Age and WAR (position players)

Note: I’ve added a 4th graph at the end of the post, covering only the years 1982-2011.

A couple of graphs relating bWAR/age, and OPS+/age. I’ll leave the observations to you folks.

(1) As a general followup to the graphs in my Ryan Zimmerman post, here’s a graph showing the number of seasons of four different WAR levels, for all position players, for the years 1901-2011:

(2) I thought it might be interesting to look at the career patterns of those with the longest careers. The next two graphs cover the top 200 players in Plate Appearances, for the years 1901-2011; they all had at least 8,225 PAs. First, bWAR:

(3) … and then, OPS+:

(4) This last graph covers only the years 1982-2011 and the top 200 players in PAs during that time. This angle grew out of comments by kzuke, who noticed a local peak at age 31 in the original graphs (and here it is again!), and Mike L., who described a pattern of difference between WAR-Avg. and WAR/700 PAs.

I originally thought to cover just the last 20 years — the you-know-what era — but realized I’d have to take in another decade to allow for the full aging process. Even so, I limited the ages to 22-37, since the years before and after would contain less than half the original 200 players. The fewest players covered by any age in this graph is 116 for age 27 and 126 for age 22.

This graph mixes two WAR lines (red and blue, pegged to the Y-axis on the left) and one OPS+ line (green, pegged to the Y-axis on the right). I included some data labels on the OPS+ line to emphasize the distinction. Lastly, note that all WAR averages in these graphs are based only on those who actually played at the given age.

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Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
12 years ago

GREAT stuff, JA. I’ve always wanted to see good graphs of this very thing. Here they are!

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
12 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

I love these graphs!! Stats explained simply.

Mike L
Mike L
12 years ago

Love the ratios between avg WAR and WAR/700 at the beginning and end of the age curve as compared to the middle ten years. Terrific visual-really great work

kzuke
kzuke
12 years ago

That local peak at 31 again! We’ve seen that before haven’t we? You think this may be due to two sets of players: those who peak at 27 and those who peak at 31? It seems unlikely that the “Average” curve is that of a typical player.

kzuke
kzuke
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

That’s not what I was referring to. I recall a post on the old blgspot site that had a similar outcome iirc. I’ll see if I can find it.

Nadig
Nadig
12 years ago
Reply to  kzuke

Is this the post you’re thinking of? It’s the post I thought of when I noticed the peak on these graphs.

http://highheatstats.blogspot.com/2011/12/average-war-by-age-1980s.html

In that post, though, there were two peaks- at ages 30 and 33.

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

It’s interesting also on that 4th one how the OPS+ goes down precipitously from 31-33 but barely goes down at all from 33-37.

topper009
topper009
12 years ago
Reply to  kzuke

It would be interesting to see a histogram with age vs peak season from the same group

topper009
topper009
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

very simple, just counts the number for each category,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histogram

So it will show how many of the top 200 had their best season at age 25, 26, 27 etc.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

How’s this for a short explanation: it’s a bar graph.

Bells
Bells
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

How’s this for a short, false explanation: it’s the unit of measurement for a uterus.

Voomo Zanzibar
12 years ago
Reply to  kzuke

I propose that that peak at 31 is a product of the phenomenon of the Saturn Return. Here’s a tidy explanation (it’s an astrology thing):

http://astrology.about.com/od/advancedastrology/p/SaturnReturn.htm

So, it is not really a peak, but a return to full capability after the trials that occur at 29-30.

Voomo Zanzibar
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

No, it’s every 28-30 years.
So, 56-59.

And look, I’m not really a new agey kinda guy, but Astrology, if you dig beyond the Sun Sign blurb in the daily paper, and you get a full chart analysis, well, you might see that it is like the Sabermetrics of Life.

Voomo Zanzibar
12 years ago
Reply to  Voomo Zanzibar

By the way, the spell check on this website red-lines “sabermetrics.” Something wrong with that.

