When the Yankees closed out the 2008 season, youth was not on their side. The team had just two regulars — Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera — on the right side of 32, and four of their key starters still under contract for 2009 were going to be playing their age 35 seasons. The team needed to get younger and get their quickly.
Since missing the playoffs that year, though, Brian Cashman has built up a World Series Championship that features a solid core of young players who are all enjoying or are about to hit their peak performance seasons. He has replaced some late-30s players with some late-20s guys, and the team should enjoy these peak years as their veterans begin inevitable declines. At the risk of sounding too hyperbolic, the timing couldn’t have been better.
In 2010, the Yankees should expect more of the same. Robinson Cano will be playing his age 27 season and Mark Teixeira his age 30 season. In the outfield, Nick Swisher will be baseball aged 29 this year and Curtis Granderson 28. The the tail end of the peak-age spectrum is Nick Johnson, who will be playing his age 31 season. With Derek Jeter nearing his 36th birthday, A-Rod pushing approaching 35 and Jorge Posada playing his age 38 season, the Yankees will be turning to the young guys for more and more production.
So what do all of these age-related numbers mean for the Yankees? For a long time, the accepted baseball knowledge held age 27 to a peak performance years for most players. Some can sustain that peak for a few years; others can’t. Generally, well above-average players will remain above-average players even throughout their mid-to-late 30s while some see precipitous declines. In either event, good teams will feature a mix of seasoned veterans on the way out and younger players on the way up.
Lately, though, a new study by J.C. Bradbury has challenged those assumptions. The Sabernomics scribe wrote about his findings at length for Baseball Prospectus earlier this week. Basically, he found that players seem to peak at age 29, two years later than previously expected, and that some skills mature later than others and some earlier. For hitters, Bradbury’s table looks like this:
The Yankees, then, should enjoy some very good years from their core of youngsters. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are amidst their peak years while Mark Teixeira is sitting on the cusp. Nick Johnson’s stellar walk rate could increase even more, but the true guy to watch is Robinson Cano. After a bad 2008, Cano bounced back with a stellar 2009. He hit .320/.352/.520 with 25 home runs, 48 doubles and a pair of triples. Not yet at his peak, Cano reached career highs in all of his counting stats and neared career highs in his rate stats. He should only get better.
Throughout the mid-2000s, the Yanks turned into a team with aging superstars. They saw Gary Sheffield and Bobby Abreu arrive past their peak years. They witnessed Jason Giambi turn into a mid-30s pumpkin and then back into a slugger, and they watched Hideki Matsui’s knees crumble. For 2010, at least, age is finally on the Yanks’ side, and if all goes according to plan, the Yankees will enjoy the benefits of youth.