Optimistically Projecting Ruben Tejada

Want some hope for the Mets? Some things I’ve learned clicking around Baseball-Reference’s Play Index:

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:

Rk Player WAR/pos PA From To Age G BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Alex Rodriguez 13.5 1523 1994 1997 18-21 352 .314 .366 .534 .900
2 Andruw Jones 10.3 1211 1996 1998 19-21 343 .251 .319 .472 .791
3 Mike Stanton 8.4 997 2010 2011 20-21 250 .261 .344 .525 .869
4 Ken Griffey 7.3 633 1991 1991 21-21 154 .327 .399 .527 .926
5 Adrian Beltre 7.3 1403 1998 2000 19-21 367 .272 .344 .438 .782
6 Jason Heyward 7.2 1077 2010 2011 20-21 270 .255 .362 .427 .789
7 Albert Pujols 6.9 676 2001 2001 21-21 161 .329 .403 .610 1.013
8 Ivan Rodriguez 4.8 1261 1991 1993 19-21 348 .266 .301 .379 .680
9 Justin Upton 4.6 1157 2007 2009 19-21 289 .272 .350 .485 .836
10 Elvis Andrus 4.3 1215 2009 2010 20-21 293 .266 .336 .333 .670
11 Edgar Renteria 4.1 1742 1996 1998 19-21 393 .288 .342 .357 .699
12 Miguel Cabrera 3.6 1031 2003 2004 20-21 247 .285 .352 .497 .850
13 Ryan Zimmerman 2.9 744 2005 2006 20-21 177 .296 .357 .479 .836
14 Starlin Castro 2.8 1221 2010 2011 20-21 283 .304 .343 .422 .766
15 Rocco Baldelli 2.7 684 2003 2003 21-21 156 .289 .326 .416 .742
16 Mike Caruso 2.3 555 1998 1998 21-21 133 .306 .331 .390 .721
17 Jose Reyes 2.2 521 2003 2004 20-21 122 .283 .307 .407 .714
18 Juan Gonzalez 2.0 595 1991 1991 21-21 142 .264 .321 .479 .800
19 Ruben Tejada 1.6 631 2010 2011 20-21 174 .256 .338 .314 .653
20 Eric Hosmer 1.3 563 2011 2011 21-21 128 .293 .334 .465 .799
21 Freddie Freeman 1.0 659 2010 2011 20-21 177 .277 .340 .444 .784
22 Wil Cordero 0.6 658 1992 1993 20-21 183 .260 .317 .389 .706
23 Melky Cabrera 0.1 543 2005 2006 20-21 136 .278 .355 .384 .739
24 Carl Crawford 0.1 939 2002 2003 20-21 214 .274 .304 .364 .668
25 Luis Rivas -0.6 683 2000 2001 20-21 169 .271 .320 .367 .687
Rk Player WAR/pos PA From To Age G BA OBP SLG OPS
26 Delmon Young -1.3 812 2006 2007 20-21 192 .293 .319 .419 .738
27 Jose Guillen -3.5 526 1997 1997 21-21 143 .267 .300 .412 .712
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/1/2012.

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.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Optimistically Projecting Ruben Tejada

  1. This is fun to think about but I look at the list above and I notice most were also considered top prospects from the moment they entered the minors. To me it looks like positive correlation that highly touted prospects would play in that many games before the age of 22. I haven’t looked at Toby’s rankings lately but I always got the impression Ruben got the the majors largely because of luck (and by luck I mean the Mets lack of talent at SS in the minors).

    I still feel like Ruben is a major leaguer though.

    • I think 45% chance to be an all star is a good call. He’s made some really nice plays and he’s exciting to watch more often than not.

      I think Terry Collins has made a huge difference this past season with Rubens bat. For me, He has the Defence nailed(ish)(maybe another ish)

    • Patrick Flood

      Shun the non-believer!

      (Really, you make good points. I think some luck played into it, with the injuries to Reyes and the Mets lack of depth. Still, a .360 OBP as a 21-year-old isn’t anything to scoff at.)

      Shunnnnnnn!

      • It’s not like the Mets didn’t have crappy veteran shortstops they could’ve called on instead. That they chose Tejada and didn’t instantly say “OMG what have we done this guy isn’t ready” isn’t really luck of the draw due to poor depth.

        I haven’t really liked Tejada, but maybe I’m being a little too hard on him. A .360 can play here and be valuable. He may not be spectacular anywhere, but leading off for Murphy/Wright/Davis/Duda to drive in has a lot of value.

