After a surprising yet short mini-battle on twitter the other day, I decided it was time to revisit my analysis on the second base position. No, this won't be about Justin Turner - this will instead be a look at Ruben Tejada with my rose-colored glasses on. Happy, OGTedBerg and FireJerryManuel? I'm giving it a shot.
The crux of the argument is that Tejada is so young. We've followed this folly down the road with Fernando Martinez very recently, though - youth can only get you so far. At some point you have to produce.
In any case, I ran a play index query through Baseball-Reference.com to find out how many second baseman had debuted at 20 or 21 and accrued 100+ plate appearances since 1960. Those are some random cutoffs, I admit, but I was aiming to get 'modern era' debuts of 'significant' proportions, and the list that was returned was an interesting one. Take a gander.
Hey, would you look at that, Wally Backman makes the list. Maybe he can tutor the young second baseman from the dugout next year.
Funny stuff aside, I don't think the anyone would argue that Tejada will be the next Roberto Alomar, Rod Carew or Paul Molitor, so let's sort of let the top half of the list simmer. Those stats seem out of reach for Ruben, but they were already if you considered their respective minor league statistics. Even with Ruben Tejada's recent hot streak, it looks like Asdrubal Cabrera's modest debut is out of reach for this year as well, but it is interesting to see the similarities with his debut and Tejada's - they have similar walk and strikeout rates at the very least, and the faithcasted future for Tejada might contain a similar skillset for Tejada. Let's at least acknowledge the possibility that Tejada could get close to Cabrera even though he never put up a minor league season as nice as Cabrera's 2007 (.310/.380/.448 across Double-A Akron in the Eastern League and Triple-A Buffalo).
No, instead there is a name that jumps off the list here - a name that should be interesting to Mets fans. Look at old man Luis Castillo and you'll see a guy well equipped to help Tejada make the jump that he made as a young man. Castillo had a similar debut, but once again, his best minor league season before his debut (.317/.411/.393 in Double-A Portland in the Eastern League) looks better than Tejada's best. He was 20, in Double-A, and walking 13.3% of the time. Tejada was 19 in Double-A and walking 6.7%, or 20 in Triple-A and walking 5.7% of the time. Lastly, it took Castillo himself three or four years to be the real Luis Castillo, so there are plenty of reasons to think that Tejada does not equal Castillo.
To date, perhaps the best comp on the list is Mark Lewis. Lewis was 20 across Double-A and Triple-A, walked 5.7% of the time, and debuted with a slightly worse walk-to-strikeout ratio (1:3, where Tejada's is more 1:2.5), and then settled in around one walk to two strikeouts for the rest of his career (which looks like Tejada's minor league K/BB ratio). He had a .133 ISO in the minor leagues, Tejada a .080. Lewis peaked at 27 in San Francisco, with a .267/.318/.431 line that looks reachable for Tejada if you subtract some of the slugging percentage (which then makes the line a lot less exciting, as Lewis' best full-season line was only good for a 96 OPS+ by itself).
This year's small sample aside, the age of his debut doesn't mean much in the context of this list - even old Glenn Hubbard went to the cupboard and walked more at the same age and level in the minor leagues, debuted in the major leagues at the same age to similar results, and then put up a career .244/.328/.349 line (85 OPS+) that wouldn't have anyone reaching for the champagne. Tejada was worth a second look, but it just doesn't look that rosy for him, any way you slice it. Cheap backup middle infielder that makes the roster? Sure. Not sure there's more tricks up his sleeve though.