Bryce Harper, Mike Trout already in elite company
Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels are thriving at the highest level despite being exceptionally young relative to their peer group. That puts both in elite company.
Coming into play on Wednesday, Nationals rookie Bryce Harper boasted an OPS+ (i.e., OPS adjusted to reflect league and home-park conditions) of 141 (meaning his park-adjusted OPS was 41% better than the league average). Also coming into play on Wednesday, Angels sophomore Mike Trout boasted an OPS+ of 148. Both marks constitute excellent production for any player, let alone those who haven't had much exposure to the highest level.
But even that undersells what's going on with Harper and Trout. Harper is 19 years of age and won't turn 20 until the playoffs. Trout, meanwhile, won't turn 21 until August. Even being a major-league regular at all at such young ages is an indicator of future greatness, but thriving? That's rarified air.
How rarified? Let's begin by assuming some decline this season on the behalf (behalves!) of Harper and Trout. Let's set the OPS+ bar at 125 so there's sufficient downward wiggle room. Let's also assume that Harper and Trout each logs a qualifying number of plate appearances (they're on pace to do so). Here, then, is the exhaustive list of qualifiers who achieved an OPS+ of 125 or better at age 20 or younger (from 1901 onward) ...
|12||Ken Griffey Jr.||136||1990||20||666||179||22||.847|
Survey the list above and you'll see a healthy gathering of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers. That's the company that Trout is keeping by producing in the majors when the typical player his age is toiling in, say, the Midwest League. (Side note: Don't even ponder giving up on 22-year-old Jason Heyward yet.)
You'll also observe that two of the above names -- Ty Cobb and Mel Ott -- appear on this list at age 19. And they are Harper's fellow travelers. Once more: Cobb, Ty; Ott, Mel.
Obviously, Harper's and Trout's early bestowals aren't ironclad guarantees of future greatness. But there's undeniably a strong relationship between being a productive regular at age 19 or 20 and going on to a legendary career.
But no pressure, of course.
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