Raves for Rafael (And the Braves)

Barely a month ago, I wrote that the Braves were taking a needless risk in
rushing Rafael Furcal straight from A ball to the major leagues.
While the financial ramifications are still going to crop up down the road,
it is fairly obvious that from a talent standpoint, Bobby Cox knew exactly
what he was doing. Again.

And fans should be thankful for the gamble, because it has allowed us to
watch one of the greatest teenage players ever to play. How unusual is
Furcal’s combination of youth and speed? His 10 stolen bases already rank
eighth all-time for players under age 20. The seven players ahead of him:

Name             Year    SB

Ty Cobb 1906 23 Cesar Cedeno 1970 17 Ken Griffey Jr. 1989 16 Edgar Renteria 1996 16 Johnny Lush 1904 12 Robin Yount 1975 12 Sherry Magee 1904 11

Incidentally, Edgar Renteria is still listed by many sources as
being born in 1975, not 1976, even though it is all but acknowledged that
he (or the Marlins) fudged his age by one year when he signed.

With 26 runs in 43 games, Furcal is on pace to score 98 runs. The most runs
scored by a teenager in a single season:

Name             Year      R

Buddy Lewis 1936 100 George Davis 1890 98 Phil Cavaretta 1935 85* Bob Kennedy 1940 74 Joe Quinn 1874 74

*Cavaretta was just 18 in 1935.

Furcal is also on pace to challenge the teenage record with 57 walks.
Again, the record holders:

Name             Year     BB

Will Smalley 1890 60 Rusty Staub 1963 59 George Davis 1890 53 Mel Ott 1928 52 Buddy Lewis 1936 47

What makes Furcal’s feats–and feet–more impressive is that he is only
playing part-time. On a per-at-bat basis, Furcal, at .324/.405/.378, is as
productive as any teenager ever. Only four teenagers in history have hit
.300 with at least 300 plate appearances:

Name             Year     Avg

Mel Ott 1928 .322 Ty Cobb 1906 .316 Cesar Cedeno 1970 .310 Edgar Renteria 1996 .309 Buddy Lewis 1936 .291

And no teenager has ever posted a .400 OBP:

Name             Year     OBP

Mel Ott 1928 .397 Edgar Renteria 1996 .361 Ty Cobb 1906 .355 John McGraw 1892 .355 Tony Conigliaro 1964 .354

How unusual is it for a team as competitive as the Braves to break in such
a young player? Consider this: of the 70 teams in history who won 100 or
more games, exactly one, the 1936 Chicago Cubs, gave even 60 at-bats to a
teenager. And those Cubs had a ready excuse: Phil Cavaretta, who was
19 when he batted 458 times in 1936, had already been a regular in 1935,
when he hit .275 with eight home runs in the most productive season by an
18-year-old ever.

As an aside, was Cavaretta the Cesar Cedeno of the 1930s? Can you
imagine what we’d say today about an 18-year-old who plays 146 games for a
pennant-winning team with an OPS above league average? While Cavaretta
finished just shy of 2,000 hits and won a batting title and an MVP award,
both in war-torn 1945, he hit just 95 homers in his career. He hit eight
homers at age 18, and finished with a career high of just 10.

If we expand the search to include the 305 teams defending a first-place
finish from the previous season, only eight gave at least 100 at-bats to a
teenage position player:

Year  Team               Player                AB

1936 Chicago (NL) Phil Cavaretta 458 1925 New York (NL) Freddy Lindstrom 356 1951 New York (AL) Mickey Mantle 341 1923 New York (NL) Travis Jackson 327 1949 Boston (NL) Del Crandall 228 1974 Oakland Claudell Washington 221 1915 Philadelphia (AL) Lew Malone 201 1996 Atlanta Andruw Jones 106

That’s right. This is only the ninth time in history that a team has
attempted to defend its title with a teenage hitter in the lineup…and the
second time that the Braves have done it in five years.

Rany Jazayerli, M.D., can be reached at

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