Do MLB Players Get Better or Worse as they Age?

Life is full of questions that don’t have an easy answer:

Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?

Why are there 90 feet between home plate and first base?

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Life has a funny way of balancing itself out though. As proof, these types of questions are balanced out by those with more obvious answers. To demonstrate what ‘more obvious answers’ are, here is a commercial from AT&T’s ‘It’s Not Complicated’ ad campaign.

If you don’t have 32 seconds, it goes like this: a man asks a group of elementary-school-aged kids a simple question like, ‘which is better: bigger or smaller?’ and why. In another spot, he asks the kids if being faster or slower is better.

This got me thinking: Phillies GM Ruben Amaro and his front office personnel should be forced to sit in a room. A moderator walks into the room and asks the group: ‘Is it better to flush money down the toilet or spend it wisely?’ Amaro et al. may collectively agree that it’s better to spend money wisely, but based on the contracts they’ve given out to “the core” in the past three years, it would be hard to take this ownership group seriously.

Start with Ryan Howard. Forget about the fact that Amaro offered him the contract a year and a half before he was set to hit free agency. In a nutshell, Ryan Howard could have gone 0-for-the-next- year-and-a-half and his value would have dropped considerably. As a result, Amaro could have offered Howard much less than the 5-year, $125 million contract extension he signed. He didn’t go 0-for-the-next-year-and-a-half but you get the point. Ryan Howard’s first full season with the Phils was 2006. His on-base percentage was .425, and his slugging percentage was .659. By 2009, his OBP had dropped .065 points and his SLG had dropped .088 points. In and of itself, there was nothing wrong with the drop.  As hitters age, their skills begin to diminish. That’s life. The problem arises when you reward a declining 29-year-old player with a long-term contract and guaranteed money. Since the beginning of his contract extension in 2010, Howard’s OBP fell another .034 points to .319 while his SLG fell .040 points to .465.

Okay, it happened once. Amaro learned his lesson and it won’t happen again, right? Wrong. Yo, Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey from Saturday Night Live, can you back me up on this one?

Jimmy Rollins’ peak OBP occurred when he was 29. His peak SLG occurred at age 28. Not only was a 32 year old Rollins rewarded with a three-year contract three years after his SLG peaked, he was actually given a $2.5M raise per season. Again, player performance goes down while pay goes up. Why does the Boob keep doing that? Just flush the money down the toilet.

The Boob did the same thing to Chase Utley this season, offering the soon-to-be 35 year old second baseman a two-year contract, with performance incentives that can keep him a Phillie through 2017. While I don’t think two years is too much to offer Utley at this stage of his career, I do think $13.5 million a season could be better spent elsewhere.

Catchers Carlos Ruiz (age 34) and Erik Kratz (age 33) have seen their SLG drop over .100 points to .326 and .403, respectively. Outfielder John Mayberry Jr.’s (age 29) OBP has dropped .080 points in three years, while his SLG has dropped more than .400 points.

I’ve made some predictions in blog posts before, and I feel very comfortable making this one: these three guys over the age of 29 – Mayberry, Kratz and Ruiz – will all be on the active roster come Opening Day 2014.

I’m one of thousands of Phillies fans familiar with Ruben Amaro’s (or Ruin Tomorrow’s) penchant for throwing money at players whose skills are diminishing. Maybe if the team had been competitive since 2012, we could look past some bad contracts. But they haven’t so we can’t.

If we can see it, why can’t Phillies’ ownership?

Now there’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer.

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2 thoughts on “Do MLB Players Get Better or Worse as they Age?

  1. Pingback: Better Gauge Players’ Value To Avoid Overpaying | Section 426

  2. Pingback: If ‘The Big Piece’ Finds Patience, Could the Phils Find the Playoffs? | Section 426

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