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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Stark: Everybody’s out to get 30-something baseball players these days — even Alexa – The Athletic

Wonderful article by Jayson Stark.

So is that true, that no one really knows? Here’s the tricky part of this: No one knows for sure when any individual player will peak and decline, because, from Hank Aaron to Tom Brady to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the world of sports has always been filled with freaks of nature who defy their age and defy the averages.

But in an era in which front offices are consumed by the goal of minimizing risk, they know exactly when most players will peak and decline. And it’s those judgments that are wreaking havoc on the free-agent market – and ratcheting up the pressure on even star players, because sooner or later, that gong will be sounding for them.

“I think your leash is way shorter,” said Matt Carpenter. “Say you’re a 32- or 33-year-old who shows up and puts up zero WAR after being a 4-win or 3-win guy for many years. And then you throw up a zero. It can get hard to find a place to play. Adam Jones is a great example. That’s the tough part about this aging thing.”

No, the tough part about “this aging thing,” for players, is figuring out how they’re supposed to respond – to all of the above. But as with everything these days, it’s complicated.

Jim Furtado Posted: March 13, 2019 at 02:57 PM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: aging, free agency, pay site

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   1. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 13, 2019 at 05:14 PM (#5822563)
they know exactly when most players will peak and decline.

   2. Greg Pope Posted: March 13, 2019 at 05:38 PM (#5822572)
Yeah, that's clearly not true. And there's no way that any front office thinks that they know.

However, they're placing smart bets. Or what they think are smart bets, anyway. If you can only sign one QB, it's pretty stupid to sign a 39-year old one and just hope that he's Tom Brady. Because you'll sign a completely worthless one 25 times.
   3. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 13, 2019 at 05:43 PM (#5822577)
The Alexa bit is pretty damn funny.
   4. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: March 13, 2019 at 08:39 PM (#5822623)

Siri is less judgmental.
   5. Topher Posted: March 13, 2019 at 09:26 PM (#5822634)
they know exactly when most players will peak and decline

I read this differently. It isn't that they know when most individual players will peak/decline but they definitely know in the aggregate when "most" players will be entering a decline phase. And just like #2 states, teams aren't looking to take too many chances on individual players being the outliers.
   6. bbmck Posted: March 13, 2019 at 09:58 PM (#5822640)
169 players had 300+ PA in each of Age 28-32 seasons in the last 20 years. The parameters will exclude most players with a steep decline at 29 or 30.

Age 28: 531 WAR, 183 PA per WAR
Age 29: 583 WAR, 171 PA per WAR
Age 30: 537 WAR, 183 PA per WAR
Age 31: 436 WAR, 214 PA per WAR
Age 32: 361 WAR, 254 PA per WAR

Collectively the decline is easy to anticipate. Individually not so much, WAR - (WAR_previous_year/PA_previous_year*PA):

Age 28 to 29: Josh Hamilton +7.8, Carlos Beltran +5.4, Hanley Ramirez +4.7, Jason Bay +4.7, Placido Polanco +4.4, Aaron Rowand +4.3, Bobby Higginson +4.1, Yadier Molina +4
9 are +3.0 to +3.9, 18 are +2.0 to +2.9, 24 are +1.0 to +1.9, 26 are +0.1 to +0.9
0: Kevin Millar, Torii Hunter, Chase Utley
30 are -0.1 to -0.9, 26 are -1.0 to -1.9, 19 are -2.0 to -2.9
Jonathan Lucroy -3.2, Neifi Perez -3.2, Angel Pagan -3.5, Carlos Lee -4.2, Ben Zobrist -4.8, Garrett Jones -6.3

Age 29 to 30: Alfonso Soriano +4.3, Aaron Hill +4.3, Stephen Drew +3.6, Ichiro Suzuki +3.3, Geoff Jenkins +3.2, Angel Pagan +3
20 are +2.0 to +2.9, 21 are +1.0 to +1.9, 38 are +0.1 to +0.9
0: Chipper Jones
23 are -0.1 to -0.9, 23 are -1.0 to -1.9, 17 are -2.0 to -2.9, 11 are -3.0 to -3.9
Aaron Rowand -4, Alex Rodriguez -4.4, Josh Hamilton -4.4, Jimmy Rollins -4.6, Hanley Ramirez -4.6, Ian Kinsler -4.7, Rich Aurilia -4.8, Shawn Green -4.9, Alex Rios -4.9

