Looking for a little help

April, 6, 2009
From the mailbag:


    With all the talk about Matt Wieters and today's note on Daniel Murphy, I was wondering who some of the biggest upside surprises were in the majors after not terribly impressive minor league action. I would guess the best performers were those who saw very little minor league action or were very young for their minor league levels. Do you know of any standouts who had a "reasonable" sample size from which to project and then "just clicked" in the majors and greatly outperformed any projection that we would apply to them today?

    I always remember stories about how Jeff Bagwell came out of nowhere to put up great power numbers, but I looked at his minor league numbers and he did hit quite a few doubles (34 in 481 ABs) in his second professional season as a 22-year-old, and his power output (ignoring the otherworldly 1994 MVP season) seems to increase with his age peaking as it should (maybe starting a little early) for season ages 25-32 before starting the slow fade followed by steep decline with increasing age and arthritic shoulder problems.

    I rambled long enough to ask two questions: 1) Who is the best (among the best) who outperformed their minor league stats? And 2) Can Bagwell's base-running and defense (pre-shoulder I can't throw days) along with his OPS+ machine (149 career) get him out of the steroid era cloud and into the Hall?


Thanks for the note, Tom. (I left out all your kind words about my work because I'm just so darned modest, but I do appreciate them.) Anyway, this is a fantastic question, and I wish I had a good answer for you. For some reason, the first name that popped into my mind was "Jim Edmonds," but he's not a good answer, at all. After a slow start as a teenager, Edmonds reached Double-A when he was 21 and was holding his own in Triple-A shortly after turning 22.

I don't know that Jeff Bagwell outperformed his minor league stats, either. Especially when you consider his age, too. He posted some real fine stats at 22 while playing half his games in a tough ballpark in (as I recall) a pitchers' league. The interesting question, I think, isn't which players outperformed their stats; it's which players outperformed their performance. Which ones surprised us after we considered their ages and their home ballparks and any other mitigating factors.

As I said, I don't have a good answer. So I'm going to throw this question to the crowd, because I'm sure you all can come up with some solid candidates. In the meantime, I'll just say that Bagwell will wind up in Cooperstown, but I don't know whether it'll be in five years or 25.


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