During the 2010 Spring Training, the Atlanta Braves startlingly announced that rookie Jason Heyward would be the starting right fielder on Opening Day. This announcement set the baseball world on fire as not only did Heyward not have any major league experience prior to the 2010 season, but he was also only 20 years old.
As we enter the final ten games of the major league season, we can begin to take stock of the season Heyward has had. It has been a roller coaster, no doubt, but at the end of the day the J-Hey Kid emerges as the favorite for the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, and as one of the elite ballplayers in all the land moving into this young decade.
I hope you're holding onto your hats, because I'm about to blow your minds.
What we'll be doing here is comparing Jason Heyward to players throughout history who have accumulated 600 or more plate appearances in a season in which they were 20 years old.
As you might imagine, this is a relatively small group of players. Here is the list of the 25 players to accomplish this feat since 1901:
Buddy Lewis, Ken Hubbs, Vada Pinson, Edgar Renteria, Robin Yount, Al Kaline, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Sherry Magee, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Cesar Cedeno, Orlando Cepeda, Ty Cobb, Bob Bailey, Claudell Washington, Travis Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Witt, Butch Wynegar, Adrian Beltre, Freddie Lindstrom, Roberto Alomar, and Johnny Bench.
Of these 25 players (Heyward will soon be number 26), 14 of them are or will be in the Hall of Fame.
Jason Heyward's stat-line is not immediately impressive. He has hit 18 home runs, with 71 RBI and 81 runs scored, and he has 29 doubles. Big whoop.
But let's dig a little deeper.
The number that jumps off the page right away with Heyward is his on-base percentage, which currently stands at .401.
If Heyward can keep his on-base percentage over .400 through the end of the season, then he joins some pretty select company.
Here is the list of names of players in baseball history who have posted an on-base percentage of .400 or better in 600 plate appearances at the age of 20:
Ted Williams (.436)
Alex Rodriguez (.414)
Mel Ott (.449)
Al Kaline (.421)
Heyward currently has 29 doubles through 578 plate appearances. Assuming that he gets one more double in the last ten games of the year, he will join these players who have hit at least 30 doubles in a season as a 20 year old:
Alex Rodriguez (54)
Vada Pinson (47)
Ted Williams (44)
Cesar Cedeno (40)
Johnny Bench (40)
Orlando Cepeda (38)
Mickey Mantle (37)
Mel Ott (37)
Frankie Gustine (32)
Buddy Lewis (32)
Heyward's OPS is currently sitting at .876, after reaching a peak of 1.017 and a low of .796 through the season.
Wanna see the list of guys with an OPS of .850 or higher in 600 plate appearances at the age of 20?
Ted Williams (1.045)
Alex Rodriguez (1.045)
Frank Robinson (.936)
Vada Pinson (.880)
Mel Ott (1.084)
Mickey Mantle (.924)
Al Kaline (.967)
Orlando Cepeda (.854)
Ah, let's forget raw OPS; why would we ever use that.
Turning to OPS+, J-Hey's comes in at 137 at present. Here's the list of 20 year olds who have topped 130 in this statistic:
Ted Williams (160)
Alex Rodriguez (160)
Frank Robinson (142)
Mel Ott (165)
Mickey Mantle (162)
Sherry Magee (134)
Al Kaline (162)
Ken Griffey, Jr. (135)
Ty Cobb (167)
As a measure of overall hitting value, adjusted batting runs is a pretty good statistic for comparing guys across different eras.
Heyward currently has 29.5 adjusted batting runs, which means he is on the precipice of 30 batting runs.
Here is a look at the "20/30" Club, or guys who tallied 30 or more adjusted batting runs at the age of 20:
Mel Ott (60.61)
Alex Rodriguez (56.50)
Ted Williams (54.66)
Al Kaline (52.26)
Mickey Mantle (45.81)
Ty Cobb (42.51)
Frank Robinson (35.41)
I'm not incredibly sure how I feel about comparing WAR (Wins Above Replacement) across seasons and eras; if this is a fatally flawed exercise I'm sure someone will let me know.
However, we have WAR numbers, so let's use them.
Jason Heyward currently has a WAR of 4.6 with ten games to go. There are 14 major league players who have had a WAR of 4.5 or higher at the age of 20, regardless of plate appearances.
Alex Rodriguez (9.4)
Al Kaline (9.0)
Ty Cobb (8.4)
Mel Ott (8.0)
Ted Williams (6.8)
Mickey Mantle (6.6)
Vada Pinson (6.3)
Frank Robinson (6.2)
Sherry Magee (6.0)
Rogers Hornsby (4.8)
Johnny Bench (4.6)
Ken Griffey, Jr. (4.6)
Claudell Washington (4.6)
Jimmie Foxx (4.6)
Of those 14 players, 11 are or will be in the Hall of Fame.
It is a shocking list, and Jason Heyward is going to be on it.
Look, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
First of all, this guy probably needs about 15 seasons better than the one he's had to get to Cooperstown.
Second of all, there is no requirement that a player have 600 plate appearances and be 20 years old to win the Rookie of the Year Award. If Jaime Garcia, Buster Posey, Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, or Starlin Castro is more deserving of the Award, then they should win it.
However, if we may get ahead of ourselves for a minute . . .
That was seven statistics that show that Jason Heyward compares favorably to Mel Ott, Al Kaline, and Frank Robinson, while being in the company of Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez, and Mickey Mantle.
This kid is special, and would appear to have a very bright future.
It is an excellent reason to get excited, Rookie of the Year or not.