Royals fans, prepare to have your minds blown courtesy of Baseball Reference’s Play Index:
Since 1919 there have been 6 rookies aged 21 or under to hit at least 18 HR, drive in 75 runs, and bat .290. You know who the most recent was, but for dramatic effect…
1936- Joe DiMaggio
1939- Ted Williams
1956- Frank Robinson
1958- Orlando Cepeda
2001- Albert Pujols
2011- Eric Hosmer
Before the saber metrics crowd closes the window…Yes, those are arbitrary data points…Yes, those are antiquated statistics…Yes, the other 5 players had significantly better seasons than Hosmer. Still, say it with me: DiMaggio, Williams, Robinson, Cepeda, Pujols, Hosmer. Think it’s completely meaningless? Find me a season comparison that puts Bob Hamelin in this group (not a lot of HOFers were 26 during their rookie season).
I will agree that the numbers above don’t quite fit the purpose of the article, which is to find the greatest comparison to Hosmer’s rookie year. For those, I gave into a few of the new age (more accurate) statistics. I replaced HRs with OPS+ (115 or higher), I replaced RBI with SLG % (.450 or higher) and I replaced batting average with qualifying for the batting title. We’re still looking for 21 (or younger) year old rookies here. The new results show 12 comparables…and one near perfect match. Before I get to the near perfect match, the rest:
- 10 of the 12 comps are HOF eligible, 7 of them are in the HOF
- The two that aren’t eligible yet are Albert Pujols and Jason Heyward
- 5 of the 12 were 20, while 7 of them were 21
Of those seven 21 year-olds, 1 of them was also a 1st baseman. This players OBP% was .001 below Hosmer’s, his SLG% was .004 above Hosmer’s and his OPS+ was 5 points higher. Not surprisingly he’s also the #1 match for Hosmer on Baseball Reference’s most similar players through age 21. His name? Eddie Murray.
Now if you’re my age you may only remember Murray as a switch-hitter with an awesome fro and an even more awesome mustache. The fact is, from 1981-1984 Murray was one of the best hitters in the American League, if not all of baseball. Incredibly, Murray put up an OPS+ of 156 in all four of those seasons, and deservedly finished in the top 5 of the MVP vote each year as well. He won a Gold Glove in three of the four seasons and led the Orioles to a World Championship in 1983.
Even Murray isn’t a perfect comp because he’s a switch hitter, he came into the league on a really good Orioles team, and Hosmer could never grow a fro that awesome. Even if he was a perfect comp, that wouldn’t mean Hosmer was going to follow Murray’s career arc (the best comp for Angel Berroa at age 23 was Ernie Banks). Sure, there are a lot of things that could go wrong between .290/18/75 at age 21 and the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, DiMaggio-Williams-Robinson-Cepeda-Pujols-Hosmer.