  2. There’s something about the calculation that there’s an 85% chance he’s an MLB regular or better that I find somewhat difficult to believe… But what do I know, your argument is compelling enough. I guess my subconscious has been beaten into a sense of pessimism after years of being a Mets fan.

  3. Good stuff. And really if not being overly optimistic about players like Tejada and Ike Davis what better reason is there to being a fan of the team right now?

    Considering some of the people who have been an all-star once in their career I don’t think its a reach for Tejada… or much to speak of. (If you are a mediocre closer on a bad team you have a about a 95% of making the all-star team once*) and the players who start at 21 or younger have a better chance at having a longer career (duh) and compiling stats to the hof markers.

    * no factual data available :)

    • Even Mike Caruso had better minor-league numbers than Ruben Tejada.

    • Patrick Flood

      No joke. Numbers don’t lie — if you can play as a 21-year-old, there’s a decent chance you end up as a good player.

      • Tejada OPSed .696 as a 21-year-old. And it would have been closer to .600 if not for Dave Hudgens’ emphasis on walks. You’re right that numbers don’t lie, but you can certainly lie with numbers. You’re comparing Tejada to a list of guys who were, by and large, superstars in the minors, not mediocre no-hit shortstops who got called up because there just wasn’t anyone else. The only guys who hit near as bad as Tejada on this list are Renteria and Crawford. The thing is, those guys had a useful tool that separated them from Tejada — blazing speed.

      • Drawing a walk is still skilful. I think its unfair to tar Ruben with that brush – the whole team was drawing a lot of walks. To that extent the Mets were winning when they were drawing a lot of walks.

        From what I saw what Tejada lacks for in speed – he makes up for on reading the play.

      • I don’t have any problem with his defense. His bat just isn’t there and probably never will be.

      • I assume you were talking about defense when you talked about “reading the play.”

      • how is hitting 285 as a 21 year old not having a bat? honestly, you just made yourself sound really stupid…

        now you could have made a critique of his ability to hit for power…that would have made some sense…but to say that a 21 year old that hit 285 has no bat and probably never will shows that you are a f***ing moron

  4. It’s funny, this article is both nonsensical but making me hopeful at the same time!

    There’s no stat in there that says the only reason he was called up at such a young age was the putrid depth in the upper level of the system…

    Did he hold his own? A little I guess…we’re always told to ignore what players do in March and September. I hope you’re right and he does develop.

  5. Everything is relative!!!! We’ll just have to wait and see. I would love it if he is as good or surpasses Reyes.

  6. To add to the silliness:
    Ruben’s MLE triple-slash for the SAL, from the alternate universe where he went to an American college and got drafted and sent to low-A like a typical 21-year-old: .450/.563/.541.

  7. The avg NL shortsop in 2011 was .313/.373/.686 and Tejada’s numbers were .360/.335/.696. He was slightly better than avg or around 6th best. This means that there are 10 teams with worse offensive shortstops in the NL. Tejada is only 21yoa, and even if he never improves he will still be considered avg. A steady ss is hard to find but I feel Reuben will improve and he appears to be a smarter player than Jose. Jose said last year, that he started out as a skinny kid just like Tejada. If we must wait for our pitching prospects why can’t the fan base have some patience in allowing Reuben to develop.

  8. My conclusion is the Tejada should have never gotten 500 ABs in the bigs. Not yet, anyway. It’s ridiculous to compare him to most of those young studs, a classic way of using numbers to tell whatever story you want.

    I’ve never liked zero power guys, and when combined with a lack of speed, it’s difficult to imagine him as anything better than a placeholder offensively.

  9. I became a Met fan in the Dave Kingman era, and I’d rather have a guy with a .360 OPB who plays scratch defense at short and hits an annual home run (preferably on his birthday) than a guy with a .287 OPB who hits 31 homers and is a defensive liability at first.

    Only chicks dig the long ball.

  10. Rob

    Tejada possesses neither power, nor more than average speed.

    To generate the .280+ batting average he had to post a .330+ batting average on balls in play. Such a level is sustainable if you have speed or pop to back it up, but he does not.

    Yes, he has some nice plate discipline skills, but unless he adds power (you don’t add speed, you only lose it over time), a .280 .360 line is going to be extremely hard for him to maintain.

    I think he is a useful bench player, but he needs to prove he was not playing over his head last season.

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