Age 30 to 31: Alex Rios +6.9, Alex Rodriguez +4.7, Chone Figgins +4.5, David Bell +4.1
7 are +3.0 to +3.9, 4 are +2.0 to +2.9, 23 are +1.0 to +1.9, 26 are +0.1 to +0.9
0: Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, Nick Markakis, Shawn Green
31 are -0.1 to -0.9, 37 are -1.0 to -1.9, 16 are -2.0 to -2.9, 12 are -3.0 to -3.9
Lance Berkman -4, Hanley Ramirez -4.3, Mike Lowell -4.5, Adam Dunn -4.8, Ichiro Suzuki -5

Age 31 to 32: Adam Dunn +5.4, Lance Berkman +4.7, Hanley Ramirez +4.7, Mike Lowell +4.3, Adam Kennedy +4.2
5 are +3.0 to +3.9, 10 are +2.0 to +2.9, 19 are +1.0 to +1.9, 25 are +0.1 to +0.9
0: Freddy Sanchez, Ivan Rodriguez, Nick Markakis, Martin Prado
36 are -0.1 to -0.9, 29 are -1.0 to -1.9, 25 are -2.0 to -2.9, 9 are -3.0 to -3.9
Aubrey Huff -5.4, Chone Figgins -6.2

The most reliable player was Michael Young 3.2 WAR/732 PA, 3.8/748, 3.2/692, 3.1/708 and 2.8/593 beating out Matt Lawton and Evan Longoria.
The least reliable player was Josh Hamilton 0.6/365, 8.7/571, 3.8/538, 4/636 and 1.4/636 beating out Alex Rios and Hanley Ramirez.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: March 14, 2019 at 01:50 AM (#5822664)
Using the standard 650 PAs, the numbers in #6 mean that this is a group that averaged 3.5 WAR at age 28. They maintained at ages 29 and 30. At 31, they dropped to 3 WAR; at 32 to about 3.6 WAR.

That looks like the perfectly standard aging curve to me. Genuine risk jumps up around age 33. But let's assume that we continue to see drops of about .5 WAR per year for the next 3 years, also a kinda standard assumption round these parts.

So would you want to sign that player after his age 27 season to an 8 year contract? For how much? Using these rough numbers, that player would be expected to produce 20 WAR over those 8 years.

Arguably that suggests a NPV of $160 M. That would be a 8/$200 contract at 5% or 8/$180 at 3%. Give or take, that player is Justin Upton who put up 10 WAR for ages 25-27, was an FA, then 11 WAR from 28-30. His original deal was 6/$132 with Detroit with an opt-out. He leveraged that opt-out into a (rather cheap) extra year with the Angels. The whole deal ends up being about 7/$150 (no opt-out but NTC). Skip over a few subtleties and that's an NPV (in 2016 $) of about $133 for about 19 WAR so $7 per WAR.

So that would give us a NPV on that 8-year contract around $140 which is gonna come out to something like 8/$160-165 ... under the assumption of no increase in $/WAR over the last 3 seasons. Now $20 M spread out over 8 years here and $20 M spread out over 8 years there and pretty soon you're talking about a decent reliever or two but 8/$160 to 8/$180 to 8/$200 is a reasonably narrow range in my book.

Of course, we don't actually want this player's age 34-35 seasons if we can avoid it. But they're expected to put up about 16 WAR in those first 5 years. At $7-8/WAR, that $112-$128 NPV. At 3%, that's 5/$125 to 5/$140. An extra 3 years would cost you "only" $35 to $60 M. Those sound like things you'd probably rather stay away from even in a "deferred payment" kind of way. The risk of getting nothing is probably pretty high.

