PDA

View Full Version : Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James



westofyou
06-30-2009, 10:26 AM
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/joe_posnanski/06/29/james.33/





Today's topic is actually an age -- 33 years old. Many years ago, Stan Musial set a baseball player's prime from age 28 to 32. And even though this isn't 100 percent true*, there is truth in it. For many good-to-great players, 33 is the age when they begin to grow old. Maybe the bat slows a touch. Maybe nagging injuries nag more. Maybe the legs lose a little bit of their spring. Maybe the shoulder aches when they try to throw home.

*Bill famously debunked that prime years ago; he showed that a player's prime is quite a bit younger than that -- roughly from age 26 to 30. He says the numbers has moved some through the years, but the descent certainly begins before 32.

Whatever changes, 33 is an age when many players find that they can no longer do the things they once did. Right off, we should say: This isn't true of all players and not even most players (and we are talking every-day players here, not pitchers). Bill figures that about 70 percent of players perform about the same at age 33 as they did at age 32.

But, he also figures that more players -- and especially more GREAT players -- find 33 to be their most punishing season, the year that long fly balls stop leaving the park, the year that groundballs stop rolling through the infield, the year the bat feels heavy in July and August.

This is true this year, just like it is true every year: Alex Rodriguez, of course, is 33 years old and he in struggling in many ways. David Ortiz is 33 years old and he is struggling in just about every way (though he has been coming on the last couple of weeks). Alfonso Soriano, Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria and Eric Byrnes are all 33 years old and all are having difficult years for one reason or another. Lance Berkman's batting average is way down. Carlos Guillen has been hurt all year. And so on.

Again, this isn't universal. Torii Hunter is 33 and he's off to the best start of his career. Russell Branyan is finally getting a chance to play in Seattle and at 33 he's been phenomenal. Bodies do age differently. And we are not even going to get into the whole discussion of performance enhancers ...

The point here is only that if you look throughout baseball history, 33 does seem to be the tough year, the one that players have to overcome.

* * *

Joe: Let's start with Royals outfielder Jose Guillen. I've spent much of this year watching him; Guillen has never been a GREAT player, but he has been a good player, in large part I think because of an unusually quick bat. In 2007 he hit .290/.353/.460. In 2008 he had a mostly lousy year, but he had about a five- or six-week stretch where he hit the ball about as hard as anyone I've ever seen -- he hit .390 and slugged .662 from May 7 through June 17, and many of his outs were smashes.

Well, he's 33 years old this year, and he seems in better shape, he seems more focused, he seems more determined than ever not to be a distraction for the team. But, again, he's 33. And you can see changes: His bat no longer seems as quick. This shows up in different ways ... he seems to be behind the fastball. He's seems to be taking more pitches. He seems to struggle against those third and fourth starters he once loved facing.

And it has been fascinating to watch -- I've never been a huge Jose Guillen fan by any means, but this year I have to admit that I've become a fan because it feels like I'm watching a player fighting with mortality. I see him, with men on base, bloop balls to right field rather than try to pull the long ball over the wall. I see him more willing to walk -- Guillen has been a famous hacker through the years, walking once every 21 or so plate appearances. This year he has walked 21 times in 240 plate appearances, which isn't exactly Barry Bonds, but it seems to be a shift in the way he plays the game.

Guillen's descent as a player really began last year, but this year, at 33, you can see it so much more clearly -- he can barely move in the outfield, he can't pull the ball hard except when a pitcher hangs a breaking ball, and so on. He has always been what the scouts call a mistake hitter, but more and more he finds that he's missing mistakes. Every day you can see how hard he's trying to adjust, though, and it's affecting in a way -- watching a ballplayer try to fight against time.

Bill: Historically, hitters' bats die at age 33 ... not always, of course, but there is quite significantly more loss in batting ability at age 33 than at any other age. Let me give you a few for-instances from history ... and obviously, I'm just hitting a few highlights; there are many others involving players with less recognizable names.

