Like many baseball fans, I was taken aback by Derek Jeter’s declaration of his impending retirement. Together with Roy Halladay’s somewhat quieter conference and Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour, a trio of players I admired tremendously will soon be out of baseball. It’s a bittersweet fact of the big leagues that just as one generation of transcendent superstars is born (e.g. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper), another trails off gently into retirement.
The question of career length has more than emotional import within the business of baseball. Owing to the advanced age at which many players are hitting the market, for many free agent contracts there is substantial risk that a player’s useful career will end before his deal does. Even when a player does remain employed late into his 30s, between injuries and the tireless decline of aging, the terminal years of his career can be unproductive.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
And why we find it so difficult to remember how quickly the end can come for professional athletes.
Most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Brian MacPherson is in his fifth season covering the Red Sox, the last four of which have been for the Providence Journal. His career highlight as a player was accidentally stealing home on what he thought was a bases-loaded walk but actually was not. His career highlight as a sportswriter was the time in college when Roy Williams burst through the door to interrupt his interview with Dean Smith. You can follow him on Twitter at @brianmacp.
Alex Rodriguez had an extraordinary prime, but he's aging much more like an average player, and that's not good news for the Yankees.
When Major League Baseball’s All-Stars convened in Kansas City earlier this week, one notable name was nowhere to be found: Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been an All-Star 14 times, more than any other active player. He leads all active players in career value, according to traditional stats (HR, R, RBI) and advanced stats (WARP) alike. Only a handful of players in history have done as much to help their teams win. But career accomplishments mean only so much. To be considered one of the best players in baseball, you have to continue to play like one. And lately, A-Rod hasn’t looked a lot like an All-Star.
Rodriguez won his third AL MVP award in 2007. Since then, his performance has declined in five straight seasons. Most players can expect to see their numbers take a tumble after an MVP season, but A-Rod’s decline goes beyond routine regression. He’s not coming back down to earth. He’s falling off the face of it.
After looking like he was on his last legs in 2009 and again in 2010, David Ortiz has returned to near-peak form. How did he do it?
In the June 2009 issue of ESPN The Magazine, Bill Simmons wrote an obituary for the bat of David Ortiz. “Look, I’ve seen slumps,” Simmons wrote in reference to Ortiz’s awful April. “This was different. This was the collapse of a career.”
The Sports Guy can be excused for giving up on Ortiz too early. Ortiz was coming off a 2008 season in which he’d managed only a .293 True Average (TAv)—still a strong figure, but by far his worst with the Red Sox. His start to 2009 was far worse: Ortiz hit .185/.284/.287 with one home run through May. (That line translates to a .205 TAv, a near match for Albert Pujols’ .209 mark in 2012.) He was also 33 years old and stuck in the steepest part of the aging curve, which made his decline seem especially ominous. As Simmons wrote, “That’s what happens to beefy sluggers on their way out: Their knees go, they stiffen up, bat speed slows and, in the blink of an eye, they’re done.” Great hitters don’t often fade quite that quickly, but Simmons was hardly the only observer who thought Ortiz was over the hill. Nearly everyone who saw Ortiz early that season came away convinced that his bat had slowed significantly, and possibly permanently.
Has Albert Pujols fallen off a cliff at age 32? If so, he's an outlier among his rarified comps.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
The defending NL East champs should gather their titles while they may, since the same Phillies that flower today tomorrow will be dying.
It’s been six seasons since the Phillies finished anywhere other than first in the National League East. Last year, they led the major leagues with 102 wins, their highest total during their recent run of success. Over the winter, they signed Jonathan Papelbon, the top closer available on the free agent market, and saw their jilted former closer, Ryan Madson, blow out his elbow before he could throw a meaningful pitch for a competitor. Their starting rotation will be headlined by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, who project to be three of the 15 most valuable pitchers in baseball. Their lineup will be bolstered by a full season from Hunter Pence. On the surface, most signs point to continued success. But the Phillies’ competitive window may be closing quickly.
There are four Phillies ranked between 51 and 100 on ESPN’s list of the top 500 players for 2012: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino. It’s conceivable that none of those four will be both ranked in that range and in uniform for the Phillies in 2013. Howard was worth less than two wins in each of the past two seasons and finished 12th on his team in WARP last season, so he’s already out of place that high on the leaderboard. This could be the season his reputation starts to reflect his recent performance: Even after he recovers from the ruptured and subsequently infected Achilles tendon that could cost him the first two months, his on-field decline will likely accelerate at age 32.
Was Mike Piazza one of the best defensive catchers ever? How does catcher defense age? What effect do managers have on their pitching staffs, and do former catchers really make the best skippers? And how good was Leo Mazzone, really?
The best pitcher handlers since 1948
As I promised a couple of weeks ago, I’m going to take a look at the catchers who were best at handling their pitching staffs going back to 1948, the first year for which sufficient Retrosheet data is available.
I won’t describe my methods again here, since you can look at my previous article if you need a refresher. Suffice it to say that a With-Or-Without-You approach has been used here, and that the effect of the pitcher, batter, ballpark, and defense has been removed in order to evaluate that of the catcher.
Two AL West veterans are feeling the effects of age, but only one seems resigned to his fate.
Spring training is about both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters and veterans reaching the end of the road. None of us wants to know how much time remains on the clock, whether it be in baseball or in life, but every spring, a class of veterans finds out that the buzzer is about to sound. Teams ease the lucky ones into reduced roles in camp, with the players having two choices: accept it and move on or fight and lose—Father Time is and will forever be undefeated. The American League West offers an example of both options right now. While one veteran is taking his fate into his own hands, another is embracing the change. This is an examination of those two players, their situations, and what lies ahead.
The old assumption that players peak around the age of 27 has long been the accepted standard, but should it be?
Recently, there's been a decent amount of chatter regarding how baseball players age, and I have to admit that it's mostly my fault. In a study that was recently published in Journal of Sports Sciences, I find that players tend to peak around the age of 29; this finding has been met with resistance from some individuals in the sabermetric community, where 27 has long been considered the age when players peak. Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl graciously asked if I would be willing to defend my findings on Baseball Prospectus. I agreed, and I thank Will and Christina for the opportunity to do so.
Due to the length of the explanation, I have broken the analysis into two parts. Part I explains the empirical problems faced when estimating aging, and examines why past sabermetric studies have failed to properly measure player aging; Part II explains my recent study.