Bill James Handbook excerpt: The year in fathers and sons

The following is an excerpt from the 2020 Bill James Handbook, available now at ACTA Sports, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and wherever you buy your books

By Mark Simon

A Guerrero excelled at the Home Run Derby.

A Biggio reached double figures in home runs and stolen bases.

A Yastrzemski stood in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

No, this was not the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. It was the 2019 season, in which a new generation of young stars lived up to their family legacies. This was a great year for sons and even a grandson of former major leaguers to make their mark in the major leagues for the first time.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (son of Vladimir)

The Blue Jays had three prominent sons of former major leaguers begin their big league careers.

The game was a challenge early on for one of the team’s and game’s top prospects, but in the shadow of the 2019 All-Star Game, Guerrero Jr. thrived.

At the Home Run Derby in Cleveland, he hit 91 home runs before falling to Pete Alonso in the finals. His father, Vladimir Guerrero, won the 2007 Home Run Derby.

Guerrero’s season took a more positive turn after the Derby, as he fared better against the offspeed pitches that were a bugaboo in the early part of his season. He hit .293/.349/.452 in his last 62 games, besting his OPS in his first 61 games by 60 points. He’ll try to carry that momentum into the Blue Jays’ 2020 season.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Season Highlights

–     Finished 2nd at HR Derby (Hit 91 HR)

–     Hit .293/.349/.452 after All-Star Break

Vladimir Guerrero – Career Highlights

–     2018 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee

–     449 HR (tied for 40th all-time)

Cavan Biggio (son of Craig)

Don’t look at batting average when it comes to judging Biggio’s first season. Though Biggio hit .234, he showed a great eye, modest power, and good baserunning instincts.

Biggio’s 16% chase rate was the second-lowest in the majors among players with at least 250 plate appearances. His .364 on-base percentage bested the career mark of his father, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, by one point.

Cavan scratched the surface of the 26-homer power he showed in Double-A in 2018 by hitting 16 home runs with the Blue Jays. He was perfect on the basepaths, with 14 steals in 14 attempts. Biggio also fared well in taking extra bases on hits and wild pitches, enough to finish tied for eighth in our Net Baserunning Gain stat (+ 33 bases).

Cavan Biggio – Season Highlights

–     .364 OBP, 16% chase rate (2nd-lowest)

–     14-for-14 in SB attempts (T-8th in Net Baserunning Gain)

Craig Biggio – Career Highlights

–     2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee

–     3,060 hits, 668 doubles (5th all-time), 414 stolen bases

Bo Bichette (son of Dante)

Bichette was an instant star for the Blue Jays, as he set major league records by hitting a double in nine straight games and recording 15 extra-base hits within the first 15 games of his career. He posted a .311/.358/.571 slashline in a season shortened to 46 games by a concussion.

Bichette showed he could catch up to major league fastballs, hitting .376 against them. That’s league-leader caliber if maintained for a full season. He also played a respectable shortstop, saving three runs with his defense.

Bichette’s presence made his team better. Toronto was 22-24 when he started, 45-71 when he didn’t.

Bo Bichette – Season Highlights

–     .311/.358/.571

–     First player to double in nine straight games

Dante Bichette – Career Highlights

–     .299 BA, 274 HR in 14 MLB seasons

–     Runner-up for 1995 NL MVP (led NL with 40 HR, 128 RBI)

Fernando Tatis Jr. (son of Fernando)

When he was on the field, Tatis Jr. was one of the best players in baseball. Tatis hit .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 84 games but missed two long stretches due to injuries.

How impressive was Tatis? The last two players to match or better all three of his slashline stats in their debut season were Ted Williams (1939) and Albert Pujols (2001) (minimum 300 at-bats). Tatis’ .969 OPS was 12 points better than his father’s best season. Fernando Sr. had a .957 OPS in 1999, the year he hit two grand slams in the same inning.

Tatis Jr. didn’t do that, but he did do just about everything else. Though he finished two runs below average in Defensive Runs Saved, he had his share of highlight-reel plays.

Fernando Tatis Jr. – Season Highlights

–     .317/.379/.590

–     22 HR and 16 SB in 84 games

 Fernando Tatis Sr. – Career Highlights

–     .265 BA, 113 HR in 11 MLB seasons

–     34 HR in 1999 (including 2 grand slams in one inning)

Mike Yastrzemski (grandson of Carl)

One of the coolest moments of 2019 came when the Giants visited the Red Sox in September and Mike Yastrzemski got to walk around the Fenway Park outfield with his grandfather, who spent much of his Hall of Fame career in left field there.

For the younger Yastrzemski, homering that night capped an improbable rookie season. It was a long path to the majors  but he found a home in the Giants outfield. He tied for the team lead in home runs with 21 and ranked second on the Giants in Defensive Runs Saved with eight.

Mike Yastrzemski established himself as one of the top hitters in the game against low pitches. He slugged .582 on pitches in the bottom-third of the strike zone or below. Only Mike Trout slugged better against those pitches (.623).

Mike Yastrzemski – Season Highlights

–     21 HR tied for team lead

–     Homered in first game at Fenway Park

Carl Yastrzemski – Career Highlights

–     Hall of Fame inductee, 1989

–     3,419 hits, 452 HR, all with Red Sox

These five join a long line of second and third-generation players thriving in the major leagues. At the top of that list is Cody Bellinger (son of Clay), who had himself an MVP-caliber year for the Dodgers this season. The level that Bellinger reached is one to which these young standouts can aspire.

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