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MLB: Player Aging Patterns

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  • MLB: Player Aging Patterns

    I am posting this as a new thread of its own, because I don't believe that such an interesting, valuable, and practical source of information as this should be relegated into a subordinate debate over any one player or limited group of players who may be seen to have violated norms for the topic.

    I am NO expert on this topic, just an informed fan who has read quite a bit of data on the subject. I do believe that the subject, for many reasons, may be a mother lode of information for players, coaches, scouts and numbers crunchers ... a mother lode of data sorting that may be seen as in its infancy.

    My default expert on this subject is Tom Tangotiger. When I cite his work here, I do not pretend to recite it, quote it, or parrot it. The last thing I want to do is put words into TT's mouth [and therfore, my foot into my own].

    Re-reading some of TT's work today, I came away with these impressions as reasonable conclusions to be made from a number of his articles [and responses to replies from those making comments]:

    1. It appears that player age patterns and expectations are related to the length of the player's career. In using a peak performance number as denominator for hitters, it would seem that players with much longer careers have extended ages at which seasons close to peak performance may be expected. I refer here to the model that takes players from age 21 and up, plotting their career maturing process, peak and aging process. A goodly number of players in that study have seasons above the ages 33 and 34 at which performance is 90% or better of absolute peak.

    2. In another portion of his work, TT alludes to the apparent revelation that players who exhibit early and maturing speed gifts above average tend to age more gradually [better?] than those lacking the illustrated speed attribute. There is some discussion on this matter; but the consensus seems to relate speed as a multi-faceted talent, which probably related to overall condition, conditioning disciplines, and overall player focus and awareness of every situation.

    3. I have personally noticed in each model that as players age their BB rates improve, even into years [ages] where some determine that a player must be in decline. I have also noticed that players' K rates rise, but at a slower rate, suggesting that a player with good BB skills early in the development stage who simultaneously manages to gradually reduce his K rates, will most assuredly exhibit that extended age
    bump toward peak which exhibits a decent number of examples ages 35 through 37.

    I doubt that serious study into this age progession science is more than 12-15 years old, therefore quite early in its own process and consistently gathering new and varied samples for crunching into the existing data base.

    Those intersted in pursuing this topic further, from an expert perspective, can access Tangotiger at his website.

    I access it via Google Search: Tangotiger: MLB aging patterns.
    Last edited by leewileyfan; 12-12-2012, 04:35 PM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by JR Hart
    It’s not just all cut and dry. Everyone doesn’t follow some linear regression scale.

    Mike Schmidt played at maximum performance through age 37.

    From age 35-44 Nolan Ryan went 125-104 3.23 2088 innings and 2262 strikeouts (which by themselves would rank 49th all-time) and a whip of 1.155

    Steve Carlton was strikeout champ at age 35, 37, and 38.

    Randy Johnson won Cy Young awards at age 35, 36, 37, and 38 and CYA runner-up age 40.

    Hank Aaron from age 35-39 went .299/.396/.601 with an OPS+ of 168

    Hoyt Wilhelm from age 35 to 45 pitched in 576 games had a 2.18 era, a 162 ERA+, and a whip of 1.027

    Tommy John from ages 35-39 was 83-48

    These players performed exceptionally well, light years beyond a "single 'peak-like' season in his mid 30s or even beyond." Trends are not always predictors.
    Randy Johnson's success is certainly unusual, but besides him (and to a lesser extent Ryan), the rest performed well at an older age, but were not better than they were when they were younger.


    • #3
      Originally posted by fenrir View Post
      Randy Johnson's success is certainly unusual, but besides him (and to a lesser extent Ryan), the rest performed well at an older age, but were not better than they were when they were younger.
      Not better, but certainly not the predicted linear decline that is suggested here as inevitable. These players were outstanding consistanly all until about 40 or well past. Which goes to show that predicting a decline is inacurate.
      This week's Giant

      #5 in games played as a Giant with 1721 , Bill Terry


      • #4
        Originally posted by leewileyfan View Post
        I doubt that serious study into this age progression science is more than 12-15 years old[/B].
        In the 1982 Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote his classic study of player aging, "Looking for the Prime".

