Posted By Jeff Fletcher on January 18, 2009 12:57 pm
In response to this post, one of my readers suggested that Fred Lewis is about to break out because he’s always done that in his second full year in each league. I think that’s sort of a silly notion because a) he’s in the major leagues now, so he’s going to keep going against the same players and they’ll keep adjusting back to whatever he does, and b) he’s going to be 28 this season. That’s pretty old for a guy who hasn’t yet busted out to suddenly do so.
So I had this question: How common is it for someone who hasn’t yet established himself as a frontline major leaguer by age 27 to do so at 28 or later?
I struggled with this, mainly because it was difficult to come up with a definition for “established.” It is a high OPS? Starting 150 games? Making the All-Star team? So I eventually went with former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who famously said in his definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”
That made it simple. I just rounded up every player in the majors over the past 20 years who, like Lewis, had a sort of middling big league role during those critical seasons when he was 25, 26 and 27 years old. For middling, I defined that as more than 200 at-bats, but fewer than 700, during those years. The minimum eliminated the guys who had a cup of coffee and went away, and the maximum eliminated the guys who were already everyday players for two or more seasons at that age.
Here’s the list. Go check it out, and don’t forget to come back when you are done.
(Some hold music will play while you’re gone.)
Anyway, did you see anyone on that list that looked like an “established” or “premium” major leaguer? Sure looked to me like a lot of Dascenzos, Grebecks, Infantes, Carreons and Quinlans. If you could see page 2 of that list (B-R won’t let visitors continue to the rest of the list, for some reason), you’d see Edgar Martinez on there. He’s the only guy who became a premium player after a Lewis-like middling start. Eric Byrnes is also on there, and he turned out OK, although you can make a case that he still hasn’t become consistent. Frankly, he’s the best-case scenario for Lewis, and Freddy ought to order all the Eric Byrnes motivational tapes right now.
Does that mean that Lewis can’t still become a front-line player? Of course not. It just means that’d be bucking the odds to do it. You can’t simply look at the start of his career the way you’d look at, say, Garrett Atkins. Atkins and Lewis were very similar over the first three seasons that they were in the majors, but in Year 4 Atkins went off for the first of three consecutive premium seasons. The difference is Atkins was 26 in Year 4, and Lewis will be 28.
The bottom line is this: I think Lewis is what he is going to be. He’s a nice outfielder with some speed and some power, but he’s not a middle-of-the-order hitter (or even a starter) on a good team.