What are the make or break years for major-leaguers? While there is obviously no 100% rule that applies to every player, a good rule of thumb is 3/15/25. Come again? What I mean is that players who compile at least 15 total WAR over three seasons, aged 23, 24 and 25, will usually have long and productive careers. But, those who don’t – well, not so much.

After the jump, I’ll explain further and preview some of the current breed of future stars.

Since 1901. there have been 82 batters who have compiled 15 WAR in their age 23, 24 and 25 seasons. They range from Carl Yastrzemski, who was right on the bubble, to Mickey Mantle who more than doubled Yaz with 31.3 WAR. Of these 82 players, 62 (more than 75%) have gone on to compile at least 45 career WAR, comprising more than one-third of the 181 players to reach that career mark. Of the remaining twenty, eight are currently active, none of whom has yet reached 30 years of age. So, mathematically at least, all remain reasonably well positioned to reach the 45 career WAR total. Here are those active players, including those who have already passed the 45 WAR mark.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Alex Rodriguez 111.4 143 1994 2012 18-36 2524 11163 1898 2901 512 647 1950 1217 2032 318 .300 .384 .560
2 Albert Pujols 88.5 168 2001 2012 21-32 1859 8103 1376 2246 505 475 1434 1027 780 92 .325 .414 .608
3 Derek Jeter 69.3 117 1995 2012 21-38 2585 11895 1868 3304 524 255 1254 1039 1743 348 .313 .382 .448
4 Scott Rolen 66.6 122 1996 2012 21-37 2038 8518 1211 2077 517 316 1287 899 1410 118 .281 .364 .490
5 Andruw Jones 59.5 111 1996 2012 19-35 2196 8664 1204 1933 383 434 1289 891 1748 152 .254 .337 .486
6 David Wright 39.1 135 2004 2012 21-29 1262 5453 790 1426 322 204 818 616 1009 166 .301 .381 .506
7 Dustin Pedroia 30.7 117 2006 2012 22-28 856 3824 560 1025 245 90 409 349 329 102 .303 .369 .461
8 Jose Reyes 29.8 107 2003 2012 20-29 1210 5556 821 1484 259 92 480 396 565 410 .291 .342 .440
9 Ryan Zimmerman 28.7 121 2005 2012 20-27 990 4310 580 1110 250 153 593 395 734 30 .287 .353 .479
10 Evan Longoria 28.5 137 2008 2012 22-26 637 2726 380 652 161 130 456 303 540 36 .276 .361 .516
11 Grady Sizemore 26.5 120 2004 2011 21-28 892 4047 601 948 216 139 458 430 816 134 .269 .357 .473
12 Hanley Ramirez 26.0 128 2005 2012 21-28 1009 4424 696 1171 243 158 526 423 739 237 .298 .371 .495
13 Andrew McCutchen 18.1 135 2009 2012 22-25 577 2497 362 629 124 82 295 283 430 98 .290 .374 .484
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/26/2013.

Outstanding group of players with several players either already well qualified for the HOF or who will clearly merit serious consideration for that honor.

