Ozzie Albies' Early Career Puts Him In Excellent Company
Ozzie Albies signed a long-term contract extension today that will likely keep him in Atlanta for the next decade. The general consensus around the baseball industry is that in exchange for admittedly some very solid financial security (to the tune of up to $45 million over the next nine years), he gave up the possibility of earning an additional $100 million or more on the open market.
But what may be lost by many fans is why people inside the game reacted so strongly to Albies’ contract. Albies’ 2018 season was a very solid one, as he earned an All-Star berth with an excellent first half and then tailed off somewhat in the second half. Because of that second-half swoon, it may be missed by many just how rare Albies’ season was.
Albies hit .261/.305/.452 last season as a 21-year-old, which was good for a 102 OPS+. Very few second baseman have ever hit that well in the major leagues.
According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, there have only been six other second basemen since Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947 who have ever posted a 100 OPS+ or better at age 21 or younger. Of those other six, four are in the Hall of Fame.
But maybe that’s being too kind to Albies. After all, he just barely meets those criteria. If we widen it to those second basemen who posted a 90 OPS+ or better as age 22 or younger, we get 17 other second basemen who fit the parameters.
Of those 17 second basemen, five are either ineligible (Pete Rose) or not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame. Of the remaining 12, seven are in the Hall of Fame. Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve are on track to potentially add an eighth and ninth Hall of Famer to that list. And it’s far too soon to know what to make of Albies or Rougned Odor. So it's possible that well more than half of the players who meet this criteria will either end up in the Hall of Fame or having posted Hall of Fame numbers (Rose).
What’s equally notable is how there’s really not a truly cautionary tale among the 17 players. The worst players who fit the criteria are Omar Infante and Gregg Jefferies. Jefferies’ career flamed out much quicker than expected, but he did make two All-Star teams and finished with over 1,500 career hits in a 14-year MLB career. Similarly, Infante made one All-Star team, played 15 seasons and finished just shy of 1,500 hits.
Those are the worst players on the list—the only two second basemen among the group who failed to post 20+ career bWAR. Those 15 players (not counting Albies and Odor) have averaged 50.7 bWAR—and Altuve and Cano can continue to add to their numbers to push that average up.
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Delino Deshields Sr., Ron Hunt and Steve Sax are the laggards of this group, and they were among the better second basemen of their eras. At the other end of the spectrum, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor are among the best second basemen of all time.
If Albies is Infante or Jefferies, the Braves will be getting a massive bargain over the next nine seasons. If he comes close to matching the numbers of any of the other players on this list, he’ll be one of the better players in the game, while playing on a contract that pays him as a solid contributor.