The Year of the Rookie is upon us.
Fifteen of Baseball America’s preseason Top 25 prospects — including four Cubs who ranked in the top 20 — have been promoted to the big leagues and the calendar has yet to hit July.
Eleven of those 15 are position players, which highlights a trend that is becoming more apparent with every passing day.
Baseball is evolving into a young man’s game, and rookies represent a microcosm of what is going on right now. To paraphrase a popular ‘Seinfeld’-ism, the youth movement in baseball is real and spectacular.
FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard has 165 qualifiers. And while it is still relatively early in the season, it is worth mentioning that 21.2 percent of everyday players who are listed in the top 20 percent of those qualifying players is 24 or younger.
Seven of 33 qualifiers does not seem like much until you start crunching more numbers and digging through history.
Going back five years, only five of the top 30 in fWAR were 24 or younger. Those players made up 16.7 percent of what could be considered the upper echelon of everyday players.
Ten years ago, only 13.3 percent (4 of 30) were 24 or younger.
See a pattern? It becomes more apparent the more you look back.
Fifteen years ago, baseball was in the middle of the steroid era, and frankly, it was a significantly different game in terms of the players who played it.
Fourteen of the top 32 players on the fWAR leaderboard in 2000 were 30 or older.
At 43.8 percent, that represents the highest percentage of any of the four noted years used as data points.
Fast forward to 2015 and only six of the top 30 position players on the fWAR leaderboard are 30 or older. That 18.8 percent represents the lowest percentage of players at or above 30 in the four seasons analyzed above.
As for the youth in 2000, it was hardly being served, as only three of the top 32 position players — or 9.3 percent — were 24 or younger.
The closest thing to a constant might be that the years when a player is between ages 25 and 29 generally has the most representation.
This season, 66.7 percent of the top 30 (20 percent) in fWAR are between 25-29. In 2010, that number was 16 of 30 (53.3 percent). Back in 2005, the percentage was 63.3 percent (19 of 30). Naturally, 2000 represents the lowest percentage as only 46.9 percent (15 of 32 qualifiers) were in that age range.
It is apparent that baseball is evolving, as one could argue that the player landscape is significantly different now than it was a generation ago.
The number of high-end, older talents are subsiding, while younger players are accelerating through the minor leagues at a faster rate and excelling quicker in the major leagues.
It is making for some quality ball now, and should provide fans a new wave of ballplayers to hitch their bandwagons to for years to come.