In his upcoming book, Bill James lists the top 25 major leaguers under the age of 30. Baseball Digest Daily got a hold of the list, which consists of 13 hitters and 12 pitchers.

To achieve his “Young Talent Inventory,” James first eliminated from the list all players who were 29 years old in 2007 or older, to give a definition to “young talent.” Then he used two widely used statistics—“runs created” for position players and “runs allowed” for pitchers—as the basis for comparison. However, James made several adjustments and then took into account how many years the player has left before he is 33 years old.

So. The first step in constructing a list of the best players under the age of 30 is to eliminate anybody that is 29 years old. Bill James. Baseball Genius.

Scott Kazmir is ranked as the 3rd best pitcher (6th overall), behind Fausto Carmona and Felix Hernandez. James Shields makes the list as the 9th best pitcher (20th overall). What? No Jason Hammel? Kid K’s ranking seems about right, especially as a left hander, but we are not sure we would rank Shields ahead of both CC Sabathia and Brandon Webb, although it is closer than many would think. Shields is a year younger and it would be difficult to argue that he very well could have won 19 games with the Indians or 18 games with the D-Backs.

Noticeably absent from the list of top young hitters are the Devil Rays own Carl Crawford (26), BJ Upton (23) and Delmon Young (22). Do you think the Nationals would hesitate to trade Ryan Zimmerman (#11) for any of those three? Of course not. How about the O’s and Nick Markakis? or the Pads and Adrian Gonzalez? And those are just the obvious players that the Rays young trio are obviously superior to. Arguments could be made for 4-5 others on the list.

We are not sure why CC, Upton and Young were left off the list but we can only imagine what “adjustments” James made to his calculations. Maybe he didn’t want 25% of the list to be Devil Rays. Because clearly, baseball is played on a calculator and having that much talent on one team would lead to 125 wins according to his abacus. And clearly “adjustments” needed to be made to the calculations to explain why the Rays did not win 125 games. It doesn’t matter though. He is Bill James and he is smarter than all of us.

You talent inventory [Baseball Digest Daily]
I Am Bill James and I Am Smarter Than You [On The Show]

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10 Comments

  1. Nick says:

    Wow that list is horrible. Where is Dan Haren? CC? JOHAN SANTANA?!?!? I can think of ten pitchers that are better than Chad Billingsly. Tim Lincecum.
    Position players: WHERE IS ALBERT PUJOLS! Yes I'm screaming becasue I used to think this man was brilliant until, well, right now. I'm done, I'm leaving this alone. Obviously James has grown senile in his old age. You had a good run Bill.

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  2. The Professor says:

    There appears to be a very strong bias towards younger guys with nobody over 26 and 13 players that are 23 or younger. That indicates that he strongly favors potential over current production. He is probably weighing that the average player peaks at 27. The problem with that is we are not talking about "average" players. Besides, with today's athletes, I think players have the ability to maintain their peak past 27 and probably into the 31/32 range if not further.

    Still none of this explains why youngins like Delmon and BJ are not on the list. Two very young players that have already proven they can produce.

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  3. Robert Rittner says:

    I doubt that the Nats would deal Zimmerman for Young. We need to realize that Young did not have an outstanding year. He proved that at his age he was not overwhelmed my major league pitching, that he could hit for a decent average and throw runners out from right field. But he did not demonstrate that he is even a good right fielder (offensively and defensively) let alone a star. Right now, Zimmerman is by far the better player.

    As I do not know what adjustment he has made, I do not know why Upton and Crawford did not make the list, but as the article says, it is simply an interesting way to start a controversy. I certainly would not assume Bill James has lost his mind or is simply wrong. For that, I would have to read his arguments.

    I also think with lists like this we have to have more information about the context of his choices and his criteria before critiquing. For example, does he question Pujols's age? Or is he concerned about his injury problems? Does he think Crawford is not really anything special as a left fielder or that Upton has not proven he is really a center fielder?

    Incidentally, he may have eliminated all 29 year olds because he is looking forward to 2008 when they will be 30. Whatever, the joy of Bill James has always been that he says things that are outrageous at the time only to become conventional in later years. After all, how many people would have even thought of Arky Vaughan as a great shortstop let alone the second greatest of all time before James argued that view?

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  4. The Professor says:

    the beauty of stats is that they are not supposed to be subjective.

    yes we need to wait and see what exactly the "adjustments" were, but they sound like they were subjective.

    and if they were indeed, then he just manipulated the list to look the way he thought it should look.

