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July 1, 2014

Moonshot

Survival of the Fittest: Pitchers

by Robert Arthur


In the recent past, we’ve seen the rise of a generation of young and highly talented pitchers. From Corey Kluber to Chris Sale, from international acquisitions like Masahiro Tanaka to the sadly injured Jose Fernandez, young hurlers occupy an increasing share of the game’s best pitching matchups. Indeed, of the leaders in this year’s Cy Young race, only four of the top 10 are over 30. It’s easy to forget that even veteran aces Felix Hernandez and Johnny Cueto are still only 28. With the exception of some old stalwarts like Adam Wainwright and Mark Buerhle, the game’s best and brightest seem to be tilting toward youth.

If it seems to be the case, that’s only because it is. Younger pitchers are piling up the WAR(P) at an accelerated rate relative to the past couple of decades.

I’ve plotted here the age of the average MLB pitcher, weighted by each pitcher’s WARP, so that good pitchers count more. You’ll note that for the last decade or so, the WARP-weighted age has been in steep decline, from a peak of 29-plus at the turn of the century to a more youthful 28 at present.

In tandem with this increasing production from youngsters has been the surge of Tommy John surgeries. Paradoxically, even as the production has increased, more young pitchers have fallen victim to what is still a career-threatening injury. Most will make it back—if not all the way back to their former heights, then at least partially so.

Still, some young pitchers will burn out. As a fan of your favorite young ace, you might wonder whether he’s destined to be one of them or to enjoy a long and prolific career. I endeavor herein to answer that question, with the help of some survival modelling. This approach looks at how a player’s career length varies as a function of different characteristics (with the help of a lot of #GoryMath).

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Related Content:  Pitchers,  Injuries,  Attrition,  Career Length

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<< Previous Article
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Moonshot: Dale Sveum a... (06/24)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Moonshot: Survival of ... (07/08)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Do S... (07/01)

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