Top 25-and-unders: Historic list to be revealed
The 2015 Cooperstown class got its Hall call and stage time, and it was fun to salute Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio on Sunday. But on the field, on a daily basis in Major League Baseball, we're witnessing an incredible crop of 25-and-under talent that is bound to be beating down the Hall's door 20 years from now.
It was even something Commissioner Rob Manfred made note of in his remarks in Cooperstown over the weekend.
"To maintain that tradition of excellence, we must attract the very best athletes to play our game and to continue to play our game," said Commissioner Manfred. "In this regard, we have a great foundation. There were 20 players under age 25 at our All-Star Game this year. We have a great crop out there right now."
In that spirit, we'll unveil the Top 25 and Unders on Tuesday, which is our ranking of the top 25 players age 25 and younger. All players who were 25 and under as of July 1, 2015 -- their "age-25 season or younger" -- were eligible for votes, and the list was selected by a panel of MLB.com and MLB Network analysts, including two former Major League general managers (Dan O'Dowd and Jim Duquette).
It proved to be an awfully difficult exercise, because, by measures objective and emotional, this is one of the great 25-and-under classes this game has ever seen. Take one look at the leaderboards and you'll see why.
Mike Trout (age 23) leads the Majors in homers. Bryce Harper (age 22) tops the Majors in slugging. Gerrit Cole (age 24) has the most wins in MLB and Nolan Arenado (age 24) is tied for the RBI lead. We could go on.
"I always feel that as a player, you get a chance to borrow this game for a number of years, and then you have to pass it on to the next generation," said Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. "But what we saw at that All-Star Game, a lot of first-timers, a lot of kids under 25 years old, and just going up there with absolutely no negative thought in their mind, I think baseball fans are in for an exciting rest of the year."
As Commissioner Manfred pointed out, the All-Star Game rosters featured 20 players age 25 or younger -- the most in history. So it was fitting that the face of the youth movement, Trout, won the All-Star MVP honors for the second straight year.
"The group of young players that we have today is just absolutely outstanding," Commissioner Manfred said. "They're great on the field. They're really great human beings off the field. And I think they provide a real opportunity for the game to move forward."
But beyond the All-Star recognition, there's the simple fact that 11 of the 30 teams reached the midway mark with a player 25 or under leading them in Wins Above Replacement. If that pace holds true for the entirety of 2015, it would mark the first time since 1980 that this many teams were led in WAR by players that young.
Baseball Reference defines an All-Star-caliber season as 5 WAR. If we break that down to a per-game basis (0.0333, assuming 150 games played), then we have 15 players who are 25 and under on pace for All-Star seasons, which is tied with 2014 for the most in history.
There were 14 age-25-and-under hitters at the break with at least 200 plate appearances and an adjusted OPS+ of 125 or better -- the first time this has happened since 1963, per Baseball Reference.
Additionally, there were seven starters in that age group with at least 50 innings and an adjusted ERA+ of 150 or better -- the most since 1969, also according to B-Ref.
Furthermore, a FanGraphs study at the break found that in terms of WAR, this was the most productive first half for rookie position players on record.
All of which is a long-winded, stat-heavy way of saying something Buck Showalter stated so eloquently earlier this year:
"These are the good old days."
In Trout, Harper, Manny Machado, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner and so many others, the game is blessed with a bright present and future. And the game's new leadership has shown an openness to new ideas that pairs well with the youthful energy on the field.
"We're trying to make changes in the game that allows us to take full advantage of this great crop of young players that we have," Manfred said. "The Home Run Derby changes were just one example of that."
For a sport that celebrates its past so well, this emphasis on the present is important.
"Right now, [MLB's] product is in as good a place as it's been in a long, long time," former manager Bobby Valentine said. "They need to get up and open the window and yell out the window, they need to go up the mountaintop and scream off the mountaintop and get the word out that this is a really special product. And don't beat down this special product, it's special and it's very good. Let's talk about the good stuff, because you might not have an era like this again for another few decades."