Oct
14

Production from aging players a Yankee advantage

By

In the course of my work for this site, I read a lot about baseball. A lot. Reading a wide swath of material sparks ideas for posts, but sometimes I find an article that says it all. I wish I’d come up with the topic myself, and consider writing a full-on post about it, but the original author made the point so completely and so perfectly that there’s no point. B-R founder Sean Forman has a post up on the NY Times Bats blog about the Yankees and their age-defying team. Please, just read it. I will, however, provide a quote or two to demonstrate the awesomeness of the post:

Andy Pettite* was the only pitcher this year over the age of 34 to throw 190 innings of above average baseball.”

* Forman’s spelling error, not mine.

His conclusion is also on the money:

Taken together, no team before the Yankees has had four players aged 35 or older hit for an OPS+ of more than 120. Only three teams, (the 1999 Orioles, the 1998 Padres, and the 1994 Tigers) have had three each. The conventional sabermetric wisdom is that betting on so many older players to perform at a high level is almost certain to lead to disappointing results, but the Yankees have made it work and none of their veterans show any signs of slowing down any time soon.

If I could reproduce the entire thing here, I would. But since I can’t, just go read the post.

Categories : Analysis

58 Comments»

  1. Rose says:

    We certainly have been fortunate. Who would have thought that we would continue to get such production out of Jeter, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, and even Bernie (up until a few years ago) for a long period of time. It’s a shame that the guys we’ve added over the years couldn’t help them win a few more titles the past 8 years or so.

    We still have 4 players from the 1996-2000 World Series teams (granted Pettitte left for 2 years) but we still have 4 players. And they’re all home grown. The Red Sox have David Ortiz, Jason Varitek*, and Time Wakefield* from the 2004 World Champion team. That’s it. ZERO of them home grown. In fact, that year…the Red Sox only had Trot Nixon who was home grown and starting out of their entire team…

    * – May not be back for 2010

    • It’s a shame that the guys we’ve added over the years couldn’t help them win a few more titles the past 8 years or so.

      Well, that’s the mechanisms of baseball (and sports). You win, you pick at the bottom of the draft pool. You sign free agents, you get your picks taken away. You reduce your margin for error. We didn’t have many reinforcements for our aging core during most of the past decade because we had fewer opportunities to acquire quality young talent, and we missed on those few opportunities.

      (I’m not railing against these mechanisms; I actually support them. But, it is what it is.)

      • Rose says:

        I think we’ve gotten enough out of this crop of guys where had we let them sign elsewhere or they fizzled out and we kept our draft picks…it still probably wouldn’t be much better.

        Familiar faced future-HOF consistent production > new face high draft pick crap shoots

        Then again, hindsight is 20/20…but you can speculate I guess

      • Mike HC says:

        It really all came down to starting pitching. The Yankee offense has been good enough to win a WS for the past 15 years or so. We didn’t need to get younger. We needed to get better starting pitchers.

        • Rose says:

          The irony is we picked up Mike Mussina to get better starting pitching…the Red Sox picked up Manny Ramirez…Mike Mussina pitched pretty well for us…and literally any other starting pitcher we got broke down and couldn’t pitch. Yes, we grabbed a lot of old pitchers…but Vasquez, Contreras, Wright, Pavano, etc…it was always something for quite some time.

          • Mike HC says:

            I’m with you. It is not like they didn’t try. Their moves just did not work out. Moose did pitch very well, but for his final 3 or 4 years as a Yankee, he was not enough. He also had some pretty mediocre years which coincided with the Yanks getting eliminated in the first round year after year.

            • Rose says:

              Not to mention in 2004…our Ace was Mike Mussina with his 4.59 ERA and our #2 was Jon Leiber! And we have to face 20+ game winner Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez…not once…but TWICE! So in all honesty, the fact that their team (which also boasted the best offense in baseball) lost the first 3 games is pretty astounding. “When was the last time a team won the first 3 and lost the last 4 in the playoffs in baseball?” Well, when was the last time a team with the best offense in baseball and 2 aces on the mound the first two games lost the first 3?

  2. The conventional sabermetric wisdom is that betting on so many older players to perform at a high level is almost certain to lead to disappointing results, but the Yankees have made it work and none of their veterans show any signs of slowing down any time soon.

