White Sox’ Luis Robert looks to be starting something special
Even in a 60-game season, it’s not out of the question for Robert to contend for the best season by a Sox player making his MLB debut at 22. The leader is Frank Thomas.
Ahot start is just a hot start, and putting ‘‘Luis Robert’’ and ‘‘Hall of Fame’’ in the same sentence is as premature as Eloy Jimenez’s spring comparisons of Robert to Mike Trout.
But holding a regular big-league job as a 22-year-old rookie is a big step, regardless of Robert’s .351/.385/.595 slash line through Sunday. The players with the best careers tend to reach the majors early.
Twenty-one players have career non-pitcher bWARs of 100 or more. That includes Babe Ruth’s 162.1 as a position player but not his 20.4 as a pitcher. Only one of the 21 was older than 22 to start his career: Honus Wagner, who was 23.
Teenagers make up a disproportionate share of the group. Nine in the 100 WAR club were 19 or younger in their debuts, with Mel Ott the youngest at 17.
Players in the majors that young have shown their games already are good enough to be there, and they can build from there.
Also, the youngest players are building totals when older rookies are polishing their games. Trout, whose 73.0 bWAR is fourth-highest through age 28 in major-league history, debuted at 19 and had 19.9 bWAR before entering his age-22 season.
The Stathead tool at Baseball-Reference.com shows 783 non-pitchers who reached the majors at 19 or younger (baseball ages start at midnight June 30). Fifty-two — 6.6 percent — have made the Hall of Fame.
The percentage of Hall of Famers decreases as debut age increases. The numbers are 44 Hall of Famers among 951 players (4.6 percent) at 20, then 50 of 1,691 (3 percent) at 21, 34 of 2,347 (1.4 percent) at 22, 23 of 2,691 (0.9 percent) at 23 and nine of 2,730 (0.3 percent) at 24 before a slight uptick to 12 of 2,188 (0.5 percent) at 25.
Only six players of 4,522 (0.1 percent) have been enshrined after debuting at 26 or later. Those include special cases Roy Campanella (27) and Jackie Robinson (28), who should have been in the majors much younger but for the color line.
There are stars, journeymen and washouts at any age, but those with the biggest chances at the best careers are those in the majors at the youngest ages.
Even in a 60-game season, it’s not out of the question Robert will contend for the best season by a White Sox player making his big-league debut at 22. The leader is Frank Thomas, who just happens to have played in 60 games for the Sox in 1990.
Thomas had 240 plate appearances and 191 at-bats, slashing .330/.454/.529 with seven home runs and 31 RBI. That was worth 2.3 bWAR. The next-highest by a Sox player with an age-22 debut was 2.1 by Gordon Beckham in 430 plate appearances in 2009.
There’s work to be done, but a 60-game start in Thomas’ class would be a major feather in Robert’s cap. Then again, time is on his side.