        James determined that "the heights of excellence are scaled most frequently by players aged 26 to 30, not 28 to 32 as was long believed." Drilling down further, James says players attain their greatest value at the age of 27. He also concludes "most players are declining by age 30; all players are declining by age 33."

        With respect to superstars and aging, James writes:

        "In all of my baseball research, I have discovered only one thing which could be described as an absolute rule. That rule is this: any hitter who is destined to become a great ballplayer will reach the majors at an early age. I know of no clear-cut exception to this rule in the history of baseball."
        Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice.

        Comprehensive Reform for the Veterans Committee -- Fixing the Hall continued.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Freakshow View Post
          In the 1982 Baseball Abstract, Bill James wrote his classic study of player aging, "Looking for the Prime".

          James determined that "the heights of excellence are scaled most frequently by players aged 26 to 30, not 28 to 32 as was long believed." Drilling down further, James says players attain their greatest value at the age of 27. He also concludes "most players are declining by age 30; all players are declining by age 33."

          With respect to superstars and aging, James writes:

          "In all of my baseball research, I have discovered only one thing which could be described as an absolute rule. That rule is this: any hitter who is destined to become a great ballplayer will reach the majors at an early age. I know of no clear-cut exception to this rule in the history of baseball."

          I don't know how James defines 'great ballplayer' or 'early age', but Bob Johnson did not reach the majors until age 27; same for Earl Averill. Was James not aware of these guys in 1982?


          • #6

            An interesting player for the White Sox is Paul Konerko. He had his best season in 2010 (age 34) and his 2011 season was as good as any of his seasons prior to 2010. The 2010 season was his best, but nothing crazy like going from 40 homers to 73 or something like that. He has been interviewed a lot in the local papers and on sports radio mentioning that as he has gotten older, he has had to train harder. With both the extra training and his own self-stated belief that he understands the game better, he has been able to perform as well or better than when younger. I know a lot of players mouth the "train harder as they get older" line, but Konerko is one of the players in which I believe their sincerity.

            I'm not sure how well I'm addressing the point, but I think a few players can peak later with baseball knowledge and training.
            If the White Sox has not traded Sammy Sosa, they'd have probably won a few more World Series. (Chadwick)
            Play the Who am I? game in trivia and you can make this signature line yours for 3 days (baseball signatures only!)

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            • #7
              Toledo: Thanks for the reply. Your observations are spot on with where I hoped the thread might take us. I started out today looking up players known for hitting with some power to see if there were instances that supported irregularities in the anticipated age-decline patterns some want to establish as law here.

              I began limiting myself to age 35 and above along with 40 HRs at least, until it dawned on me how self defeating an exercise that would be because:

              1. Not all batting aging abilities reside in baseballs that fly out of the park. Some hitters, with power, are more inclined to contact or hitting the ball where it is pitched. Ted Williams, for example, was never regarded as a slugger ... more as a model of hitting with authority ... which included getting on base, making solid contact [often for doubles] and having the power to launch some monumental shots as an extra bonus.

              2. Some players, by infirmity, bad habits, bad luck, injury and reduced playing time just don't fit all that easily into tidy model boxes.

              So I went with age 34 and above, just observing HR patterns in that age class related to prior career highs and expected levels of production. Here are some examples. HR numbers are presented in chronological order, while applicable ages for those numbers are listed chronologically in brackets.

              When the number of HRs is a career high, the HRs are in bold, as are the commensurate ages in brackets.

              Player Name...........................HRs Hit, Raw Ages

              Ruth......................................46, 49, 46, 41.......................[34, 35, 36, 37]

              Aaron....................................44, 47,40....................[35, 37,39]

              F. Thomas..............................42............ ............................[35]

              Thome...................................42........ ................................[35]


              Killebrew................................41....... .................................[34]

              R. Jackson..............................41; 39...................................[34, 36]

              Two extraordinary cases are added, just in case anyone wants to discuss them:

              T. Williams: Hit 38 HRs at age 38, which matched his HRs at age 27, his highest HR output coming at age 30, post WW II service at age 30. Ted's next best HR seasons were 37 [at age 22] and 36 [at age 23]. No tidiness to that pattern.

