Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Carlos Correa and MLB's Talent Problem

The Correa Effect
One of my small habits for productivity as a sports blogger is to keep copies of analytical works in my office bathroom. It adds up to stolen minutes here and there reading scouting reports and deep team profiles, so that the names stick in your head and you are more likely to remember and recognize guys when they get to the Show. 

Tonight, I found myself reading the top 101 prospects list, and seeing names that are in the majors, over and over again, seemingly independent of where they were in the list. All the way down to Maikel Franco at 96. There must have been dozens of guys who have gotten the call already, and it’s only July. More will follow.

This should be an easy virtue to sell, of course. Exciting new talent! Young and hungry players getting their chance to shine and make world-changing money! Guys you can watch before they develop insufferable egos and untradeable contracts! And so on. But there’s a dark side to all of the Carlos Correas and Kris Bryants out there, and that’s this…

Baseball has a serious and growing talent problem. One that is shown in wide relief when too-young talent hits the league hard.

There have been times in baseball’s past when very young players dominated. Bullet Bob Feller struck out 76 in 62 innings as a 17-year-old. Joe DiMaggio was a top ten MVP pick at age 21. Joe Nuxhall appeared in the majors for the first time at age 15. 

When did these guys do this? In the era before integration, when the league was not nearly as deep in terms of talent. Baseball is integrated, of course, but in terms of sheer numbers, it is nearly as non-black now as it was back in the bad old days. Leagues that are very strong in regards to talent do not have too-young player come in and dominate. 

Young guys skipping AAA and doing just fine at the major league level is becoming the rule, not the exception. 

Finally, there’s this – the sheer oppressiveness of scouting reports and defensive positioning. Watch MLB now, and you’ll see every team go into strong shifts throughout the game, with the net effect being more outs on plays that were hits before. Sure, there’s a hit a game that looks bad because of the shift, but there’s more like three to six knocks that get gobbled up. (This may also be why the kids are doing fine, in that there just isn’t enough at bats to figure them out yet with shifts.)

There’s nothing to be done about either of these points, of course. MLB has to just grind their way through it. But it’s enough to make a dangerously marginal game in terms of at-home watchability drift further into sleepy time. 

Despite all of these fun rooks…  

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