1. Since 1901, there have been 213 major league baseball players to receive 500 plate appearances before their age 22 season. Ruben Tejada is one of those 213 players. So you can probably guess where this is going.
2. Of those 213 players, 116 were All-Stars at some point in their career, or 54%. Since we’re counting from 1901, and the first All-Star game took place in 1933, the percentage of All-Star caliber players is probably even higher than 54% — for example, between 1951 and 2001, when there was an All-Star game every year, 72% of the players receiving 500 plate appearances before their age 22 season ultimately made an All-Star team during their career. So over that fifty year stretch, seven of every ten players who became major league regulars at a young age also became All-Stars.
3. Also of those 213 players, 48 are in the Hall of Fame. That’s 23%.
4. The percentages for players who go on to become All-Stars and Hall of Famers remain similar if you narrow it down to just middle infielders. The percentages do drop slightly if you eliminate great young players, and only look at those “bad” players with three or fewer career Wins Above Replacement by age 21. But still, 58% of the “bad” young players who debuted between 1951 and 2001 ultimately became All-Stars. Even if a player fails to impress in the majors at a young age, he has a better than 50% chance at becoming an All-Star at some point in his career.
So just playing the percentages, if all you know about a player is that he has 500 major league plate appearances and is 21-years-old, you can estimate that he has a two-thirds shot at becoming an All-Star, and a one-in-four shot at going to the Hall of Fame. If a player is talented enough to play in the majors at a young age, he has a good chance of growing into a star.
We do know a little bit more than that about Ruben Tejada, of course. He has held his own, though perhaps not impressed during his time in the big leagues. But even adding in that information, there’s a better than half chance Tejada makes an All-Star team during his career, and a 10% shot he’s a Hall of Famer.
What about bust rate? As far as I know, there isn’t a great way to search the bust rate on these guys using Baseball-Reference. But I can make a list of players from the last 20 years to have 500 big league plate appearances by age 21:
What’s the bust rate over the last 20 years? Three, four, five guys out of 27? And even a handful of the “bad” players, like Melky Cabrera and Jose Guillen, have been productive major league regulars at points in their career. By my count, only Luis Rivas, Wil Cordero, Mike Caruso and Rocco Baldelli busted and failed to become useful regulars (and Baldelli failed because of illness).
Of course, Rivas, Cordero and Caruso are also middle infielders. So if you’re looking to temper your optimism, temper it on that anvil of failed young infielders.
But putting it all together and comparing Tejada to other players who became regulars at a young age, let’s say conservatively there is:
- A 5% chance Tejada busts
- A 10% chance he’s a career bench player
- A 35% he’s a useful regular
- A 45% chance he’s an All-Star
- A 5% chance he’s a Hall of Famer
This is, of course, ignoring all other objective and subjective information about Ruben Tejada. So it’s kind of a silly exercise. But this was really my attempt to explain my (over)enthusiasm for Ruben Tejada in statistical form: Young players who hold their own in the major leagues, even the unimpressive ones, tend to develop into solid everyday players, All Stars, and occasionally Hall of Famers. Ruben Tejada played 174 major league games before his 22nd birthday, and that on its own is an excellent sign for his future.