Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review
Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.
The Braves entered play on Thursday with a 26-16 record, the best in the National League and the fourth-best overall. There's a lot of reasons for that somewhat unexpected success, from the breakout-in-progress of Sean Newcomb to the quietly dominant relief year of Dan Winkler to Freddie Freeman continuing to be the most overlooked superstar in baseball to the shockingly hot start of Nick Markakis, but all anyone wants to talk about are Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr.
So let's do exactly that. Let's try to figure out how unusual it's been throughout history for a team to have a pair of above-average hitters, both aged 21 or younger. (Acuna turns 21 on Dec. 18, while Albies won't be 22 until next January.) The answer, as it turns out, is "very."
Let's start with the important part: It's pretty rare to simply have a pair of everyday players who aren't older than 21, because only the most elite prospects get to the bigs by then (and even then, college players are mostly ruled out). Since 1901, there have been 407 seasons of at least 300 plate appearances from a player 21 or younger, so an average of about 3.4 per season. That's not many.
That's across the entire league, of course, so it's even more rare to have two such players paired up on the same team at the same time. Again since 1901, there have been just 34 teams to have a pair of youthful hitters get 300 plate appearances, or once every 3.4 seasons. Only two of those have come in the 21st century, the 2003 Devil Rays of Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli, and, believe it or not, the 2011 Braves of Freeman and Jason Heyward.
While it's impressive to have any sort of regular playing time in the Major Leagues at that age, there's a difference between "being there" and "playing well." Jurickson Profar made it up at 20 in 2013, for example, but he also hit just .234/.308/.336 (77 OPS+) while doing it. We're more interested in finding players who have been young and successful.
That narrows the field considerably. Only four teams have ever given 300 plate appearances to a pair of players 21 or younger and gotten at least league-average production out of them. You're going to recognize some of these names.
Teams with two players, 21 or younger, 300+ PA, 100 OPS+
1904 Phillies -- Johnny Lush and Sherry Magee
1939 Red Sox -- Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr
1965 Astros -- Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub
1973 Brewers -- Darrell Porter and Bob Coluccio
Albies has a 147 OPS+. Acuna has a 132 OPS+. They don't have the playing time, yet, but they have the prospect hype, and they have the production so far.
Williams and Morgan are a pair of inner-circle Hall of Famers, and Doerr is enshrined in Cooperstown as well. Staub and Porter made 10 All-Star teams between them, and Magee had a successful 16-year career in the early years of baseball. Being capable of being a league-average hitter at such a young age doesn't guarantee stardom, but it certainly tells you a lot about a hitter's skill. Among those who have done it: Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Michael Trout, Stan Musial, Jose Pujols and Ken Griffey Jr. You want to be on this list.
So can the young Atlanta duo keep it up? Can they be the fifth entry on a list that's full of Hall of Famers and All-Stars?
Albies is living up to last year's near-historic debut, entering Thursday hitting .283/.320/.598 (147 OPS+), tied for the Major League lead in home runs with 13, and also tied with Mookie Betts for most extra-base hits, with 30. Acuna has slowed down some from his hot debut, but he's still hitting .275/.348/.500, good for a 132 OPS+, and he's still one of the few Major Leaguers with a hard-hit rate north of 50 percent.
There's nothing guaranteed here, of course. Acuna had hit just .154/.313/.308 over the week preceding Wednesday's 2-for-4 effort in a win over the Cubs, so there will be ups and downs. Albies has a .371 wOBA, which is great, but is also a number that's well above his .348 Statcast™ expected mark. We can't simply expect them to come up and be successful indefinitely, because baseball usually doesn't work like that. Hitters don't usually make it up this young and hit this well, either. Maybe "usually" doesn't apply here. The Braves sure hope it doesn't.