Here was Joe Sheehan, the eminent baseball writer, addressing Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr.: “The Braves’ pair … is on pace to be one of the great young duos in baseball history.”
This might have triggered the warning buzzer of hyperbole had someone else written it – someone like me, say – but the reason I subscribe to Sheehan’s newsletter (and you should, too) is because he never leaves it at words. He runs the numbers. He assesses the data. Then he hits you with this:
“Albies is 21 all year; Acuna Jr. just turned 20 in December. In all of baseball history, just 24 teams have had two position players 21 and under produce at least one win (per Baseball-Reference WAR) each. A third of those happened in the 19th Century. Raise the bar to two wins apiece – which doesn’t seem an absurd standard for Albies and Acuna Jr. – and you get a short list that includes some of the great young pairs in baseball history.”
Here they are:
2003 Devil Rays: Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford.
1978 Tigers: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
1973 Brewers: Bob Coluccio and Darrell Porter.
1959 Giants: Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey.
1939 Red Sox: Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams.
Not going to lie: I have no memory of Bob Coluccio, and I’d been following baseball for several years by 1973. (He was out of the majors by 1979; his rookie season was by far his best.) If both Albies and Acuna don’t turn out to be better than Rocco Baldelli, the Braves will be sorely disappointed. As for the other eight:
Crawford was a four-time All-Star. Porter was MVP of both the 1982 NLCS – the Cardinals swept the Braves that year, you might recall – and the World Series. Doerr and Trammell were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Whitaker had a better career WAR than Derek Jeter, who’ll be in the Hall. Cepeda and McCovey were National League MVPs and are in the Hall. Ted Williams won two Triple Crowns and was the greatest pure hitter ever.
Sheehan’s on the duos as a unit, not as individuals: “What I take from this limited sample is the team success that developing two players this good, this young, foretold. Trammell and Whitaker would win a World Series six years later. Cepeda and McCovey would come tantalizing close to doing so in ’62, and then average 91 wins a year from 1964 through 1968 without ever taking a pennant. The Doerr/Williams Red Sox were interrupted by war before losing their own seven-game Series in 1946. Baldelli’s career would be altered by illness, but Crawford was a star for the pennant-winning 2008 Rays. Only the Brewers’ pair, playing for a team just five years old, never augured success.”
We mentioned in February that Sheehan was high-ish on the Braves, suggesting that they’d be MLB’s “most watchable team.” He’s higher now. His verdict: “Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., together, are one of the best stories in baseball.”
And how far do the two have to go to reach the two-win threshold? Not very. Albies is already at 1.5. After five measly games, Acuna is at 0.5.
Oh, and here’s a tantalizing comparison: Cepeda made his MLB at age 20 (like Albies and Acuna) in 1958; the 21-year-old McCovey arrived after the 1959 season had commenced. (Sort of like Acuna, although Stretch didn’t make it to San Fran until the end of July.) They teamed with the 28-year-old Willie Mays, who would finish with a 7.6 WAR, putting him fourth in NL behind Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Albies and Acuna are teaming with the 28-year-old Freddie Freeman, whose 1.6 WAR ties him for the league lead with fellow Brave Nick Markakis.
We noted yesterday that the Braves could – key word there – have three foundational players, the oldest being 28. Freeman definitely qualifies. If we go by Sheehan’s findings, Albies and Acuna are already treading on historic ground. Yeah, I’d say this team bears watching.