If we lower the threshold just a bit, and look at players compiling 12 to 14.9 career WAR in those same 3 seasons, we get another similar sized group of 75 players. But only 33 players (44%) from this group have reached the 45 WAR mark. Of the remaining 42 players, only 8 are currently active, including two who have already reached age 30 and seem longshots to reach 45 WAR. Here are the active players from this second group, including those already at the 45 WAR mark.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Jim Thome 67.8 147 1991 2012 20-41 2543 10313 1583 2328 451 612 1699 1747 2548 19 .276 .402 .554
2 Adrian Beltre 61.1 112 1998 2012 19-33 2115 8697 1089 2227 463 346 1215 579 1301 115 .280 .331 .476
3 Bobby Abreu 57.2 129 1996 2012 22-38 2347 9926 1441 2437 565 287 1349 1456 1819 399 .292 .396 .477
4 Mark Teixeira 45.4 131 2003 2012 23-32 1497 6558 938 1580 355 338 1101 746 1123 21 .279 .369 .527
5 Joe Mauer 37.0 135 2004 2012 21-29 1065 4552 626 1270 247 94 587 555 475 43 .323 .405 .468
6 Eric Chavez 34.0 115 1998 2012 20-34 1491 5893 782 1396 301 248 850 609 1015 47 .267 .343 .476
7 Carl Crawford 33.5 105 2002 2012 20-30 1396 6059 853 1642 254 118 667 319 894 432 .292 .332 .441
8 Ryan Braun 32.0 147 2007 2012 23-28 883 3854 614 1089 223 202 643 305 688 126 .313 .374 .568
9 Troy Tulowitzki 25.7 117 2006 2012 21-27 744 3177 471 822 160 130 470 304 499 53 .292 .364 .504
10 Nick Markakis 21.6 118 2006 2012 22-28 1050 4556 579 1198 265 117 549 436 614 56 .295 .365 .455
11 Austin Jackson 14.8 106 2010 2012 23-25 441 1960 296 491 85 30 152 170 485 61 .280 .346 .416
12 Buster Posey 12.1 146 2009 2012 22-25 308 1255 154 350 67 46 191 117 185 4 .314 .380 .503
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/26/2013.

Still good players, to be sure, but the overall quality is a notch or two lower. Probably only one with a very good HOF case right now, though there are a few others who are certainly not to be counted out just yet.

So now we have accounted for over half of the 181 players with over 45 career WAR. How many of the rest came from the next group of players with WAR of 10 to 11.9 in their age 23-25 seasons? Again, we have a similar sized group of 70 players, of whom 27 (39%) have reached 45 WAR. Of the other 43 players, only 5 are active, including one who has already reached 45 WAR and another who will do so in 2013.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Carlos Beltran 62.3 122 1998 2012 21-35 1919 8349 1267 2064 416 334 1243 896 1337 306 .282 .360 .496
2 Miguel Cabrera 44.4 151 2003 2012 20-29 1512 6474 961 1802 386 321 1123 709 1107 33 .318 .395 .561
3 Prince Fielder 19.7 144 2005 2012 21-28 1160 4900 654 1178 233 260 764 651 863 17 .287 .393 .538
4 Russell Martin 18.9 99 2006 2012 23-29 925 3674 454 826 150 93 418 422 546 80 .260 .352 .399
5 Carlos Gonzalez 13.9 121 2008 2012 22-26 581 2390 376 648 128 99 349 185 506 86 .299 .355 .518
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/27/2013.

Still some quality players here, including a couple on possible HOF trajectories. But, the declining number of players speaks to the fact that many players in the 10-12 WAR group will play themselves out of a career much sooner than those in the first two groups. In fact, of  the 70 players in the 10-12 WAR group, there are 39 retired players who did not reach 45 WAR and 23 who did not reach even 30 WAR.