              Lou Gehrig hit 49 HRs at ages 31 and 33. He experienced a decline at age 35; retired after a poor start at 36 and was dead by age 37. He misses age 34 by 1 year, having hit 49 HRs. This is tragic speculation; but at what stage [age] was ALS already beginning his hasty and fatal decline?

              Elite performance in one of the 5 tools is predicted, by some, as if it were suitable for study in crystal balls or Tarot cards which hold all the answers. What is that magic age at which a player must decline at risk of being at risk of suspicion of being in league with Scratch.?

              Or, is age regression study such a new science that the dynamics allow for outliers, even if these outliers are considered unique?

              Ages 34, 35, 36 and 37 do not strike me a akin to Methuselah. If a player is both naturally gifted and willing to undergo rigorous training routines and supplementation, what expectation would you see for him [agewise] at star performance levels?
              Last edited by leewileyfan; 12-13-2012, 06:18 PM.


              • #8
                Aging for a MLB player is a complex matter, not a simple one. Let's consider the vaunted five tools that comprise the elite 5 Tool Player:

                1. Batting for Power
                2. Batting for Average
                3. Base Running and Speed
                4. Throwing
                5. Fielding

                Do we expect a player to drop all five skills as if dropping a 5 piece setting of dishes? No. Each skill is a clue in the overall context of how a player might age. From the Tangotiger site, we get an insight into one critical clue, which is in itself complex: Base Running and Speed.

                Even within that distinction, we have the integral skill of Base Stealing. Some experts make a very clear distinction among Stealing, Speed and Base Running. Speed in the field incorporates instinctive reaction ehen the bat meets the ball, jump. Then there is, within outright speed, the matter of running efficient courses to the batted ball.

                Distinction is made in hitting between hitting for power and hitting for average. to which me might add hitting to get on base, which may avoid hitting the pitched ball altogether.

                Where, in your own experience/observation/knowledge/reading/ common sense - whatever - would you expect the 5 tools to decline, chronologically. Which goes first? Which persists longer? Which elememts of the 5 tool picture lend themselves to training and nutrition?

                Here they are again:

                1. Batting for Power.
                2. Batting for Average [Let's add OB%]
                3. Base Running and Speed
                4. Throwing
                5. Fielding

                Please jump in with your chronology or other views/opinions.


                • #9
                  There is an old saying in baseball that first you lose yours legs,then the reflexes,then all your friends!Often times a skilled fielder will post higher fielding averages as they age,but their range will decrease and their arms will eventually become more prone to getting gimpy.Rickey Henderson and Davey Lopes went about as far as one could go in "old age"as far as base running and speed.But in the end a lot of it was more smart base running than any running speed that was left in their legs.One observation about training,there is no excuse that a weak fielder can`t work over time to at least show some improvement with the glove.Have someone hit ball after ball at you ,over you,through you!!Then get somebody else to hit some more.As far as hitting,Teddy Ballgame said it best "Pepper,pepper,pepper".It is a simple way to help with your hand- eye coordination and it only takes a bat,ball,and several players.
                  Last edited by Nimrod; 12-13-2012, 07:07 PM.


                  • #10
                    Good stuff. If the legs go first, then that would seem to impact base running and overall speed, which would impede base stealing and taking the extra base on safely batted balls.

                    Your observation about TSW seems consistent with the idea that basic batting essentials might have a longer shelf life, with practice, practice, practice ... the right kinds of practice.

                    What we're dealing with at the plate is probably .42 seconds per pitch. which Dr, Adair breaks down into millisecond subunits before the batter swings; then the decision and swing inauguration; and then the guiding of the bat through the pitched ball, which he assigns his own physical components.

                    The TSW allusion to pepper, pepper, pepper is a form of trained physical kinetic memory, which, given gifted reflexes, would preserve extremely short-term, repetitive skills.

                    Now, what are your thoughts [anyone] on segregating "the legs go first" from the possibility [probability??] of thighs, glutes, hips training for driving strength [generating bat speed] ... as a distinct skill set possibly immunized [delayed] from age deterioration?

                    As I understand it, Adair holds that the batter's torso is not a stable [fixed] core around which the bat movement is "torqued." He states that the torso must move forward in the neighborhood of 12" to 18" and that the hands, wrists, arms are guides for the bat ... with speed generated by the lower trunk and driving legs and hips.

