What is top 1% success?
Think about a baseball player whose achievement is in the top 1%. What does that look like? At a minimum does that mean an All-Star?
Recently, two things re-shaped my thinking. A former minor-league Diamondback retired (we’ll get to that in a minute) and Scott Boris made a statement. Let’s start with his quote.
“And the number of players who really spend three years in the major leagues, when you look at the all the players drafted, it’s a well less than one percent.” — Scott Boris
In the latest AZ Snake Pit roundtable, I wrote about my high expectations for many first-round draftees in the Diamondbacks’ farm system. My expectations were that most of them would become All-Stars.
That leads into the other thing that influenced me. Let’s look at a first-round draft pick who announced his retirement in January. His name is Travis Snider. With fresh eyes, how much success did he experience?
Did Travis Snider have a successful career?
On 6 June of 2006, The Blue Jays drafted him in the first round (14th overall pick in the draft). His signing bonus was $1.7 Million.
Would he become an All-Star? Three picks earlier, the Diamondbacks picked future All-Star Max Scherzer. Two picks later, the Brewers picked future All-Star Jeremy Jeffress.
What characteristics would show a successful baseball career? My view is that four characteristics of his career showed his high success.
Speed to Majors. He arrived in the Majors on August 29 of 2008, which was 2.1 years after he was drafted. Although most first round picks make it to the Majors (73% per J.J. Cooper in this article), Snider’s speed from being drafted to playing in the Majors was amazing for two reasons.
- Snider was drafted out of High School. The average time between being drafted and playing in the Majors was 6.5 years for HS students per this article.
- Snider was a corner outfielder, which is the position which had the longest time to reach the Majors per this article.
Seasons in Majors. From 2008 to 2015, Travis Snider played eight seasons in the Majors. He greatly exceeded the three seasons that Scott Boris said indicated success at the top 1% level.
OPS+. In four seasons his batting was significantly above the average in the Majors. Batting in the Majors is difficult, and four times he demonstrated above average OPS+.
- In 2008 his OPS+ was 114 over 80 PAs.
- In 2010 his OPS+ was 105 over 319 PAs.
- In 2012 his OPS+ was 127 over 40 PAs before he was traded to the Pirates.
- In 2014 his OPS+ was 117 over 359 PAs.
Earnings. He was given a $1.7 Million signing bonus. Then he earned $5.0 Million. That compares to the 2019 average household income of $68,703 (per Alex Kopestinsky). Over ten years, his bonus plus earnings (not including any interest earned) were equivalent to 97.5 years with the average household income.
Not an All-Star. My pre-conceived idea of the importance of All-Star status no longer seems like a vital component of success at the top 1% level.
In summary, his career had success at the top-1% level because he arrived in the Majors only 2.1 years after he was drafted, he played in the Majors in eight seasons, his OPS+ was above average in four seasons, and he earned $6.7 Million.
What happened next?
He was granted free agency. He spent the next six years trying to get back to the Majors. He said he had “unfinished business.” My guess is that his unfinished business was that in the context of being extraordinarily successful at something, it’s hard to accept that all great things come to an end and it’s hard to move on with a new direction in your life.
Two parts of those six years were interesting to me.
In 2018 he rediscovered his love of baseball when he played for the Long Island Ducks (Atlantic League). His .837 OPS was the fourth highest on the Ducks. However, he was the youngest of the top four players. His stats were good:
- OBP of .374
- OPS of .837
- HR/PA of .032
- BB/SO of 47/84
“That was one of the great life experiences I will ever have. I realized the love of the game, the passion, the purity of indy baseball.” — Travis Snider
In 2019, Travis Snider took his his best shot at returning to the Majors when played in Reno for the Diamondbacks’ AAA team. His OPS was the best in seven years. His OPS was as good as it was in 2008 AAA, when he was first promoted to the Majors. He proved something to himself, but he was not promoted. His 2019 stats follow:
- OBP of .402
- OPS of .899
- HR/PA of .030
- BB/SS of 56/84
What can we learn about the mental game of baseball?
“I started to build up these expectations that really have no value when it comes to me going and handling my business and focusing on my process.” — Travis Snider
Although having high expectations is worthwhile, my view is way too much is made of virtues of having high expectations (either from other people or from your-self). My view is that instead of a focus on possibly unattainable expectations, much more powerful is an awareness/appreciation of my driving energy and commitment to be the best, starting from my daily mental states and ending with how do I change my perceptions/my process/myself to stay on the path of becoming better every day.
Travis Snider struggled when he was sent back to the minors. “I’d never been told I’m not good enough. ... I never had those failures as an amateur. I never had those failures as a minor leaguer.” — Travis Snider
My view is that it takes tremendous mental strength to move beyond a failure and continue on your path. After my failures, I ask myself some questions, like:
- What is a quick step to mitigate the damage from my failure?
- How can I reduce/prevent this same failure in the future?
- How can I laugh and restore my high energy?
“…Will [Middlebrooks] and I were sitting there in spring training [AAA], he started complaining about something, I started complaining about something. I looked at him and said, ‘We are going to fine each other $5 every time we complain about something the rest of the year.’ Because as a major leaguer, going back to the minor leagues, you can find 100 things a day to complain about. A lot of that is your ego. ... As I look back on all these experiences, I realize the game was humbling me and humbling me for life after baseball.” — Travis Snider
My view is that less complaining is only half the battle. An attitude of gratitude beats complaining hands down.
“…because gratitude is the antidote to the things that mess us up. You can’t be angry and grateful simultaneously. You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously….” — Tony Robbins
My view is that fear can contribute to success because fear can be embraced as a natural part of challenge and fear can be used to build focus and excitement.
Travis Snider played for the Diamondbacks’ AAA club. Although not an All-Star, his career was successful at the top 1% level. He spent six years attempting to get back to the Majors. Although it did not happen, he learned some important life lessons that will contribute to his future success.