I bet you have no idea how outstanding Ruben Tejada has been this year. On the surface, it seems like he’s made progress from a year ago and is a competent major leaguer. But what he’s doing at his age and his position is really noteworthy. Since 1901, Tejada is one of just 116 players in MLB history to amass 300 PA in a season as a middle infielder at age 21 or younger.
And it’s not like Tejada is in the bottom of these 116 players. If we sort by OPS+, which accounts for both league and park influences, Tejada’s 93 OPS+ ranks 37th! And the players ahead of him are packed with Hall of Famers, like Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan and Cal Ripken. In fact, 16 of the 36 seasons better than Tejada’s 2011 were posted by Hall of Famers.
While we should point out that Ripken had a 115 OPS+, Morgan had a 131 and Hornsby had a 169, the players on the list closest to Tejada are no slouches. Here are the five players ranked directly above and directly below Tejada’s 93 OPS+:
97 – Pee Wee Reese (1940) – HOF
96 – Bill Mazeroski (1957) – HOF
95 – Sonny Jackson (1967)
94 – Robin Yount (1977) – HOF
94 – Frankie Gustine (1940)
93 – Ruben Tejada (2011)
93 – Rance Mulliniks (1977)
90 – Robin Yount (1975) – HOF
90 – Jimmy Bloodworth (1939)
90 – Joe Cassidy (1904)
89 – Mike Caruso (1998)
Let’s take a brief look at the players on this list whom you might not recognize:
Sonny Jackson – Played parts of 12 seasons in the majors but never again approached his 1967 numbers.
Frank Gustine – Played 12 years in the majors, made 3 All-Star teams and drew MVP votes in two seasons.
Rance Mulliniks – Played 16 seasons in the majors. Between 1983 and 1990 posted an OPS+ of 123 or above six times.
Jimmy Bloodworth – Played 1,002 games in the majors but peaked in 1939.
Joe Cassidy – Played only one more year in the majors as he died at age 23 from complications from malaria/typhoid. In his final major league game he went 3-8 with a double and a triple.
Mike Caruso – After finishing 3rd in the 1998 Rookie of the Year balloting, Caruso lost 57 points of BABIP the following year and played just 12 more games in the majors after that.
Tejada currently holds a .328 BABIP, so there’s certainly a chance he could duplicate what Caruso did 13 years ago. He’s not likely to die from malaria, so let’s eliminate Cassidy from consideration. And since Yount is counted twice, let’s add the next two players on his OPS+ list – Alfredo Griffin (1979) and Trammell.
Here’s how our 10 closest OPS+ comps to Tejada worked out on a career basis:
Flops – Caruso
Long but forgettable careers – Jackson, Bloodworth, Griffin
Strong careers – Gustine, Mulliniks
HOF-type careers – Reese, Mazeroski, Yount, Trammell
Mets fans should be excited about that list. And for what it’s worth, since being recalled on August 8th, Tejada has a .318/.380/.411 line in 144 PA. In that span, he has 11 BB and 14 Ks and has been successful on all three of his stolen base attempts.
When the Mets signed Tejada, he was not nearly as heralded as C Francisco Pena, whose $750,000 bonus was the seventh-highest given to any international player that season. It’s hard to find details on what amount Tejada did receive. The only thing we can say for sure is that he did not pull down one of the top-12 bonuses in the International Class of 2006.
Tejada is one of the few players who actually seems to have benefited from the old regime’s philosophy of aggressive minor league promotions. He’s likely going to see a lot of playing time for the 2012 Mets, although it’s unsure now if that will be at second base or shortstop. But the fact that he’s been able to play in the majors in the middle of the diamond at such a young age is likely a very positive mark for his career.