Now Hamilton was a hard player to judge in terms of future value for all sorts of reasons. I think most of us though that 5/$125 looked a bit optimistic on the Angels part. But if you could have grabbed him after his age 27 season? As chaotic as it was and as disappointing as the ending was ... still 20 WAR from ages 28-35. And because of all the injuries and later suckitude, that's 9 WAA ... obviously that one massive season accounting for an awful lot of that goodness.

Mr consistency Michael Young would not have looked good at all after his age 27 season -- just 7 WAR, -1.5 WAA. But valuing Michael Young better has nothing to do with the aging curve and everything to do with recognizing he was a poor defender (he doesn't look so bad by oWAR and that -27 at age 27 stands out like a sore thumb. Regardless, despite not having Upton's solid 24-27 track record, from 28-35 Young put up 19 WAR despite -100 Rfield (i.e. 29 oWAR).

I don't want to be seen as over-stating things. For example, given his durability, those 19 WAR for Young made him dead average over those 8 years. In his particular case, that's due to his horrific age 35 season at -1.7 WAR (-4 WAA). Still, while it's easy to see why the Rangers didn't foresee the collapse (above-average the year before), you still cut the cord well short of 651 PAs. And then why the Phils gave him another 500+ the next year ...

Anyway, "average" isn't something you want to pay a premium for so the average guys in this bunch are probably not guys you want to sign for 8 years ... and you probably won't have to because teams won't be that competitive for them.

Now, calm down, I know I haven't added in playing time yet. We're only starting at about an average of a bit short of 600 PA per year ... but then we only fall to about 550. So this bunch is not getting seriously hurt (but that's in the eligibility criteria). But yes, including PT, we're talking about a trend closer to 3/3/3/2.5/2 ... 1.5/1/.5 ... that's 16.5 WAR distinctly less attractive than 20.

Of course, as bbmck notes, that's a biased list. You have to be both pretty good and pretty consistent to get that kind of playing time. It doesn't address the "what production do you need to see at 25-27 to sign the guy for 28-32 or beyond." I posted this more in the "this is not an aging curve that's scary" sense. And it doesn't fully address what do you do with the Uptons if they become FA entering 31. That's obviously not a happy time based on this ... probably something like 10 WAR, that guy should be really happy to get 5/$80 and more likely shouldn't do better than about 3/$50.

But there haven't been many average-ish 31 year-olds getting big, long deals. But that's not, for example, Josh Hamilton. He'd put up 16.5 WAR from 29-31. Even the fancy Marcel would have projected him as a true 4-WAR player for age 32 from which we'd expect that half-win decline per year maybe ... 4/3.5/3/2.5/2 ... 15 WAR ... likely not worth $108 in 2013 $ ... through probably not far off. But there's no aggregate-based aging curve that's gonna tip you off that Hamilton was about to put up a 1.4 season.
   8. BillWallace Posted: March 14, 2019 at 03:10 PM (#5822845)
No one knows for sure when any individual player will peak and decline

Yeah, Barry you took your quote out of context.

Stark is saying that we don't know when a particular player will decline (true), but we know in aggregate when players tend to decline (also true).

This is the same conversation we've been having for months or even years. These decisions used to be made by 'baseball people'. And they would look at Adam Jones and think to themselves "yeah he sucked last year, but he's a gamer and a star, chances are he's still got a lot left in the tank". Then the boring quants came along and said "well ACTUALLY, based on our models, the odds are that Jones is hardly better than this 24 year old third rounder that's been working his way through the minors and costs nothing but spare change". And the quants are right of course. So while Jones may really have a few 3 win season left in him, he probably won't get the chance to show it.

If you look back through history, many Very Good players got like 3-4 replacement or sub-replacement seasons in their 30s before they were put out to pasture. Now they don't.
   9. BrianBrianson Posted: March 14, 2019 at 03:34 PM (#5822848)
Uhm, Jones signed. With a team not exactly brimming with quality outfielders. If he's got more 3 WAR seasons in him, he'll get the chance to show it. Just not a Joe Carter sized basket of chances to show it.
   10. Tony S Posted: March 15, 2019 at 07:41 AM (#5822955)
I'm impressed that Matt Carpenter is aware of WAR and that it's part of his lexicon. I wonder how many players are thinking that way these days.

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