History in the making: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are baseball’s best players at 23 and 22

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I know they both receive plenty of attention, but while looking over the All-Star rosters it struck me that we’re seeing something truly special with Angels center fielder Mike Trout and Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper being the two best players in baseball at ages 23 and 22.

Trout, the reigning MVP, leads the American League in home runs, slugging percentage, runs scored, and Wins Above Replacement at age 23.

Harper, an All-Star in 2012 and 2013 having a spectacular breakout season, leads the National League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and Wins Above Replacement at age 22.

Players who’re that great and that young just don’t come around very often, so two of them dominating baseball at the same time is amazing. Here are a couple stats to illustrate my point, via Baseball-Reference.com’s indispensable “Play Index.”

First, here are the highest OPS totals ever posted by a 22-year-old:

1.287 – Ted Williams, 1941
1.168 – BRYCE HARPER, 2015
1.085 – Joe DiMaggio, 1937
1.066 – Jimmie Foxx, 1930
1.026 – Eddie Mathews, 1954

Harper will probably come back down to earth a bit in the second half, but still seems likely to finish the season with an OPS solidly above 1.000. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, and Eddie Mathews are the only 22-year-olds in baseball history to top a 1.025 OPS and they’re all in the Hall of Fame.

As the reigning AL MVP and many people’s pick to win the award in 2012 and 2013 as well Trout has been doing the historic excellence thing for longer than Harper, so here are the highest career Wins Above Replacement totals compiled by hitters through the end of their age-23 seasons:

36.0 – Ty Cobb
34.2 – Ted Williams
34.1 – MIKE TROUT
31.4 – Mel Ott
30.1 – Ken Griffey Jr.
29.7 – Mickey Mantle
27.7 – Alex Rodriguez

Incredible company and here’s the thing: Trout still has two-and-a-half months remaining in his age-23 season, which means there’s a very strong chance he’ll pass Ted Williams and Ty Cobb to sit atop that list.

I realize “Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are both really good and really young” isn’t exactly a ground-breaking revelation, but I’m still not sure that we fully grasp the level of young greatness we’re witnessing right now.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.