So, who is left from the 181 players to compile 45 WAR? In fact, 52 of those 181 players (29%) failed to compile 10 WAR in their age 23-25 seasons. Those 52 players include the 21 HOFers below, so there is certainly still hope for the late bloomers.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Yogi Berra 9.9 124 1948 1950 23-25 392 1596 245 450 74 62 313 102 61 9 .304 .353 .504
2 Mickey Cochrane 9.6 118 1926 1928 23-25 377 1530 222 384 54 30 184 182 47 21 .302 .392 .458
3 Rod Carew 9.5 124 1969 1971 23-25 321 1340 194 399 58 14 132 93 181 29 .325 .375 .435
4 Ozzie Smith 9.3 67 1978 1980 23-25 473 2029 213 416 53 1 108 155 129 125 .233 .296 .283
5 Bill Dickey 9.3 120 1930 1932 23-25 347 1379 186 411 62 26 227 94 47 11 .325 .371 .468
6 Joe Morgan 8.7 120 1967 1969 23-25 290 1264 173 267 45 21 85 198 129 81 .255 .373 .390
7 Charlie Gehringer 8.2 108 1926 1928 23-25 410 1779 280 481 77 11 183 151 95 41 .306 .371 .432
8 Larry Doby 7.7 127 1947 1949 23-25 297 1182 192 290 49 38 153 146 178 19 .285 .381 .469
9 Harry Hooper 7.5 108 1911 1913 23-25 425 1962 291 475 69 10 138 199 142 93 .279 .360 .373
10 Gabby Hartnett 7.5 128 1924 1926 23-25 321 1175 152 299 70 48 175 107 151 11 .289 .360 .520
11 Harry Heilmann 7.1 126 1918 1920 23-25 364 1526 174 419 68 22 221 111 83 23 .307 .361 .443
12 Dave Bancroft 6.9 90 1915 1916 24-25 295 1236 138 244 28 10 63 151 119 30 .235 .335 .294
13 Max Carey 6.9 103 1913 1915 23-25 450 1986 251 459 74 9 107 171 181 135 .258 .327 .351
14 Zack Wheat 6.8 118 1911 1913 23-25 401 1666 189 452 82 20 199 93 143 56 .297 .344 .430
15 Kirby Puckett 6.0 86 1984 1985 24-25 289 1327 143 364 41 4 105 57 156 35 .292 .325 .363
16 Pee Wee Reese 5.5 98 1942 1942 23-23 151 656 87 144 24 3 53 82 55 15 .255 .350 .332
17 Willie Stargell 3.6 122 1963 1965 23-25 369 1353 155 334 55 59 232 75 304 2 .266 .311 .483
18 Tony Perez 3.0 109 1965 1967 23-25 359 1229 143 315 52 42 188 68 213 1 .277 .319 .460
19 Luke Appling 0.5 79 1930 1932 23-25 241 889 104 211 35 4 93 69 63 20 .260 .319 .352
20 Sam Rice 0.1 122 1915 1915 25-25 4 8 0 3 0 0 0 0 1 0 .375 .375 .375
21 Bill Terry 0.0 88 1923 1924 24-25 80 189 27 40 7 5 24 19 20 1 .235 .312 .388
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/26/2013.

However, the pool of players with less than 10 WAR in their age 23-25 season grows markedly. so the percentages are definitely not in a player’s favor. Here is what those chances look like, graphically.

Career WAR Totals by WAR Aged 23-25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The columns indicate the number of players compiling the indicated WAR totals in their age 23-25 seasons, partitioned between those who reached 45 career WAR (blue) and those who didn’t (orange). The green line indicates the percentage of those players reaching 45 career WAR. Note that the left vertical axis has a logarithmic scale.

As I said, the odds are against the crowd under 15 WAR, and grow really long below 10 WAR. Of course, nothing really surprising here except perhaps how few players do make a big splash early, and how long the odds are for stardom among the many who don’t.

Finally, I said I would mention coming attractions. The eagle-eyed will have spotted Andrew McCutchen in the first list as the lone 25 year-old from last season to join the 3/15/25 club. He is the latest of an impressive group of recent players with stellar seasons aged 23-25.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To ▾ Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Andrew McCutchen 15.9 138 2010 2012 23-25 469 2004 288 505 98 70 241 229 347 76 .291 .376 .487
2 Evan Longoria 21.7 138 2009 2011 23-25 441 1906 274 451 116 86 316 224 357 27 .275 .364 .510
3 Ryan Zimmerman 15.7 128 2008 2010 23-25 405 1763 246 460 93 72 242 172 288 7 .294 .364 .497
4 Hanley Ramirez 17.8 145 2007 2009 23-25 458 2051 351 586 124 86 254 205 318 113 .325 .398 .549
5 Dustin Pedroia 15.9 115 2007 2009 23-25 450 2021 319 563 141 40 205 171 139 47 .313 .375 .462
6 David Wright 18.6 142 2006 2008 23-25 474 2108 324 566 124 89 347 254 346 69 .312 .396 .537
7 Grady Sizemore 17.6 130 2006 2008 23-25 481 2244 353 534 126 85 244 277 438 93 .279 .380 .499
8 Jose Reyes 15.3 112 2006 2008 23-25 472 2231 354 589 103 47 206 196 241 198 .292 .355 .461
9 Albert Pujols 24.9 176 2003 2005 23-25 472 2077 399 603 140 130 364 260 182 26 .340 .428 .644
10 Andruw Jones 19.0 115 2000 2002 23-25 476 2081 317 504 95 105 302 198 377 40 .274 .348 .505
11 Alex Rodriguez 18.2 162 2000 2001 24-25 310 1404 267 376 68 93 267 175 252 33 .317 .409 .615
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/27/2013.

Not a bad way to start a century. And, quite the 5 year roll we’re on.

But, who should you watch for in 2013?

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Justin Upton 7.8 125 2011 2012 23-24 309 1302 212 326 63 48 155 122 247 39 .284 .363 .481
2 Dustin Ackley 5.9 93 2011 2012 23-24 243 1044 123 228 38 18 86 99 203 19 .243 .314 .360
3 Brandon Belt 3.5 117 2011 2012 23-24 208 681 68 155 33 16 74 74 163 15 .259 .344 .418
4 Elvis Andrus 3.5 91 2012 2012 23-23 158 711 85 180 31 3 62 57 96 21 .286 .349 .378
5 Paul Goldschmidt 3.4 122 2011 2012 23-24 193 764 110 186 52 28 108 80 183 22 .278 .353 .487
6 Kyle Seager 3.2 107 2011 2012 23-24 208 852 84 201 48 23 99 59 146 16 .259 .315 .412
7 Ben Revere 3.1 81 2011 2012 23-24 241 1034 126 270 22 0 62 55 95 74 .281 .322 .327
8 Mike Moustakas 2.9 93 2012 2012 23-23 149 614 69 136 34 20 73 39 124 5 .242 .296 .412
9 Yasmani Grandal 2.7 142 2012 2012 23-23 60 226 28 57 7 8 36 31 39 0 .297 .394 .469
10 Wilin Rosario 1.9 107 2012 2012 23-23 117 426 67 107 19 28 71 25 99 4 .270 .312 .530
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/27/2013.

Oops. Looks like we’re into a little dry patch. But, not to worry. Look at those coming along after this group.

Rk Player WAR/pos OPS+ From To Age G PA R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
1 Giancarlo Stanton 9.3 149 2011 2012 21-22 273 1102 154 265 60 71 173 116 309 11 .275 .358 .570
2 Jason Heyward 7.9 107 2011 2012 21-22 286 1107 143 248 48 41 124 109 245 30 .252 .329 .443
3 Brett Lawrie 7.6 110 2011 2012 21-22 168 707 99 179 34 20 73 49 117 20 .278 .336 .446
4 Starlin Castro 6.5 108 2011 2012 21-22 320 1406 169 390 65 24 144 71 196 47 .295 .332 .431
5 Salvador Perez 4.2 121 2011 2012 21-22 115 463 58 136 24 14 60 19 47 0 .311 .339 .471
7 Ruben Tejada 3.7 93 2011 2012 21-22 210 877 84 227 41 1 61 62 123 9 .287 .345 .345
8 Freddie Freeman 3.5 114 2011 2012 21-22 304 1255 158 301 65 44 170 117 271 6 .271 .343 .452
9 Andrelton Simmons 2.8 101 2012 2012 22-22 49 182 17 48 8 3 19 12 21 1 .289 .335 .416
10 Jose Altuve 1.9 96 2011 2012 21-22 204 864 106 228 44 9 49 45 103 40 .286 .329 .388
11 Anthony Rizzo 1.8 100 2011 2012 21-22 136 521 53 114 23 16 57 48 108 5 .245 .324 .402
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/27/2013.

Ah – that’s more like it. And, even more impressive still are a couple of thoroughbreds following the bunch above. Let youth be served!

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