1) Hall of Famer Hack Wilson
1932, age 32: .297, 23 homers, 123 RBIs
1933, age 33: .267, 9 homers, 54 RBIs

2) Hall of Famer Al Simmons
1934, age 32: .344, 18 homers, 104 RBIs
1935, age 33: .267, 16 homers, 79 RBIs

3) Hall of Famer Heinie Manush
1934, age 32: .349, 11 homers, 89 RBIs
1935, age 33: .273, 4 homers, 56 RBIs

4) Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri
1936, age 32: .287, 14 homers, 109 RBIs
1937, age 33: .244, 14 homers, 70 RBIs

5) Hall of Famer Bill Dickey
1939, age 32: .302, 24 homers, 105 RBIs
1940, age 33: .247, 9 homers, 54 RBIs

6) Walker Cooper
1947, age 32: .305, 35 homers, 122 RBIs
1948, age 33: .266, 16 homers, 54 RBIs

7) Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr
1950, age 32: .294, 27 homers, 120 RBIs
1951, age 33: .289, 13 homers, 73 RBIs

8) Gus Zernial
1955, age 32: .254, 30 homers, 84 RBIs
1956, age 33: .224, 16 homers, 44 RBIs

9) Del Ennis, perpetual 100-RBI guy
1956, age 32: .286, 24 homers, 105 RBIs
1957, age 33: .261, 3 homers, 47 RBIs

10) Hall of Famer, Duke Snider
1959, age 32: .308, 23 homers, 88 RBIs
1960, age 33: .243, 14 homers, 36 RBIs


Joe: This is off-topic -- and I know about 10 million books have been written on the subject -- but it's still astounds me that from 1951 through 1957, you had Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays all playing center field in New York City. And in those seven years:

Mantle twice led the league in homers, won the Triple Crown, won two MVP awards, posted a 174 OPS+.

Mays led the league in triples three times, homers once, stolen bases twice, batting average once, won an MVP award and played center field defense as well or better than it had ever been played before.

Snider led the league in homers once, RBIs once and runs three times; should have won the MVP in 1955*; hit 257 homers in those seven years; and inspired a generation of fans in Brooklyn.

*Snider lost the MVP award to teammate Roy Campanella in 1955 by five points, but a writer had put Campanella in both the first slot and in the sixth slot on his ballot. (Some accounts have the writer putting Campy in the first and FIFTH spots, but it appears to be the sixth spot.) The writer was ill and could not clarify; had his ballot been thrown out, Snider would have won the award. Had Snider been given the sixth spot on that ballot, he would have shared the award with Campy.

Snider never hit with the same power after he moved out of the comfort of Brooklyn's Ebbett's Field, and he also faded quickly at age 33. And even though he put up comparable numbers to Mantle and Mays during those New York years, his late-career fade probably changed the perception about him. It took Snider 11 tries to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bill: Continuing with Mickey Mantle ...

11) Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle
1964, age 32: .303, 35 homers, 111 RBIs
1965, age 33: .255, 19 homers, 46 RBIs

12) Bill White, slugging first baseman, later National League president
1966, age 32: .276, 22 homers, 103 RBIs
1967, age 33: .250, 8 homers, 33 RBIs

13) Rocky Colavito
1966, age 32: .238, 30 homers, 72 RBIs
1967, age 33: .231, 8 homers, 50 RBIs

14) Hall of Famer Al Kaline
1967, age 32: .308, 25 homers, 78 RBIs
1968, age 33: .287, 10 homers, 53 RBIs

15) Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda
1970, age 32: .305, 34 homers, 111 RBIs
1971, age 33: .276, 14 homers, 44 RBIs

16) Hall of Famer Willie McCovey
1970, age 32: .289, 39 homers, 126 RBIs
1971, age 33: .277, 18 homers, 70 RBIs

17) Dick Allen
1974, age 32: .301, 32 homers, 88 RBIs
1975, age 33: .233, 12 homers, 62 RBIs

18) Hall of Famer George Brett
1985, age 32: .335, 30 homers, 112 RBIs
1986, age 33: .290, 16 homers, 73 RBIs

19) Hall of Famer Eddie Murray
1988, age 32: .284, 28 homers, 84 RBIs
1989, age 33: .247, 20 homers, 88 RBIs

20) Amos Otis
1979, age 32: .295, 18 homers, 90 RBIs
1980, age 33: .251, 10 homers, 53 RBIs

Joe: Well, I knew Amos Otis had to be coming -- seeing as he's your favorite player and all. He's a good example, too. Right up until he turned 33, Otis was an outstanding player, a rare TRUE five-tool guy. Ten years, 1970-79 (and remember, this was a decade dominated by pitching), he hit .300 twice and 18-plus homers four times, stole 30 or more bases four times, drove in 90 runs three times, scored 90 runs three times, played Gold Glove center field and (people forget this) made the throw that led to Pete Rose's famous collision with Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game. At 33, after his superhuman reflexes became merely great, he never could quite adjust -- and he never got 500 at-bats in a season after 32.

Bill: A few of these players did come back and have very good seasons after age 33. I don't think anyone I've listed here got all the way back to where he had once been (after age 33), but some players (such as George Brett and Eddie Murray) did snap back and have some good years after age 33 -- as A-Rod may, or Ortiz, or Lance Berkman.

Continuing on with my list:

21) George Foster
1981, age 32: .295, 22 homers, 90 RBIs in a strike-shortened season of 108 games
1982, age 33: .247, 13 homers, 70 RBIs in a full season of 151 games

22) Andre Thornton
1982, age 32: .273, 32 homers, 116 RBIs
1983, age 33: .281, 17 homers, 77 RBIs

23) Greg Luzinski
1983, age 32: .255, 32 homers, 95 RBIs
1984, age 33: .238, 13 homers, 58 RBIs

24) Buddy Bell
1984, age 32: .315, 11 homers, 83 RBIs
1985, age 33: .229, 10 homers, 68 RBIs

25) Alan Trammell
1990, age 32: .308, 14 homers, 89 RBIs
1991, age 33: .248, 9 homers, 55 RBIs

Joe: This amazes me... you know from 1983 to 1990, Alan Trammell put up a 124 OPS+. Over those same eight years, Cal Ripken Jr. put up an OPS+ of ... yes, 124. I personally believe Trammell is a Hall of Famer, but I don't think he will get elected and the reason seems to be that he never played a full season after age 32.

Bill: Maturity in a player is the development of talents; not the development of NEW talents, but the development of those talents that the player has always possessed.

Aging is a narrowing of talents, and the narrowing of talents begins long before the player reaches the major leagues. Players, as they age, don't run as well, don't throw as well. They continue to develop those talents that they have, but the range of talents continues to narrow. What I'm trying to get to ... I don't think that "maturing" as a player is one thing and "aging" is a different thing. I think it is one continuous process, that helps the player up to some point, and hurts him beyond that point.

Joe: You will hear players say, all the time, "I wish I knew then what I know now." There's no doubt that David Ortiz is a smarter hitter now than he ever was. No question that Alex Rodriguez knows more about how pitchers are trying to get him out now. No question that Lance Berkman knows more about the game than he did at 26 when he mashed 42 homers and drove in 128 runs.

That's the cruelty of 33 for so many players ... and every player eventually hits that age. The brain is sharper than ever, but the body can't quite get them there.

Bill: It's like baking bread, or cooking an omelet. The baking of the bread helps the bread up to a point, and then, if you leave the bread in the oven beyond that point, the same things continue to happen, only they don't HELP the bread any more; they begin to ruin the bread.

Eight more players:

26) George Bell
1992, age 32: .255, 25 homers, 112 RBIs
1993, age 33 .217, 13 homers, 64 RBIs

27) Cecil Fielder
1996, age 32: .252., 39 homers, 117 RBIs
1997, age 33: .260, 13 homers, 61 RBIs

28) Albert Belle
1999, age 32: .297, 37 homers, 117 RBIs
2000, age 33: .281, 23 homers, 103 RBIs

29) Brian Jordan
1999, age 32: .283, 23 homers, 115 RBIs
2000, age 33: .264, 17 homers, 77 RBIs

30) Bill Mueller
2003, age 32: .326 (led American League), 19 homers, 83 RBIs
2004, age 33: .283, 12 homers, 57 RBIs

31) Jason Giambi
2003, age 32: .250, 41 homers, 107 RBIs
2004, age 33: .208, 12 homers, 40 RBIs

32) Cliff Floyd
2005, age 32: .273, 34 homers, 98 RBIs
2006, age 33 .244, 11 homers, 44 RBIs

33) Ivan Rodriguez
2004, age 32: .334, 19 homers, 86 RBIs
2005, age 33: .276, 14 homers, 50 RBIs

The human body is like bread that won't stop baking. Age 33 is about the age at which you KNOW the bread is getting over-done and you wish that you could turn off the oven, but you just can't.

oneupper
06-30-2009, 11:01 AM
...and then there were steriods to mess this all up.
Examples in the height of the steriod age.

