A few weeks back I took a closer look and analyzed the last five years of preseason Steamer projections (what I’m using as my best approximation of the “draft value” of each player heading into the season) and compared them to the actual end of season dollar values earned by those same players.
One of the glaring omissions in that article was some kind of analysis by age. Are there certain age groups that might be undervalued? Better yet, are there certain age groups of hitters we can take advantage of and a separate age group of pitchers we can jump on?
If we are trying to decide between a $20 pitcher who’s 23 years old or a $20 pitcher who’s 33 years old, who should we choose?
I’d highly recommend reading the first article that started me down this road. There’s a greater explanation of the approach used. But for a quick reminder… the dollar values are based on a standard 12-team league using traditional rosters (2 catchers, 14 hitters, 9 pitchers) and the standings gain points approach.
I also calculate return “including losses” and “without losses”. The best way to think about this is with a pitcher suffering a terrible injury in the first month of the season. Being injured that early, regardless of how good the pitcher is, will result in negative earnings. But the “benefit” of an injured pitcher is that you can immediately drop them and not suffer any of those negative earnings.
The flip side of that coin is with a struggling pitcher. You may decide to stick with a struggling pitcher for weeks or months, hoping for them to turn it around. In this scenario you are saddled with many of the negative earnings for that player. So the actual “return” on players lies somewhere between the “including losses” and “without losses” results.
Draft Results By Player Age
Take a look at the “Including Losses” and “Without Losses” charts below. Does anything jump out at you?
The first thing that jumped out at me is that crazy dip and then spike for 42 and 43-year old pitchers. That’s Mariano Rivera blowing out his knee shagging fly balls and then coming back a year later to dominate baseball.
We can’t really use that observation to help us.
Young Pitchers Provide Nice Returns
The next thing I notice is that young pitchers really provide a nice return. Pitchers from the ages of 22 through 26 actually provide better return than hitters of the same age. It’s really only during that window where pitchers perform better.
When I dive into the players in that 22-26 year old window I see names like Clayton Kershaw (duh), Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Harvey, Mat Latos, Jeremy Hellickson, Patrick Corbin, Daniel Hudson, Aroldis Chapman, Felix Hernandez, A.J. Griffin, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Yu Darvish, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Matt Cain, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Gio Gonzalez.
I don’t know how those names strike you, but I see a lot of guys in there that I feel like burst onto the scene as young talented pitchers that had elite seasons.
But I have to warn you of the other thing I noticed while digging through the individual seasons. A lot of negative earning seasons, and even some huge busts, pop up for pitchers in this same age bracket.
In fact, I think the returns we see here are a bit misleading. I don’t think this suggests that you go out and invest in highly priced young pitchers.
For every huge “burst onto the scene” type season I saw (where they had a low preseason projected dollar value but a very high actual end of season dollar value), I saw a lot of busts (high preseason dollar value and low or negative actual earnings).
If anything, I think this confirms the approach that many of us already use. Stock up on hitters early. Take an ace somewhere in the first few rounds and pray he stays healthy. Then take shots at young, promising, talented, high-upside arms later in the draft. It seems like that approach is working. That’s what is driving the high returns for 22-26 year old pitchers. Those late lottery tickets that pay off.
Aging Hitters Are Something to Target
My next observation is with the big spike in hitter returns at ages 34 and 35.
When I drill down into the individual seasons that caused this spike I see names like Mark Teixeira, Coco Crisp, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, Michael Cuddyer, Adrian Beltre, Chase Utley, Victor Martinez, Aramis Ramirez, Jayson Werth, David Ortiz, Nelson Cruz, Jimmy Rollins, Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko, and Carlos Beltran.
I think the take away here is that we don’t need to shy away from guys that are nearing the age of 35. If I had to guess, there’s even more of a profit opportunity here than just what you see on these graphs.
Remember that I’m using Steamer’s projections as my best estimate of the “fantasy community’s” feelings about players going into each season. That’s far from a perfect measure. I do think it’s a reasonable estimate. The fantasy baseball community is a sharp bunch and if a credible projection system sees big things for a player, you can bet the actual draft results will follow suit.
But back to my point that I am using a projection system and I don’t have actual draft data included in this analysis. I would guess that fantasy owners are quicker to give up on or avoid 34 and 35-year old players than an objective projection system model is.
So if this analysis is telling us that projection models might be giving up on older players too soon and if we think fantasy owners would be even more likely to give up on them, there is an opportunity here.
How Many PLayers Did I Look At?
Keep in mind that this covers five years of data. Going with my assumptions of 168 hitters and 108 pitchers drafted, that’s a total of 840 hitters and 540 pitchers.
My actual data is showing 842 hitters and 538 pitchers. I’m not sure what the issue is but I think it’s players named “Chris Young” that are screwing things up.
Anyways, here is how the ages actually break down so you know the number of observations included at each age. Looks like a lot of pitchers get to 30 and hang it up.
Here’s a spreadsheet containing all the data used to make the charts above. It contains all my projected and actual dollar value calculations for players from the 2010-2014 seasons. You can filter or sort the data as you wish. I’ve also pulled out two separate tabs to show just the hitters aged 34 and 35, as well as pitchers aged 22 through 26.
What I saw when looking at pitchers aged 22 to 26 is a good reminder that you can never view this information in isolation and you often can’t just look at the “big averages” to get the full story. Those high returns are not from drafting $25 pitchers that end up earning $30. It was from drafting $1 – $8 pitchers, some of which end up earning $15 – $20.
All of these graphs and charts are simply nuggets of information that are good to know. Learning these things and continuing to study and seek advantages over our league mates all goes in to helping us make better and more informed decisions over the long haul. You can’t simplify fantasy baseball down to short rules like, “target 27-year old hitters”. It’s a constant ebb and flow of complicated decisions.
Hopefully these little nuggets help you in the long run.