With fantasy baseball drafts for the 2010 season in full swing, I indulged a particular question of mine and did a little research. What intrigued me is this question: What is the age of an average Major League Baseball player?
While I am unsure whether there is a discernible correlation that can be discovered between age and performance, knowing the benchmarks may yield some pattern that can be useful for fantasy managers. Basically, as I sift through rosters and statistics in preparation for my drafts and a comment mentions a player had reached the "peak" of his playing days, I want a point of reference for how long major league players generally play, or at what point players reach their prime.
A well-known example outside baseball would be that ATP players seem to fade out of the game by their mid-20s. I’m not sure the exact age, but the fact that it is a big deal Roger Federer still wins tournaments at 29 seems to speak to this.
And so, I just want to give you an idea of what the average age of MLB roster will look like for 2010, and some interesting tidbits I found.
The average age of an MLB player is 27.2: 27.0 for the AL, and 27.4 for the NL. I would be interested to see how this might change if more major league players went to college or stayed long enough to graduate. According to a survey published in the Wall Street Journal, only 26 players and managers on 2009 MLB teams’ rosters had four-year degrees.
I would venture to argue that college baseball is just as competitive as the minor leagues. But that number is so low that college players go pro in something other than baseball because the minors are that much more difficult, or, they went to college for their education and not baseball. While this is intriguing, a 10-team fantasy league only will make use of less than 1/3 of MLB players.
Most fantasy managers would be interested in knowing, then, that during the last five seasons, the average age of AL MVPs was also 27, and 27.2 for NL MVPs. For the Cy Young, the AL winner was on average 27.4 years old, while the NL winner was 25.8 years old. On the hand, the average ages of the two leagues’ Rookies of the Year were 22.4 and 23.6 years old, for the AL and NL, respectively.
So it seems that players spend roughly four years in the minors and then need about three or four more years to prove themselves one of the games elite players, should they have the talent to do so.
If you look at the all-stars from each league, the last five years have been remarkably consistent. The average age of an all-star during the last five years is 29.1 years, with the youngest team, the 2008 NL squad, at 28.46 years, and the oldest, the 2005 AL squad, at 30.1 years. While there will be always be outliers, like Roger Clemens making the 2005 NL squad at 42, the majority of players can be found in the 27-31 age range.
To expand the view to include teams, the difference between the oldest team (the Phillies at 28.9 years) and the youngest (the Diamondbacks at 26.2 years) is roughly three years. They are both in what seems to be the prime years for ML teams, and they are both expected to compete for their division title this season. The three youngest teams—D’Backs, Padres (26.2), and Giants (26.3)—are all in the NL West.
The six oldest teams, Nationals (28.1), Astros (28.2), Brewers (28.3), Mets (28.6), Dodgers (28.8) and Phillies are all also in the NL. And if you throw in the next youngest team, the Red Sox (27.9), this geriatric list includes five of the top 11 teams in terms of highest payroll.
On the other end, six of the 11 youngest teams are among the eight teams with the lowest payroll. I would not call 2010 the beginning of a "youth movement," but should the Athletics, Giants, Diamondbacks, or Angels compete for the World Series this season, it would help a case for investing in youth, even for teams looking to win now, rather than later.
So what can we infer from this? For fantasy owners, players on young teams are a riskier option because they are less proven and the baseball knowledge available to them will be less than a team with some veteran players. On the other hand, as steroids (hopefully) work their way out of major league baseball, players will probably cut their twilight years shorter, making younger players more attractive.