Bonds:
1997, age 32: .291, 40 homers, 101 RBI
1998, age 33: .303, 37 homers, 122 RBI

McGwire:
1996, age 32: .312, 52 homers, 113 RBI
1997, age 33, .274, 58 homers, 123 RBI

Sosa:
2001, age 32: .328, 64 homers, 160 RBI
2002, age 33: .288, 49 homers, 108 RBI

Sea Ray
06-30-2009, 11:44 AM
So does the decline continue after 32? Since they only give two years it's tough to see. I guess this is hitting Milton Bradley two years early

Hank Aaron improved his numbers while going from 32-33

dfs
06-30-2009, 11:50 AM
So does the decline continue after 32? Since they only give two years it's tough to see. I guess this is hitting Milton Bradley two years early

One way James used to express it was that for a player over the age of 32 the half life of his career was two years.

Take 16 players at the age of 32 and 8 of them will be active at the age of 34.
Of those 8, 4 will be playing at 36. 2 will be playing at 38 and one at 40.

It's meant as a rough guide not a hard and fast rule and it works pretty well.

bucksfan2
06-30-2009, 12:17 PM
While an interesting article, this reeks of cherry picking stats. 33 players over 75 years of baseball have had a good year at 32 but bad year at 33. I would be more interesting to see an overall trend. If a player just had a bad year at 33 but rebounded. I would also want to see if it is changing at all in today's era with better training, nutrition, and medicine.

What will be interesting to watch is the dollar figures and years of contracts many players are getting at 33+ years of age in the post steroid era. Will we see top players at the age of 33 get a 5 year $100+ contract? Will advances in training make up for some of the gains lost by PED testing?

George Anderson
06-30-2009, 12:21 PM
I'd say Jamie Moyer doesn't help Bill James theory one bit.

oneupper
06-30-2009, 12:28 PM
One way James used to express it was that for a player over the age of 32 the half life of his career was two years.

Take 16 players at the age of 32 and 8 of them will be active at the age of 34.
Of those 8, 4 will be playing at 36. 2 will be playing at 38 and one at 40.

It's meant as a rough guide not a hard and fast rule and it works pretty well.

I really like that analogy. Nothing like atomic decay applied to baseball! :thumbup:

Johnny Footstool
06-30-2009, 12:43 PM
The article is trying really hard to make a point -- age 33 is tough for some players. Of course, a more accurate picture could be derived from showing 5-year swings from ages 29-34 or ages 30-35...

Jpup
06-30-2009, 02:46 PM
I believe a lot of guys quit taking steroids this season. Nearly all of those guys are suspected of PED use.

Sea Ray
06-30-2009, 04:33 PM
I'd say Jamie Moyer doesn't help Bill James theory one bit.

You bring up an interesting point that came to my mind.

Does the 32-33 year also apply to pitchers or do they decline differently?

dfs
06-30-2009, 11:09 PM
You bring up an interesting point that came to my mind.

Does the 32-33 year also apply to pitchers or do they decline differently? James is pretty clear that he believe pitchers model differently.

Tony Cloninger
07-01-2009, 11:53 AM
He is pretty much on for most of those guys. Vlad is heading towards that right now.

Willie McCovey was hurt for 2 months in 1971...almost cost the Giants the division. He did decline after that but it was in 1972 and it probably was helped along with injury he suffered in 1971.

The exception would be...Pete Rose. Foster actually had decent rebound years in 1983-84.

Foostool is right ...better accuracy with the 30-35 range.

IF this hold true...... what teams out there have an old lineup? The Yankees i know do.

Big Klu
07-01-2009, 12:17 PM
Aaron:
1966, age 32: .279, 44 homers, 127 RBI
1967, age 33: .307, 39 homers, 109 RBI

Mays:
1963, age 32: .314, 38 homers, 103 RBI
1964, age 33: .296, 47 homers, 111 RBI

F. Robinson:
1968, age 32: .268, 15 homers, 52 RBI
1969, age 33: .308, 32 homers, 100 RBI

RedsManRick
07-01-2009, 01:46 PM
Looking at specific cases, as this article does, sort of confuses the point. It's not that any given player is going to perform worse at age 33. Rather, it's that age 33 is the average point at which a player's decline accelerates. It's an average and it's completely logical.

As you age, your motor skills degrade -- this isn't rocket science. However, as players age, they also tend to develop other skills to compensate (patience, power). That late twenties period is the nexus of physical ability and developed skills. In the early 30's, there aren't many new tricks to learn and the physical decline starts to rear its head. Some guys are able to sustain their physical condition longer, be it through hard-work, pharmacology, or a combination of the two.

Other guys make huge strides in the skills which allows them to sustain a level of performance or even possible reach a new level. If you want to use guys to illustrate particular paths of aging, that's cool. But we shouldn't waste our time trying to generalize from a small sample of specific cases -- and you can be sure that James' contention is based on a lot more evidence than is contained in those illustrative examples.

