And why a team of old position players can be a pretty big problem.
You have to hand it to the Yankees. Fresh off a 2013 season in which they fielded baseball’s oldest collection of position players—and, in perhaps not entirely unrelated news, either led the league or ranked second in games and salary lost to injury and percentage of payroll lost—they’ve spent the offseason growing even grayer.
2013 Yankees Age and Injuries (MLB rank in parentheses)
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If the Yankees could send their current roster back in time to a previous season, which one would they choose?
A few days ago, Ken Rosenthal wrote an article about the Yankees’ advanced age, entitled “Yankees working on getting younger.” “One thing we know,” Rosenthal wrote, “no matter how this season turns out—the Yankees need to get younger.” Then he went through all the ways the Yankees’ youth movement could work: young prospects panning out, good drafting, “a strategic trade or two.”
I’d like to suggest a simpler scenario: a time machine. Let’s say the Yankees are stuck with their current collection of talent—they can’t acquire anyone who isn’t already on their 40-man roster. But they can have that talent at any point in time. So if the Yankees want one of the MVP Award-winning incarnations of Alex Rodriguez instead of the 37-year-old version who can’t play baseball but looks great eating dinner, they can go get him.
Old players are contributing less to teams than they have in years, but a few veterans are bucking the trend.
What if you’d been asked back in 2003—following the greatest season since 1950 for aging hitters—which position players in their prime would be the likeliest candidates to enter 2013 as the best old guys? Sure you’d have predicted Derek Jeter, but Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada would have been in the same sentence. Ichiro would have come to mind too, since he’d have seemed like someone who’d probably age okay, but Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, and Manny Ramirez would have been popular outfield picks as well. Even if you knew Chipper Jones would be retiring with something left in the tank, there was still a third baseman on the board. Edgardo Alfonzo, a seven-win player in 2000 and a five-win player in 2002, is even younger than Jones.
No matter whom you picked, you mostly would have been wrong, and through no fault of your own. It’s just the worst time in decades for older players. Jeter had a pretty good 2012 until he had to be carried off the field at the end, and Ichiro found a little life after the trade from the Mariners to the Yankees, but that’s really about it.
The Baseball Prospectus 2013 Top 101 Prospects, by Position, by Organization, and by Age
Yesterday, Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus prospect crew released our Top 101 Prospects of 2013, also newly available in printed form in the now-shipping Baseball Prospectus 2013 annual. The festivities were wild and raucous for all, perhaps tempered slightly for fans of the Chicago White Sox. Here is the Top 101 list displayed by position, by organization, and by prospect age. Enjoy!
How much should the age of a team's present roster affect our forecasts for its future success?
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask'd thee, "Give me immortality."
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills,
And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
And tho' they could not end me left me maim'd
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was in ashes.
- “Tithonus,” by Alfred Tennyson
There is an uneasy overlap between sabermetric analysis and forecasting things to come. To be sure, not all prognostication (not even most of it, I would say) comes from sabermetricians, people who would call themselves sabermetricians, or even people who are well versed in the work of sabermetricians. At the same time, the sort of skillset and temperament required to do sabermetrics frequently leads one to the conclusion that predicting baseball is hard and that the sum of what we don’t know about the future often exceeds the sum of what we do know.
A look back at a classic study of pitcher injuries.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Though we still have a long way to go, we have made some progress in preventing pitcher injuries. We may have more manageable workloads to thank for that, and one of the most influential articles concerning how to handle hurlers is the one reproduced below, which was originally published on February 26, 2003.
Two major-league teams are bereft of new blood on one side of the ball this season.
I lied to you a little in the title of this post. I did that because I wanted you to click on this article, and I was worried that you wouldn’t if I didn’t embellish a bit. Evidently it worked. So this is where I come clean and tell you that there aren't actually two teams who haven't had a rookie play for them in 2012. But now that you’re here, you might as well keep reading! Because there is something almost as interesting as two teams that haven’t had a rookie play for them: one team that hasn’t had a rookie pitcher play for it, and one team that hasn’t had a rookie non-pitcher play for it. Those teams, unlike the ones in my title, actually exist.
Jose Bautista is poised to trump his first seven seasons in one glorious campaign. What other players have done almost all their damage on only one side of age 30?
If you’ve been paying any attention to current athletic events, you know that Jose Bautista has been busy making the rest of baseball look bad. The 30-year-old slugger is hitting .370/.516/.849, leading the majors in home runs, walks, and runs scored, and serenading himself in the shower with the refrain to Jay-Z’s “30 Something”: “30’s the new 20, I’m so hot still.” (Yes, Bautista prefers the “clean” version.) As Hova notes elsewhere on that track, 30 is “young enough to know the right car to buy, yet grown enough not to put rims on it.” That’s not the kind of old-player skill we generally associate with athletes—it’s more of an old-playa skill, probably—but baseball players do compensate for their declining physical talents by adopting more refined approaches as they leave their third decades behind.
Of course, there comes a point at which no amount of experience and savvy can help a player catch up with a fastball, which is why places on the 25-man roster aren’t lifetime appointments. Bautista’s offensive outburst has been compared to the early-century output of Barry Bonds. Bautista’s recent production is more out of character with his previously established performance level than Bonds’ was, but one of the factors that made Bonds’ record-busting performance so improbable was that it came as he entered his late 30s, typically a time when players retain only a fraction of their former glory. At 30, Bautista is hardly over the hill, but he is a few years past the age at which most players peak.
Attempting to plot the career path of those who may reach the 300-win plateau.
I’m excited to join Baseball Prospectus. If you’ve read any of my previous work, you may know me as something of a PITCHf/x guy. I’ve been learning about and writing about PITCHf/x since the pitch-tracking system was installed in major-league ballparks in 2007, so that description is apt. My interests extend beyond PITCHf/x to the physics of baseball and the details of the pitcher-hitter confrontation.
Clubs who are down with re-signing their own free agents get better value than those who sign other people's players.
After remembering the 1981 hit "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash with last week’s title on the same topic, we move forward a decade to a 1991 Naughty by Nature hit—and we introduce the money to the equation this time (if you’re down with that). In this article, I will show that players who re-sign with their clubs on multi-year deals provide far more bang for their buck than players who sign contracts with new teams.
A look at the division that houses the game's biggest spenders.
Only the strong survive in the American League East. The division includes baseball’s two biggest revenue-generating machines and three other clubs whose revenues and payrolls reside tens of millions of dollars down the road. Continuing our 2010 payroll forecast (we’ve covered the NL Central, the AL Central, and the NL East), let’s examine the spending habits of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles.