Bill James Names Top Young Talent in Baseball

Bill James Names Top Young Talent in Baseball

Legendary baseball analyst Bill James has determined that the Arizona Diamondbacks have accumulated the second-best collection of talent at the major league level only to the Minnesota Twins. 25-year old shortstop Stephen Drew ranks 21st among the top young players in the majors, according to James.

In the second year of his newly developed "Young Talent Inventory," groundbreaking baseball analyst Bill James ranks the top 25 individual young players under the age of 29, based on both their 2008 major league performance and their potential over the next few years. In The Bill James Handbook 2009, to be published on November 1, 2008, James then goes on to rank all thirty teams based on their current young talent.

"2008 really was not a great year for young talent, except pitchers," James says in his new book. "Some young position players took a step forward (Dustin Pedroia, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Stephen Drew, Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton, Jose Lopez, Geovany Soto, Nate McLouth); others took a step backward (Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur). But the only really huge talent to emerge in 2008 was Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays."

"In pitching, on the other hand, it was a good year," argues James. "Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, John Danks and others emerged as major young talents—others including Jair Jurrjens, Ricky Nolasco, Mike Pelfrey and Edinson Volquez." James points out that evaluating the best young talent is a transitory task: "Virtually everyone who is on this list now will drop off within two years. In baseball, you get over being ‘young' really quickly." What is remarkable about this year's list, he says, is that there is little turnover this year compared to last, which means that relatively little new talent emerged.

To achieve his inventory, James first eliminates from the list all players who were 30 years old or older in 2008. He employs two widely used statistics—"Runs Created" for position players and "Runs Allowed" for pitchers—as the basis for comparison. He makes several adjustments, including for injuries suffered during the year and the differences in predictability between pitchers and position players, and then takes into account the number of years the player should be at his peak performance.

James lists the Minnesota Twins as the #1 team in all of baseball for young talent, even though they don't have a single young player in the top 25: "But they have 6 players in the top 100, 8 in the top 120, and 10 in the top 150. The average team has 5 players in the top 150; the Twins have 10—Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Justin Morneau, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Carlos Gomez, Nick Blackburn, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Glen Perkins. And then they have Michael Cuddyer, and Francisco Liriano, and Boof Bonser, and Craig Breslow, and then they have a bunch of other guys. The Twins rank seventh in the majors in young pitching talent, and first in non-pitching talent. The Twins ranked 11th on this list last year, and moved forward basically because of the development of the young pitchers. They're loaded."

Only four teams—the Brewers (Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun), the Mets (David Wright and Jose Reyes), the Red Sox (Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester), and the Dodgers (Matt Kemp and James Loney)—placed two players in James' list of top 25 young players.

James' ranks the top 25 young players as follows:

 1. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman, age 24
 2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins shortstop, age 24
 3. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants pitcher, age 24
 4. David Wright, New York Mets third baseman, age 25
 5. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder, age 24
 6. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox second baseman, age 24
 7. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder, age 23
 8. Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels pitcher, age 26
 9. Jose Reyes, New York Mets shortstop, age 25
10. Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles right fielder, age 24
11. Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals pitcher, age 24
12. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals third baseman, age 23
13. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, age 24
14. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies shortstop, age 23
15. Felix Hernandez, ! Seattle Mariners pitcher, age 22
16. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox pitcher, age 24
17. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman, age 22
18. John Danks, Chicago White Sox pitcher, age 23
19. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres first baseman, age 26
20. James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman, age 24
21. Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop, age 25
22. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves catcher, age 24
23. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers first baseman, age 25
24. Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians center fielder, age 25
25. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds first baseman, age 24

James also lists teams in order of overall young talent currently on the big league squad:

 1. Minnesota Twins
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
 3. Tampa Bay Rays
 4. Florida Marlins
 5. Kansas City Royals
 6. Milwaukee Brewers
 7. Cleveland Indians
 8. Colorado Rockies
 9. Atlanta Braves
10. Boston Red Sox
11. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
12. Oakland A's
13. Los Angeles Dodgers
14. St. Louis Cardinals
15. Cincinnati Reds
16. New York Mets
17. Pittsburgh Pirates
18. Seattle Mariners
19. Texas Rangers
20. Philadelphia Phillies
21. San Diego Padres
22. San Francisco Giants
23. Washington Nationals
24. Baltimore Orioles
25. Chicago White Sox
26. Chicago Cubs
27. Detroit Tigers
28. Toronto Blue Jays
29. New York Yankees
30. Houston Astros

As James has noted often, "Competitive teams don't have as much room to let young players thrash around, and consequently most of the top teams don't show as having a lot of young talent. They may have the young talent; it just isn't in the lineup yet."

The Bill James Handbook 2009 is available on November 1, 2008 from ACTASports.com


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