The Quintin Berry is an extraordinary specimen, typically grown and harvested near the pristine beaches of San Diego, California. Or, he’s a human being and a baseball player. Regardless of that minor discrepancy, the ascent of Quintin Berry has been a dizzying one—from career minor-leaguer cast off by three National League franchises to starting outfielder for the playoff-contending Detroit Tigers.
Berry’s frenzied rise has also been a contentious one. Diverting attention from his on-field exploits, which include posting a perfect record in 12 stolen base attempts and legging out five triples in 42 games, has been a heated debate over, among other things, the sustainability of his batting average on balls in play. Count me among those who appreciate what he’s done, but don’t believe the hype that might suggest he’s a late-blooming Ty Cobb.
Regardless, his performance to date has undoubtedly been of great service to a team that’s struggled to stay afloat, and his story is a good one—it’s not often a career, after being set on the trajectory his was (three years of college ball, a late round draft pick, and lengthy stays at five minor league levels), is vaulted into major league success. In fact, if Berry is able to reach 300 plate appearances while keeping his on-base plus slugging percentage above .700 (which seems likely, considering his OPS sits at .805 through 168 PA), he’ll become just the 19th player in the post-1960 expansion era to do so in their rookie season at age 27 (according to their age on June 30th of that year) or older.
The feat of breaking into the majors at such an advanced age to have even mild success is even more impressive when you consider that eight of the other 18 men to meet the set criteria were former Japanese professionals like Ichiro Suzuki. Here’s the list with those eliminated:
Of that group, only Ed Charles and Chuck Hinton accumulated 1,000 games played over their respective careers. Most on the list were out of the majors for good after, at best, four seasons as part-time players. The only active major leaguer to make the cut is Mike Aviles, who, after an impressive breaking in with the Kansas City Royals in 2008, is only now getting an opportunity as a regular with the Boston Red Sox, who traded away his competition at shortstop, Marco Scutaro, before the season.
As for speed, Berry needs 15 steals in this season’s second half in order to reach the non-Ichiro record for swipes by a rookie aged 27 or older—Ced Landrum stole 27 bags in 56 games in the latter part of 1991 (apparently not enough to overcome a .313 on-base percentage and make the sub-par 1992 Chicago Cubs).
In conclusion; while you can condemn Berry all you want (I, among others, will continue to believe he’s thus far outshone his realistic skill level), you have to respect his ability to overcome the dreaded label of “four-A player.” It may be fleeting, but in his performance, we’re witnessing something pretty rare.