The game of baseball is seemingly getting younger. Teams are putting more of an emphasis on player development, as they realize the value of young cost-controlled players versus aging free agents. With young players comes inexperience, and sometimes an inability to immediately hit or pitch effectively at the major league level. This causes some fans and teams to give up on these players, seemingly convinced that a bad stretch of play indicates a lack of talent. In short, it doesn’t.
Yankees triple-A beat writer Chad Jennings of the Scranton Times-Tribune penned a good piece on his blog about having patience with young players. The article originally focuses on White Sox third baseman Gordon Beckham, and how you have to deal with his early struggles if you want to enjoy his current success.
Some fans don’t have the patience for player development, and that’s fine. They don’t want to sit through Beckham hitting .071 with no RBIs through his first eight major league games, I get that. They don’t want to deal with Beckham hitting .267 through his first month, fair enough. But without patience, those fans don’t get to enjoy Beckham hitting .330 with a .526 slugging percentage in his second big league month. They don’t get to enjoy Rick Porcello going 5-0 in May if they aren’t willing to watch him go 1-3 in April. They don’t get Colby Rasmus hitting .333 in June unless they deal with him hitting .212 in May. They don’t get four straight wins from Tommy Hanson without sticking with him after seven runs through six innings in his major league debut.
To add to that, Robinson Cano hit just .237/.255/.376 in his first 26 major league games, only to narrowly lose out on the batting title the very next season, while slugging .525 . Player development at the major league level isn’t just for teams like the Nationals and Pirates. Good teams who don’t develop players at the major league level don’t stay good for very long. Good teams who develop their young players do. The White Sox are a team in contention that dealt with Beckham’s struggles and now they are reaping the benefits. Jennings goes on to say, “it’s impossible to champion the idea of player development without also being willing to deal with some bumps along the way.” I couldn’t agree more. Not every player is going to win the MVP in his rookie season like Ichiro!, or Fred Lynn.
Even the special players struggle. Alex Rodriguez hit .224/.257/.352 his first two seasons in the majors, spanning 65 games. Justin Upton struggled in 2007, hitting .221/.283/.364 across 43 games that season. Craig Biggio? .211/.254/.350 his first season. That’s a combined 158 games of veritable suckitude from three players with Hall-of-Fame talent. Clearly these players were better than their first stretch of games (or in A-Rod’s case, first two stretches) indicated. I’m sure people at the time were saying, “What’s all the hype about?” You don’t want to be that person.