Best players of the next decade?

In episode 1408 of Effectively Wild, Ben Lindbergh, Meg Rowley and Sam Miller discussed who they thought were the best players of the last decade. The names they banded around weren’t all too surprising. I won’t spoil an excellent podcast here, please go and listen to it, then come back to this post.

Done? Ok, lets continue.

The podcast made me think about the coming decade, who will be the greatest players of the next 10 years? Thinking ahead to the period 2020-2029, who will top the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) charts during those years? Will it be someone who has been in the league a few years already? Will it be someone who has just debuted? Will it be someone who hasn’t even been drafted yet?

This exercise is almost impossible, as some of the names discussed on the EW podcast weren’t even drafted by the year prior to the last decade. So how do we even begin to try and project this?

Well, there’s blind guesswork I suppose. We could try a bit of that, or we could try and analyse how the rookie seasons and peak seasons went for the top five and pick a similar player.

You’ve probably realised where this is heading, it’s a post about players of the next decade, it’s written by me, it’s already exploring great rookie seasons, it’s a Fernando Tatis Jr. post.

SPOILER ALERT – The greatest player of the last decade was Mike Trout. If you didn’t know that, you’re an idiot.

His rookie season was in 2011 – a year into the decade he would become the greatest hitter in baseball – was disappointing to say the least. In 40 games, he only accumulated 0.7 Fangraphs WAR (fWAR). However, he exploded after that and the rest is history.

Do you need to shoot right out of the barrel for your rookie season? Mike Trout says no. However, Mike Trout might be the greatest player to have ever lived, so he’s a genuine outsider.

What about some of the others on the Fangraphs fWAR list of the decade? Here we display the position they finished for the decade rankings, their debut year, their age on debut, how games they played that year and how much fWAR they accumulated.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is holding hands with young McCutchen and running away with the lead, despite having only played 72 games this season. The Padres have 55 games left, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Tatis to finish the season with 5.0 fWAR. A great start and something that when flipped to Baseball Reference WAR (he’s on 3.8 there too) would have him nibbling at the top 20 best ever rookie season, despite only playing approximately 130 games.

What about the players of the last decade and their peaks? What season were they, how old were they? The next table goes through that, once again displaying their decade leaderboard position, debut year, peak fWAR (For a single season), the year that happened and what age they were, then finally the difference in years between peak season and debut season.

Mike Trout once again defies all logic, completely ignoring the “athletes prime” years of mid-to-late 20s and instead banging out 10.2 fWAR in his age 21 season.

Buster Posey’s 2012 season was phenomenal with the bat (.336/.408/.549 164 wRC+), but the inclusion of framing and catcher defence means his numbers are raised. That doesn’t mean it’s not a true reflection, I just wanted to highlight the fact, so we don’t get “POSEY IS BETTER THAN TROUT” messages.

The next three are all consistently great players. All between 7.3 and 8.1 fWAR. All between 26 and 31 for their peak years. All within eight years of their debut.

So the standard range for a peak year is approximately 5-6 years after they have debuted, which would make Fernando Tatis Jr. 25/26, right in his “normal” prime. What about the fWAR? Is that achievable for a player like Tatis?

Now it’s time for some very simple Tom maths.

Fernando Tatis Jr. has 3.8 fWAR in 72 games.

Divide 3.8 by 72 and you get a tiny number, multiply that by 150 (games – lets not assume he’s playing 162) and you get 7.9 fWAR. I’m not saying it will definitely happen, but it’s a nice feeling.

If Tatis Jr. can stay healthy and continue to produce as he has already (don’t talk to me about BABIP, la la la la, not listening), he could achieve close to 8.0 fWAR in a season. Smack in the middle of those peak years with greats like Joey Votto, Andrew McCutchen and Robinson Cano. We already think he might edge up to 5.0 fWAR in this season with 130 games under his belt, could he make that extra leap and get another 3.0 fWAR in another 20 extra games?

It’s a lot to ask of someone so young and inexperienced.

You know what though, I can’t wait to watch him try.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is my number one pick to be a top five player of the 2020-2029 decade in Major League Baseball.

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