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July 8, 2014

Moonshot

Survival of the Fittest: Position Players

by Robert Arthur


In last week’s article, I extended my approach of survival modelling to examine what the early career success of a pitcher can tell us about his long-term survival in MLB. Despite the inherent randomness of the pitching profession in the age of Tommy John surgery, I discovered that by far the best predictor of a long career was the age at which a player debuted in MLB. Besides debut age, the abilities to rack up strikeouts and avoid walks meant the most for a pitcher’s long-term career outlook.

I turn the same method now to position players. Position players have different risks from pitchers, and a different set of career arcs. Position players are less likely to be hur, and more able to continue their career in the face of injury by moving down the defensive spectrum. What’s more, whereas a pitcher contributes the vast majority of his value from his pitching, a position player might be great in several different ways: by hitting, by fielding, or even (to a lesser extent) by baserunning.

Even with all of that noted, there is a certain obvious commonality to the career success of both hitters and pitchers. In general, the earlier a position player debuts, the longer he’ll last.

As was the case last week, these Hazard Ratio numbers represent the relative probability that a player will last additional years. Numbers above one imply greater risk with greater levels of the corresponding variable, and numbers below imply less risk. A player who debuts at 24 years old instead of 23 is therefore 1.26 times as likely to end his career at some (arbitrary) time in the future, all else being equal.

As I learned with pitchers, the best predictors are by far the age at debut of a young hitter and how much playing time he gets in his first three years in the league. A prospect who debuts early and plays often is probably pretty good, and likely to last for a long time. Debut age is so significant for predicting career length that even integrating the month in which a player was born provides a small but significant coefficient. In other words, even as tiny a difference in age as a month between players tells us something about their relative skill levels.

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Related Content:  Injuries,  Attrition,  Career Length,  Position Players

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: What... (07/08)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Moonshot: Survival of ... (07/01)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Moonshot: The Matter o... (07/16)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Going Yard: Super Hits... (07/08)

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