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  5. Robert Rittner says:

    That is the beauty of stats, but not the totality of analysis. Sabermetricians have often been accused, falsely in my opinion, of evaluating purely on stats and ignoring the subtleties and realities of what happens on the field. Over and over, the mainstream sabermetricians have pointed out how inaccurate such criticisms are, that they are fully aware of non-statistical factors or of those that are not readily quantifiable.

    When you read Bill James, his books glow with an aesthetic appreciation of the game and with his respect for scouts and the quirks of players. He has popularized the notion that stats are important as part of the evaluation process, that they can debunk or at least modify myths and that they can be used to answer questions that had previously been reviewed only by reference to intangibles. But they are not the "final answer".

    Subjective adjustments, if they are, do not mean they are illogical or biased. They may simply be additional factors not included in the statistical picture. Or it may be a weighting of one factor in one player's case and a different factor in another player's because their styles are different.

    For example, purely hypothetically, suppose he establishes that Crawford and Cano have similar power potential. He might emphasize that factor to enhance Cano's ranking while diminishing Crawford's.

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  6. aaron says:

    isn't bill james on boston's payroll?

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  7. Robert Rittner says:

    Here is a slightly fuller summary of James's evaluations. Seems to me he is very impressed with TB's young players and mentions Upton, Young and Crawford as Grade A talents and Jackson and Sonnanstine as nearly so. Notice his comments on why Young is not on his top 25 list, something with which I agree, by the way. The article is authored by Marc Topkin.
    ___________________________________

    " Noted baseball author and analyst Bill James has a new system for ranking young talent, and in his upcoming new book, he rates the Rays as being second-best among the 30 big-league organizations, behind only the NL champ Rockies.

    James includes LHP Scott Kazmir and RHP James Shields among his top 25 players under age 30. His findings are included in the Bill James Handbook 2008, which will be published next week by ACTA Sports.

    His reasoning? “Five Grade-A young players -- Kazmir, Shields, B.J. Upton, Delmon Young and Carl Crawford,'' James said in a press release. "I know that a lot of people would list Delmon Young in the top five young players in baseball, but I don’t see that his performance justifies that, and this isn’t about scouting reports or press clippings, it’s about performance. Edwin Jackson just misses being A grade, and (Andy) Sonnanstine ain’t bad, either.”

    James lists Kazmir, 23, as the No. 5 best young player in baseball. "Sort of a shorter Steve Carlton, he battled the league's strictest pitch counts and missed by one of leading the major leagues in strikeouts,'' James said. "He now has three straight winning seasons, which isn't that easy to do starting about five times a year against Toronto, Boston and the Yankees with the Tampa Bay Rays behind you.''

    Shields, 26, is ranked No. 20 on James' Young Talent inventory. "He plays Drysdale to Kazmir's Koufax, had an oustanding season despite allowing 28 home runs and working against hard pitch counts,'' James said. "Never wastes a pitch, with a strikeout/walk ratio of 184-36.''
    ______________________________
    Yes, James has been with Boston since just before 2004. I believe he is also a fervid KC Royals fan.

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  8. The Professor says:

    Delmon Young batted .290 and drove in 90 at age 21. There is still plenty of growth to come.

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  9. Robert Rittner says:

    I would be much more prone to quarrel with the omission of Upton from the top 25 than I would Delmon. What Young demonstrated was that he was not overwhelmed by the majors at a young age and that he had some talent. But neither the BA nor the RBIs are particularly meaningful as means of evaluating his potential. His 38 doubles are more telling if you are an optimist about his future, and I think he had a good line drive rate, which, if so, is also a good sign.

    But a .316 OBP is terrible. It is worse than terrible, and if he cannot improve upon that, the Rays have a sub-par hitter on their hands. The 13 home runs are also sub-par for a corner outfielder. At least one or both of those figures will have to improve before we can be confident that he is a solid regular let alone a star.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    What about "FLOW" in baseball? Ted Williams was able to focus and "saw" the seams of the baseball coming at him and therefore was able to have great hitting stats. Bill James might take into consideration who among the major leaguers are able to communicate to themselves and others without drama (as indicated by having habits, superstions, etc) and ego (being self impressed by extrinsic awards, honors) because this may go along with helping "FLOW" to emerge, be maintained and enhanced

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