In the world of fantasy baseball, participants are told that if they spy a baseball player who is 27-years-old that season, they should snatch him up for their team. But that school of thought may soon be obsolete.
James Etchells and Andrew Sturm, alumni from the class of 2010, wrote a report in their Baseball and Statistics class about whether this common knowledge was based in fact. Their paper, titled “The Prime of a Major League Baseball Player’s Offensive Career,” found that the best years of a baseball player’s career might come after his 35th birthday.
“It’s kinda surprising, you think as people get older they lose their athletic ability,” Sturm said.
Etchells and Sturm chose 2,470 players’ records by selecting only those batters who showed up to plate 350 times or more in a season, from the 2000 to 2009 seasons. To find the data, the pair used BaseballReference.com and compared statistics including slugging average, on-base average and runs created. They found that the runs created data were the most indicative of how successful a player was.
“It puts an emphasis on everything that a baseball payer can do,” Sturm said, “A lot of the statistics only take into effect one or two categories. This is actually using an equation that takes all the major offensive statistics an turns it in to one number.”
The formula for runs created involves many other factors of baseball rather than just rounding the bases. The formula takes in to account hitting, on base and bases stolen in addition to racking up the score. It also counts runs affected by the hitter, but not earned by the hitter, as part of the data set.
“(The formula) makes it easy to compare because it is standardized even if they didn’t play the same amount of games (in a season),” said Sturm, “It’s also easy to compare year to year.”
They divided the players into age groups: 25-and-under, 26-28, 29-31, 32-34 and 35-and-older, and compared both the age groups and the individuals to other groups and individuals.
“I just assumed that (the 26-28 age group) would have the highest percentage,” Etchells said.
What they found surprised them.
When examining the data, they discovered that 35-and-older players had the best seasons, on average. The 27 year olds in the 26-28 age range, the report said, are usually at the top of their minor league game but moving up to the majors can set their statistics back a notch.
Etchells postulated that this might be because of a “weeding out” of less-than-stellar players that happens when they are between 32-34.
“At that age, a lot of players start their downward slide,” said Etchells, “But there are ones who make it through and are superstars. These are the people that stand the test of time.”
There were some seasons that showed abnormalities.
“We had to take in to consideration about what (certain players ages were),” Etchells said. “Barry Bonds … Manny Ramirez … anytime they were in a certain category, (those) ages were better overall.”
Etchells and Sturm came up with this idea for their paper because both are avid fantasy baseball fans, and they had heard every season that the 27-year age mark was a magic number. The report said that with the findings, many facets of baseball could be challenged.
Changes include that general managers will be more educated about which players, based on their age, deserve a long contract. Minor league players will spend more time honing their skills before moving up to the majors, without fear of wasting their youth in AAA leagues. Fantasy baseball players will also be more educated about who, statistically, is the best player.
“We’re proving that maybe you’re not as good until you’re even older,” Sturm. “Maybe teams won’t be as likely to just get rid of (those players) when they turn 33 or 34, and they can stay in the major leagues.”