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John, great stuff by the way. Do the guys that had the good years at 31 look in general like they are power guys? There’s a lot of differing opinions out there about when power actually peaks. Some have recently suggested it’s EARLIER than 27, but I always suspected the opposite, that it may be 28 or 29.

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John ; do the folks who sign 32 year olds to 250 million dollar contracts know about this stuff? Just saying..

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I am assuming you are referrring to the A Pujols contract, Bryan. Doesn’t he deserve to be put among those group of outliers? We ARE talking about the best position player to play baseball since Willie Mays, aren’t we?

Bells
Bells
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

well, don’t forget that GMs and people running a baseball club own a business where the bottom line is revenue, of which money might be a part. It would be a bit facile of them to put forward a formula for WAR as the only factor in them spending on a player. Not only do you ‘overpay’ Pujols or anyone in the long run to ensure you have them in the short run, but you also ‘overpay’ them for their ‘wins contributed’ because a) it’s more efficient to have a high WAR guy than several low-WAR guys, b) they will… Read more »

Bells
Bells
12 years ago
Reply to  bstar

sorry, that was supposed to say ‘revenue, of which WINNING might be a part’. Obviously money is a part.

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  Bells

Exactly. There’s no way to measure truly his off-the-field worth, but I’d estimate it might be at least a third or fourth of his contract right there. And what if they, I don’t know, win 2 World Series in the next six years like the Cardinals just did? Is anyone going to be questioning his contract then?

Hartvig
Hartvig
12 years ago
Reply to  Bells

I know in one of his abstracts Bill James looked at just that issue for Nolan Ryan at the height of his popularity. He concluded that it had very little impact on the days that he pitched or, I think, on the attendance for the season on the whole. That being said: a) It’s also true that during Mark Fidrych’s great 1976 season and, to a much lesser extent, during Fernando Valenzuela’s first couple full seasons there were noticeable increases in attendance in both home and away games in Fidrych’s case. In Valenzuela’s case the difference was great for away… Read more »

Hank G.
Hank G.
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

At the risk of coming up with an explanation for a random event, how about this?

After a player peaks at age 27, he starts his decline phase. For a couple of years, he is in denial, but by the time he approaches 30, he recognizes that he isn’t the player he was before. If he is good enough to continue playing, he starts making adjustments for his declining skills (becoming more selective at the plate, increasing his physical training, etc.). This causes a temporary reversal in his performance, but it doesn’t last, as his physical skills continue to erode.

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

Sounds like it might have some truth to it, Hank. Good theory.

K&J
K&J
12 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

This seems very plausible, Hank.

Is there a chance the peak coincides with impending Free Agency, or is 31 after the age that most players become FAs for the first time?

topper009
topper009
12 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

I can’t answer this question yet, but is it possible there is a legit psychological effect when you turn 30 and people finally admit to themselves they aren’t “young kids” anymore and work a little harder and have more discipline?

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

What about walk rate contributing a little bit to this uptick at 31? Isn’t walk rate gemerally considered to be the single skill that takes the longest to mature? Maybe a lot of these guys start tinkering with a more disciplined approach at 29-30, and we finally see the results of an uptick in OBP at 31. Just a thought.

Hank G.
Hank G.
12 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Being more selective at the plate would presumably contribute to a higher walk rate.

BTW, years ago Bill James expressed a similar explanation about how some fastball pitchers were able to adjust to the declining speed of their fastball and continue to be successful pitchers while others weren’t. I’m sure that’s the inspiration for my idea.

Tmckelv
Tmckelv
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

So am I reading your graphs correctly? It says, very basically, that the peak in WAR is age 26 and the peak in OPS+ is 29?

If that is correct, it kind of makes sense (a little) that defense drops with age earlier than hitting.

Not to create extra work for anyone, but do you think an oWAR vs. dWAR by age graph would be helpful?

