Luck Is Still a Factor in Major League Success
The recent major league performances of young Giants Kelby Tomlinson and Ehire Adrianza is a reminder of the degree to which luck still plays in role in determining who gets major league jobs/careers and who doesn’t.
Both Tomlinson and Adrianza are 25 year old middle infielders with very similar minor league numbers. Tomlinson was the better “pure” hitter in the minors with a batting average 20 points higher, but their OBP/SLG numbers are almost the same: .345/.347 for Tomlinson and .338/.350 for Adrianza. Adrianza is probably the better defensive player, at least at shortstop.
However, Adrianza looks completely over-matched by major league pitching, while Tomlinson has surprised everyone with a .328 batting average and .863 OPS through his first 24 major league games.
With Joe Panik still aways away from returning to the Giants line-up, the odds are good that Tomlinson will have cooled off by the time Panik gets back. However, there’s certainly a chance that Tomlinson will keep hitting, while Adrianza will not.
If so, Tomlinson’s MLB future will look a whole lot brighter than Adrianza’s. Part of being a major league player is establishing a reputation as a major league player. Once a player has the major league rep, he’s going to get a lot more major league opportunities than a player who hasn’t, even if a much larger minor league data set suggests the two players, like Tomlinson and Adrianza, are roughly equivalent players.
Of course, in order to hold on to that major league job, one must play to the level of a major league bench player. However, it’s a lot easier to hold that job than to get it in the first place.
In my mind, the recent poster boy for this fact is Garrett Jones. Jones was a fairly pedestrian 4-A player who hadn’t impressed in a cup of coffee with the Minnesota Twins and wasn’t hitting especially well in AAA when destiny struck and he got a shot at age 28 with the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates, a team in desperate need of a players who could hit even a little bit. Jones got red hot after a July 1st call-up and rode his terrific half-season into a successful major league career, even though he never hit nearly as well again except in 2012.
In Jones’ defense, he could play right-field in a pinch, which gave him an edge over other left-handed hitting platoon 1Bmen. Still, I don’t think there can be much dispute that if Jones hadn’t had the good fortune to get hot at exactly the right time (July 2009), he’d have been out of MLB for good in a couple of years.
The Giants’ Joaquin Arias is a more recent guy who was able to hold onto a bench role for the Giants another 2.5 seasons after playing well as a back-up in 2012 at age 27. It’s just a whole lot easier to hold onto a major league job with marginally proficient play than it is to get the job in the first place.