Sunday, August 11, 2013

Youth is Served

Rebuilding teams often start with young players getting their shot to play regardless of production.  The Astros and Cubs, for example, are knee-deep into a rebuild stage.  The once-proud Astros no longer bring Killer B's but "who's that?'s" instead.  Theo Epstein is considered the right man for the job in Chicago to bring the Cubs back to prominence and he masterfully sold early-and-often with a tough market this year.  Dayton Moore's Royals are finally showing signs of life after a deep coma.

Those three teams have two players who both qualify for the batting title and are 25 or younger.  That may not sound like a lot, but only 21 players currently fit the bill.  However, one team has four position players who qualify.  Bet you can guess where I'm going with this.

In Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Justin Upton, the Braves have four players who are 25 or under and qualify for the batting title.  The quartet are a combined 10.2 fWAR and only Freeman has had a particularly good season.  Atlanta adds two pitchers (Mike Minor and Julio Teheran) to the group and the duo is responsible for 4.7 WAR.

In fact, let's go the extra step.  Braves pitchers under 26 are responsible for 8.7 WAR of a total 13.1 WAR (66%).  Alex Wood, Craig Kimbrel, and Jordan Walden are the notable additions to Minor and Teheran here.  And remember, that's a pitching staff that is second in NL ERA, second fewest walks, and fifth most strikeouts.  Only the White Sox, with the help of Chris Sale, rank higher in WAR from the 25-and-under crowd.

Offensively, it's not nearly as stark.  Of the 20.3 WAR from offense and defense, 10.6, or 52%, come from players under 26.  Granted, almost all of that comes from the quartet previously mentioned.  Just the same, the total ranks first among all teams in WAR from the 25-and-younger position players.  It's not even that close.  The Angels are second with 8.7 WAR and most of that comes from a certain outfielder.

Before the season, we heard all about how the Braves were going to strike out a lot and very little about how young this club is.  Half of their starting eight is under 26.  Only one player (Dan Uggla) is over 30.  Nobody was more happy about the acquisition of Scott Downs than Luis Ayala.  It gave the bullpen someone else who was born in the 70's.  Gerald Laird and Reed Johnson often spend games talking about when exactly disco died.

This team was built for the now, but it was especially built for tomorrow and the next day and the year to follow.  Teams that get old become yesterday's news.  Remember how the Phillies were a great team?  Yeah, they got old.  The Dodgers will soon follow if they don't make some drastic moves.  Want to know what happened to the Giants?  And no team stocks up old guys like the Yankees.  Is it surprising that have dealt with so many injuries?  And they will probably the give the soon-to-be 31 year-old Robinson Cano a mega extension.  Their youngest offensive player who wasn't playing because of injuries is Brett Gardner.  He turns 30 in two weeks.  They're not much younger on the mound, but Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are Julio Franco's age so that has to skew things.

Now, it should be noted that a lot of teams are getting younger.  Non-contenders are moving on to younger guys, seeing what they have right now to help with offseason decision-making.  Injuries are opening up opportunities for younger guys all the time.  But it's by design that Atlanta has been so young.  In baseball, getting young may not always be better, but it is much preferred provided it's not just youth but also productivity.  It's clear that the Braves definitely have both.  

Atlanta has been damn good this season.

Can you imagine how good this team will be when half of their lineup starts to enter its prime?

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