                    Adair further makes clear the physics of bat speed, citing examples of 50 mph to 90 mph [in 5 mph increments], as the underlying determinant of ultimate batted ball distance[s]. A chart provided by Adair [page 93; The Physics of Baseball, by Robert K. Adair, PhD indicates that, given a fixed speed for the pitch, each added 5 mph of bat speed will add about 50' to the batted ball.

                    Given the timing, physical exertion involved, capacity for kinetic physical recall of repetitively practiced acts, and physical conditioning, what are your [anyone] thoughts on skill preservation/improvement, relative to aging?


                    • #11
                      Ted Williams certainly had the hitting(OB%)and power tools going full steam in his very last season(1960).He only had 390 PA but still managed to slug 29 homers. He unofficially led the whole major leagues in slugging average,HR%,and OB%and was 2nd in the AL in BA(.316).


                      • #12
                        They are indeed; and thanks for posting them. They are a great resource and a gret deal of work went into them.

                        I was also happy to note that the guy who did this good work added, in the comments:

                        38 John Autin says:
                        February 28, 2012 at 8:57 pm
                        Further to BryanM — Don’t forget, these are tendencies. There are outliers.

                        If you’d signed a 10-year, max-$ deal with a 32-year-old Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Barry Bonds, etc. — you’d have no regrets.


                        • #13
                          Stan Musial would be a perfect specimen for what your looking at [offensively, anyhow] leewileyfan. He is an elite player who kept himself in good shape. His loss of offensive skills seems pretty evident statistically.

                          Hitting for Power
                          Averaged 14 HR from '42[21]-'47[26] then from '48[27]-'57[36] he averaged 31 and finally from '58[37]-'63[42] he averaged 16.

                          Averaged 14 triples a year from '42[21]-'51[30] then from '52[31]-'58[37] he averaged 6. He hurt his knee in I believe '47[?].

                          Hitting for Average
                          Hits over .300 from 1942[21]-'58[37] and in '62[41]. Typically mid-high .300's until '52[31] then low-mid '53[32]-'58[37]

                          My Observations
                          He seems to me to have always been a patient hitter. His big walk totals basically came and went with the power numbers as one would expect.

                          He tore a muscle and chipped a bone in '57[36]. Hitting really drops off in '59[38]. He managed to average 123 games a year from then until through '63[42]. '62[41] was a bit of a resurgence.

                          His speed left him in the late 1940's. Probably a combination of age and a knee injury in '47. By all accounts he was always excellent running the bases.

                          Some of his yearly home/road splits are interesting. I looked for changes in field dimensions at Sportsman's Park but didn't find anything. He was a lot better on the road in his big '48 year.
                          Last edited by bluesky5; 12-15-2012, 11:24 AM.
                          "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”


                          • #14
                            Thanks, bluesky. Stan Musial is almost too perfect an example, since his military service PLUS his accumulated injuries would argue for an age-performance decline steeper than most models.

                            It may be apochryphal, but even when I was a kid growing up in the early through mid 1940s, I had a sandlot friend who was an avid Cardinal fan. He was a nut on anything realted to Stan Musial and claimed that a very early arm injury was a threat to his budding career.

                            The example is a solid one. I am trying to explore the physical potential for active and competitive human beings in some physically demanding realm[s] to defy the model expectations of Father Time draining them.


                            • #15
                              Athletic decline is inevitable once one hits his 30s. Just watch tennis and you'll see how a player's decline starts at age 30 at the latest. Since baseball is more of a game of skill, then the decline might be fought off until age 35 in some instances. Once I have access to a computer, I will run the numbers for my top 20 list and compare ages 27-33 vs 34-40 and see what I get. I have a feeling that the average output will drop substantially. And I will use relatives such as War, era+, and ops+. Those numbers aren't perfect. But they help offset players that moved to launching pads. As for Randy Johnson, I see why his numbers skyrocketed. He went from a superior league while pitching in a launching pad vs DHs to the Inferior NL. That is almost like moving an aging Babe Ruth to the Baker Bowl in the 1930s.


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