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

And If , as I suspect, but can’t prove, (yet ) the event-based base running elements of WAR understate the decline in offensive value from age-related slowness, there is another reason to suspect the old guys are credited with a little too much ( Many players who can run a little when they first come up get to zero SB by 31 or so, but their run scoring keeps declining.)

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  BryanM

Good luck in your study, Bryan. You’ve already provided some cool info on the subject to date.

MikeD
MikeD
12 years ago

The Weighted Average OPS+ shows what I’ve always suspected: 39 is the new 20.

Voomo Zanzibar
12 years ago
Reply to  MikeD

If 39 is the new 20 then for my birthday next month I’ll be expecting a keg in my shower stall, a pool table in my living room, a girlfriend who can roll joints with one hand and needs sex three times a day, no responsibilities before one in the afternoon, ankles and shoulders that fully rotate, and a shortstop named Spike with a 66 ops+.

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  Voomo Zanzibar

If 39 is the new 20, then I just turned 25 today. Sounds a lot better than 44.

Luis Gomez
Luis Gomez
12 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Then, that would make me a teenager again! Thanks, that made my day πŸ™‚

bstar
bstar
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I missed the Leap Year thing by 12 hours. Woulda been fun to brag about as a kid, I always thought. Thanx.

Jeff Allen
Jeff Allen
12 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Hm, so that would make me 10. Crap, I gotta do middle school all over again?

MikeD
MikeD
12 years ago

I suggest that all those things are good things but the last. I will take the last on my favorite team for much of the prior.

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago

John , BTW your first chart is 4 histograms; which are sometimes shown as Bars instead of curves, but they are counting instances of x by variations in y — an amazing bit of research just terrific. i can tell you from personal experience that 67 is the new 56, but i forget what the old 56 was.

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

must have been a fairlane ‘coz the vette didn’t have a back seat (oh those vinyl burns.

Andy
Admin
12 years ago

I love the post and the graphs–don’t let my following flip comment give any impression otherwise:

Am I the only one who thought of Everybody Loves Raymond “Hank’N’Pat” upon seeing the title?

Jeff Allen
Jeff Allen
12 years ago
Reply to  Andy

I thought of In ‘N’ Out, which immediately made me hungry.

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago

Speaking of peaking at age 27; I did a little study on on BRef looking at scoring ability by age. Number of seasons where a player has scored at least 40% of times on base (including roe) , ( min 300 PA) sort of a combined power-speed peaking, because both sluggers and speedsters tend to do well on this metric, Anyway, it’s never been done by a 40 year old; Andre Dawson was the only one to do it at 39, 17 times by 38 year olds ( most runs ; George Brett), 41 times by 37 year olds, led… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
12 years ago

John A., I’m looking at it a second time, and it really tells a great story of usage. The prodigy comes up and gets some playing time, looks like an impact player, and after a couple of years, starts to play full time, and the gap begins to narrow between WAR and WAR/700. As he gets more senior (mid twenties) his manager moves him up in the batting order so he gets more plate appearances per season, and the gap gets narrowest-and it stays there, even though his production begins to decline just a bit every year from 26-31. He… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I’d like to see those numbers, although the 35 year old isn’t unproductive-his WAR is still 2.57, but he’s barely at 60% of where he was at his peak.

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago

@38 — Just so, John – The very best have a business value off the field as well..

Mike L
Mike L
12 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

That’s interesting. John A, the downward slope does look more gentle, but to what do you ascribe the narrower band of performance generally? Both peak WAR and peak OPS+ are distinctly lower in the last 30 years.

BryanM
BryanM
12 years ago

I yield to nobody in admiration for Pujols, and obviously people who own baseball clubs are often astute businesspeople who can see commercial value off the field . The deal could certainly be a good one for the Angels, but it is odd that the best players often go from being underpaid relative to others ( Albert has never been in the top 15 the whole time he has been the best in the game) to being not very good value for money. i hope that doesn’t happen to Albert; he’s a great asset to the game

chestnut tree
9 years ago

You can certainly see your skills in the article
you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t
afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.