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The Braves' Opening Day Lineup Was Interesting

Tyler Pastornicky, part of the Braves' 2012 youth movement.
Tyler Pastornicky, part of the Braves' 2012 youth movement.

And not because of its inability to muster anything against Johan Santana--that's par for the course, really. No, what made yesterday's Braves lineup notable was that it featured three 22-year-old players (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Tyler Pastornicky), which is quite a rare feat for an Opening Day game.

Fewer than 20 teams in the Expansion Era (since 1961) have had at least 3 starters of age 22 or younger in their first game of the season. Even more impressively, before this year's Braves, only 3 teams had done it since 1984. Here's the list:

As you can see, both the teams and the players themselves are a bit hit-or-miss. The average record of these teams is 76-86, but there's a wide range of records, from 54 to 102 wins.

There are certainly a lot of bad teams on the list, which makes sense, since those are the teams most likely to have full-scale youth movements. But if you look at the players on those teams, you see a lot of guys who either weren't that talented or weren't ready to contribute at the big-league level. The teams with better-prepared and more-talented young starters tended to do better. As for the Braves, we have solid evidence that at least 2 of their 3 youngsters are both talented and prepared enough to succeed. Obviously, though, there's a lot more to the winning equation than just 3 players.

Contending teams are much more likely to be dominated by veterans, yet we still see several good-to-great teams on the list, including the the 99-win Dodgers of 1963 and the 97-win Orioles of 1966, both of whom won the World Series. Not to mention the 102-win Reds of 1970, who won the NL pennant in the early years of the Big Red Machine.

We can see from the table above that what the Braves are attempting to accomplish--contending with 3 very young regulars--is neither unprecedented nor impossible. Sure, it hasn't really been attempted in over 30 years, but that doesn't mean much given how few young players have been regulars in MLB in that time. In both 1995 and 1984, for instance, only one 22-and-under player qualified for the batting title. This year, the Braves alone could have 3 such players.

All in all, the table above is more interesting than meaningful. Really the only conclusion we can draw is that having 3 Opening Day starters aged 22 or younger is quite rare, especially in recent years. I don't think that information tells us much of anything about the Braves' 2012 fortunes, though you could argue that it bodes quite well for future seasons.

As Braves fans, all we can do is hope that this year's team will have more in common with the 1970 Reds or 1963 Dodgers than with the 1998 or 2006 Marlins. That certainly seems to be the case on paper, but baseball is notoriously unpredictable even when you're dealing with veteran players and extensive track records. Having so many young players in prominent roles only makes the near future harder to foresee.

The 2012 Braves may make the playoffs or miss them, but with all of these young players, they should at least be interesting.

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