The Big Three By Batter Age | The Process Report

The Big Three By Batter Age

Kelly Shoppach is currently the oldest positional player on the Rays at age 31. That seems like an awfully young age for a team’s oldest batter, and it is, making Shoppach a bit of a league wide rarity. As it turns out, he’s an oddity in the Rays’ case too. Since Andrew Friedman started making moves, the Rays received 23 individual seasons from positional players ages 30 or older. The New York Yankees have received 32 individual seasons form players older than 33 during the same span, and 43 from players older than 30, while the Red Sox have received 47 – more than double the Rays.

The reasons for why the Rays serve youth in large quantities are obvious. Youth means cheapness and control. Boston and New York do their share of player developing too, but the Rays are more reliant upon the art because they must be in order to compete. As such, the Rays develop players, bring them up, play them until they can no longer pay them, and then attempt to get a final return on their investment in the form of more prospects (either through trade or draft pick compensation), thus, renewing the cycle.

Think of the players’ careers as a bell curve. The Rays can afford their services at the tail ends, but not in the middle, meaning the age breakdowns will often resemble an upside down bell curve. Meanwhile, the super powers in the division can afford the entire curve, but since they focus on maximizing their chances of winning on a constant basis, lean more heavily on proven commodities – i.e. players in the middle-to-late phases of their careers.

To test out just how this looked graphically, I took the age of each position player with at least 100 plate appearances during the last five seasons on these three squads. Then, I found the percentage of seasons played per age. In some cases, players account for five seasons by themselves – for instance, Delmon Young is credited as a 20- and 21-year-old for the Rays because he received 131 plate appearances in 2006 and 681 in 2007. The results look like this:

Meanwhile, a similar exercise with pitchers (the playing threshold was 20 appearances in a season) reveals these results:

The problem with the graphs is that the format skews the data. The data points are limited and the continuous line gives off the wrong impression. I decided to focus on the positional player data because of the diversity the graph displays. In an effort to curb the skewed image, I broke it down by age buckets. The most obvious, yet simplistic breakdown based on the data range is by fours. As such, here’s that breakdown:

Ages	Rays	Yankees	Red Sox
20-23	13.1	9	4.2
24-27	39.5	16.5	22.3
28-31	34.2	18	32
32-35	13.1	43.3	31.9
36-39	0	13.5	9.8

Interestingly, the inverse bell shape idea does not seem to apply here. Not only that, but the Rays appear to get more of a player’s prime years than the Yankees and roughly the same as the Red Sox. After those prime years past, though, the Rays essentially no longer employ players. The data set actually failed to include a single player over the age of 35. That could change if a certain slugger who used to play with Boston signs with the team in the coming weeks, but for now, that is how it is.

I will say that the Yankees come a little worse from these numbers than they should. Remember, the team continues to milk solid performances out of elder players like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada in spite of their ages. As for the most curious aspect of the graph, it has to be Boston’s line. It’s almost a perfect split between the Rays and Yankees. They’re like the ultimate little big team.

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