at 20. Griffey, Raines and Henderson all hit basically the same at those ages as they did at 21, while Brunansky hit much worse. Only Pujols and Cabrera hit new levels.

None of this is of course any knock on these players. Once you’re hitting like a Hall of Famer, there is no real improvement you can make, unless you’re Albert Pujols and thus capable of hitting like Mickey Mantle rather than Hank Aaron. (Scoop: St. Louis has a good first baseman.) The point is just that you can’t expect the kind of linear improvement from a historically talented player that you can from a merely excellent one. Baseball is hard, and going from great to greater is in many ways harder than going from good to great. …

If you’re wondering how this might apply to Matt Kemp, so am I. In some ways, it might not apply at all, and there’s certainly enough mystery about Kemp to suggest he might be an exception to any rule. But if it influenced me at all, the article made me think that Kemp could easily rebound to his earlier established level of success (2009), but perhaps just not ever exceed it by all that much.

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Here’s the latest McCourt update, from The Associated Press:

Mediation between Jamie and Frank McCourt involving ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers will resume as they await a judge’s ruling on whether a postnuptial marital agreement is valid in their divorce case.

Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman is expected Friday to meet with each side separately and present a settlement. Both McCourts are expected to be in a downtown courtroom and the terms of the proposal will likely be kept confidential.

Judge Scott Gordon has about five weeks to decide on the disputed 10-page marital agreement that exists in two versions – one that gives Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and one that doesn’t. …

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  • Get ready: It’s clear that next season will be the last before MLB adds a second wild-card team to each league. Starting in 2012, the wild-card teams will play each other for the right to reach the division series; the only question is how many games they will play.
  • The Dodgers had a lot of bad players in 2010, notes Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs. Only Pittsburgh, Seattle and Cleveland had more individuals who had negative Wins Above Replacement, and only four other teams (including the Angels) had more total negative WAR.
  • Been meaning to post about this for a few days: The setup for Saturday’s Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley Field is crazy. (Update: Only one end zone will be used, writes Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk.)
  • Read this short elegy for slain publicist Ronni Chasen, by Margy Rochlin for L.A. Weekly.
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