    A) That’s not the conventional “sabermetric” wisdom, that’s the conventional wisdom, period. Sabermetrics did not invent the idea that older players decline, it just elucidated it with hard data. But even before Tom Tango and Bill James were writing about baseball, the Yankees dumped Babe Ruth on the Boston Red Sox because they could tell, with their eyes, that he was washed up.
    B) I’m not so sure that none of our veterans “show any signs of slowing down any time soon.” The burgeoning Johnny Damon debate would beg to differ.

    Nevertheless, the large points are correct. Good article.

  3. Mike HC says:

    I sometimes forget how old these guys really are, and how amazing it is that they are all doing what they are doing. It does not really seem like a fluke though. More of a trend. Just ask Jose Canseco, if not for being blacklisted, he would still be playing.

    • Rose says:

      Tell that to the 2004 Red Sox team…

      Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon (recently), Trot Nixon, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Keith Foulke, etc…

      • Mike HC says:

        I mean, you can name old guys who got worse all day. Guys will obviously decline at some point. Millar, Muellar, Varitek, Nixon, and Foulke were never all that good anyway. Jeter, Mo, Pettitte are a different level of player.

        Either way, I do marvel at how amazing these guys really are. I also think that guys playing effectively later in their careers is an upward trend.

  4. Will says:

    One of the reasons the Yankees have been successful with aging players is because many of them are Hall of Fame caliber (Jeter, Mariano, Arod, Posada and maybe even Pettitte). Usually, these kinds of players have longer peaks and slower declines. It’s not like the Yankees are depending on older players who are just pretty good.

  5. Accent Shallow says:

    Data like this makes me a little nervous for 2010 — while Jeter and Posada can decline and still be above average contributors, Matsui and Damon have much less room to fall off.

    I’d realized that the team had been incredibly fortunate to get good results from all those guys, but I didn’t realize just how fortunate. Wow.

    • One advantage that Matsui has as an aging player, however, is the DH role. His inevitable body breakdown will be slightly delayed since he doesn’t have to play the field.

      I’m a bit more worried about Damon than I am about HazMat (which is an interesting 180° from where I was back in April.)

      • +1 to all of this. I think the Yankees have found the key to keeping Matsui healthy and, thus, productive: do not let him touch the field for any reason other than batting.

      • My worry-level re: Damon and Matsui is just about equal. Matsui has the advantage of the DH position, but I’m not so sure you can really count that as a point for Matsui and against Damon since you could just as easily make Damon your primary DH in 2010. Their bats are really very similar at this point in their careers, with Matsui having the advantage in power and Damon having the advantage in speed. Damon has Matsui beat in one area, though – health. While we’re all worried that Damon’s body is beaten up and aging, we know that Matsui is aging and working with less than optimally functional (to be kind) knees.

        I certainly haven’t been immune to changing my opinion on these guys this season as they’ve gone through their good and bad stretches, but I think we have to be careful to not put too much stock into Damon’s current slump just because it’s happening right now and it’s hard to feel good about him right now. I think Matsui’s and Damon’s futures with the Yankees will come down to whatever the Yankees know about their respective health prognoses and how the rest of the roster shakes down in the postseason. If the alternatives in LF are not appealing and they can bring back Damon on a short-term contract to play some LF and slot into the 2-hole in the lineup, I still think he may be the better re-sign than Matsui, who we know is restricted to the DH-slot and can’t hit at the top of the lineup.

    • Mike HC says:

      I think that both Damon and Matsui will hit well next year, and play horrible defense, or no defense at all, for whichever teams they play for. I don’t think they are magically going to forget how to hit in the next 7 months. Just a hunch.

      • Accent Shallow says:

        You never know. Better players than they have fallen off of cliffs before. Damon in particular worries me, because with the way his defense has fallen off, he really has to hit to remain an asset.

  6. Mike HC says:

    This team does look unstoppable, but before we start crowning them the age defying, best team in the league, maybe they can make it to the World Series first. Maybe they can at least win one playoff game against a guy not named Blackburn, Pavano or Deusling. If they get eliminated by the Angels, I highly doubt people will be talking about how well our nursing home guys did. The articles will probably take a different tone.

