Atlanta as an example of youth over experience
Atlanta’s long run of contention offers one of the best examples of continuous team building in modern baseball. While fielding contending teams (for purposes of this post, 1991-2005, when they won or placed second in their division every year), they also made choices to work young players they thought were ready into the lineup and pitching staff, sometimes letting veterans go and frequently breaking spring training with one or more rookies set to take starting jobs.
As just one indicator, I offer this: Braves players who placed in Rookie of the Year voting from 1991-2005.
Year, Name (Rank)
1991: Brian Hunter (4), Mike Stanton (8)
1992: Mark Wohlers (7)
1993: Greg McMichael (2)
1994: Ryan Klesko (3), Javy Lopez (10)
1995: Chipper Jones (2)
1996: Jermaine Dye (6)
1997: Andruw Jones (5)
1998: Kerry Ligtenberg (4)
1999: Kevin McGlinchy (6) (this one’s kind of a joke, though, he got 1 point)
2000: Rafael Furcal (1)
2001: no one
2002: Damian Moss (5)
2003: no one
2004: no one
2005: Jeff Francoeur (3)
Even taking out the relievers, that’s an astonishing run. Even arguing that the Rookie of the Year awards aren’t a particularly good indicator of talent, you can look at that list and see the names, and many of them provide examples of cases where they made a choice of talent over experience.
For instance, in 1996, their center fielder was Marquis Grissom, 29. Andruw Jones only played in 12 games, and didn’t hit. Then they had Kenny Lofton take the bulk of playing time in center in 1997 while they managed to get Jones in a 153 games between center and right (still didn’t hit much, played stellar defense) and that was the start of his career.
In the same year, they were starting to work Kevin Millwood in, and gave him a rotation slot in 1998 (and John Rocker debuted in the bullpen!). You can pretty much pick any year in that stretch, look for some young players age-wise, and hey – it’s Marcus Giles, who played about half time for two years and then in his first full season replaced veteran Keith Lockhart and went on to finish 18th in MVP voting and went to the All Star Game.
It’s not easy to run a youth movement while contending, and not everyone has a GM as good as the Braves do making those decisions. But the notion that contending teams should rely on veterans is belied by the long record of success of the Braves, who regularly chose youth and skill over experience and certainty, and found those young players pushing them towards division and league championships year after year.