  7. Clay says:

    On a completely unrelated note, do you think this site could cut down on the massive amount homoerotic advertising that’s been going on lately. Every time I visit this site these days, my first thought is that I mistakenly entered a gay porn site rather than River Ave Blues. I mean I don’t think I’m not a homophobe, but I can certainly do without being bombarded with images half-naked men anytime I want to read about the Yankees.

  8. X says:

    steroids are one helluva drug

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Yup, but we don’t have any evidence that these fine 2009 seasons are the product of chemical enhancement.

      • Mike HC says:

        Can people still say that with a straight face these days?

        • Yes. We don’t have any evidence that the 2009 seasons referenced in this post and Forman’s post are the product of chemical enhancement. That’s a fact, and facts can be cited with a straight face.

          • Mike HC says:

            I mean, if we want to break it down, if a guy eats a protein bar, then that is chemical enhancement. But if we are talking about “illegal” chemical enhancement, there is also evidence for that. It makes muscles look unnaturally large, and also makes peoples heads bigger. It allows guys to swing the bat faster, hit the ball harder and hit the ball further. Guys can recover more quickly from injury. Guys have inflated numbers. There is plenty of evidence that people are still using illegal performance enhancers in MLB this year.

            • “I mean, if we want to break it down, if a guy eats a protein bar, then that is chemical enhancement.”

              That’s a silly and irrelevant comparison and you know it. We’re clearly not talking about protein bars here, we’re clearly talking about prohibited PEDs.

              “But if we are talking about ‘illegal’ chemical enhancement, there is also evidence for that.”

              That’s a lie. There is no evidence available to the public that any of these guys used prohibited PEDs in 2009, and that’s a fact.

              “It makes muscles look unnaturally large, and also makes peoples heads bigger. It allows guys to swing the bat faster, hit the ball harder and hit the ball further. Guys can recover more quickly from injury.”

              I think this is probably a bit oversimplified, but it’s also irrelevant so I’m not going to bother responding to these particular points.

              “Guys have inflated numbers.”

              That’s a mischaracterization. The guys cited above had good, and in some cases, excellent seasons. You’re trying to characterize those seasons as so out of the ordinary that their statistics alone are evidence that these players used PEDs, but that’s not true. For example, Matsui’s 2009 OPS+ is tied for the third best OPS+ of his 7 year career, which career includes 2 drastically injury shortened seasons. So, basically, he had, if anything, a good, but not out of the ordinary, season. For a player’s performance alone to qualify as a red flag for PEDs that player has to do something so out of the ordinary that it strains credulity. None of the seasons turned in by the guys cited in this post qualify.

              “There is plenty of evidence that people are still using illegal performance enhancers in MLB this year.”

              The only “evidence” is failed tests. Of course it’s reasonable to think PEDs are still an issue in baseball, but you’re, again, mischaracterizing. The fact that a player had a good season is not evidence of PED use. And, frankly, you’re also hedging here. This last quoted statement has nothing to do with the specific players whose seasons you’re calling into question with your comments. A general statement that MLB players probably still use PEDs has absolutely nothing to do with whether these particular players used PEDs this season.

    • LG says:

      I’ll admit it, the steroid thing crossed my mind too when reading this. But wouldn’t you think there would be other aging veterans with better seasons across the board, not just with the Yankees?

      I think their production is likely due to (1) pure dumb luck (2) perhaps better conditioning and preparation in the offseason and (3) the fact that a number of the named aging players are looking for contracts next season

      • pete says:

        i still don’t understand the whole “playing for a contract” thing…it’s like how some guys “hit better in the clutch” – if a player could perform at a level higher than that at which he is already performing, wouldn’t he? I mean these guys wouldn’t have made it this far if they weren’t driven by competitiveness and probably a little ego, so wouldn’t they always want to play as well as they could because they just plain old don’t like failing?

  9. Clubber Lang says:

    i saw one of those in eBay, type "rocky shirt"

  10. Clubber Lang says:

    Ivan would win hands down. Clubber is so ugly, when he looks in the mirror his reflection runs away. I pity the fool!

  11. Clubber Lang says:

    I liked Clubber, but I’d have to go with Apollo….

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