RedsBaron
07-01-2009, 05:51 PM
Looking at specific cases, as this article does, sort of confuses the point. It's not that any given player is going to perform worse at age 33. Rather, it's that age 33 is the average point at which a player's decline accelerates. It's an average and it's completely logical.

As you age, your motor skills degrade -- this isn't rocket science. However, as players age, they also tend to develop other skills to compensate (patience, power). That late twenties period is the nexus of physical ability and developed skills. In the early 30's, there aren't many new tricks to learn and the physical decline starts to rear its head. Some guys are able to sustain their physical condition longer, be it through hard-work, pharmacology, or a combination of the two.

Other guys make huge strides in the skills which allows them to sustain a level of performance or even possible reach a new level. If you want to use guys to illustrate particular paths of aging, that's cool. But we shouldn't waste our time trying to generalize from a small sample of specific cases -- and you can be sure that James' contention is based on a lot more evidence than is contained in those illustrative examples.

James has written about that. Speed is a young man's skill whereas the ability to work a count and patience at the plate often increases with age.

Mario-Rijo
07-01-2009, 06:14 PM
It seems to me that 38 is the point in which most guys completely fall of the cliff as it pertains to being a major leaguer, especially hitters. Griffey and Mays off the top of my head completely dropped off there. Just another milestone of performance or lack thereof.

George Anderson
07-01-2009, 06:21 PM
Speed is a young man's skill whereas the ability to work a count and patience at the plate often increases with age.

You bet it is!!!:thumbup:

westofyou
07-01-2009, 09:09 PM
Best OPS age 32 -39



SEASON
AGE = 32
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Babe Ruth 1927 1.258 691
2 Mark McGwire 1996 1.198 548
3 Sammy Sosa 2001 1.174 711
4 Larry Walker 1999 1.168 513
5 Rogers Hornsby 1928 1.130 619
6 Kevin Mitchell 1994 1.110 380
7 Edgar Martinez 1995 1.107 639
8 Harry Heilmann 1927 1.091 596
9 Lefty O'Doul 1929 1.087 731
10 Frank Thomas 2000 1.061 707


OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Lou Gehrig 1936 1.174 719
2 Babe Ruth 1928 1.172 684
3 Rogers Hornsby 1929 1.139 712
4 Luis Gonzalez 2001 1.117 728
5 Ken Williams 1923 1.062 646
6 Edgar Martinez 1996 1.059 634
7 Lefty O'Doul 1930 1.057 606
8 Barry Bonds 1998 1.047 697
9 Moises Alou 2000 1.039 517
10 Mark McGwire 1997 1.039 657

SEASON
AGE = 34
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Mark McGwire 1998 1.222 681
2 Sam Thompson 1894 1.145 486
3 Babe Ruth 1929 1.128 587
4 Lou Gehrig 1937 1.116 700
5 Larry Walker 2001 1.111 601
6 Tris Speaker 1922 1.080 516
7 Earl Averill 1936 1.065 682
8 Jim Edmonds 2004 1.061 612
9 Manny Ramirez 2006 1.058 558
10 Rafael Palmeiro 1999 1.050 674

SEASON
AGE = 35
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Babe Ruth 1930 1.225 676
2 Ted Williams 1954 1.148 526
3 Barry Bonds 2000 1.127 607
4 Mark McGwire 1999 1.120 661
5 Sam Thompson 1895 1.085 576
6 Tris Speaker 1923 1.079 693
7 Chipper Jones 2007 1.029 600
8 Ty Cobb 1922 1.026 612
9 Larry Walker 2002 1.023 553
10 Jack Fournier 1925 1.015 649

SEASON
AGE = 36
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Barry Bonds 2001 1.379 664
2 Babe Ruth 1931 1.194 662
3 Chipper Jones 2008 1.044 534
4 Stan Musial 1957 1.034 579
5 Manny Ramirez 2008 1.031 654
6 Edgar Martinez 1999 1.001 608
7 Dan Brouthers 1894 .985 615
8 Zack Wheat 1924 .978 624
9 Andres Galarraga 1997 .974 674
10 Jim Thome 2007 .973 536
SEASON
AGE = 37
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Barry Bonds 2002 1.381 612
2 Babe Ruth 1932 1.150 589
3 Ted Williams 1956 1.084 503
4 Hank Aaron 1971 1.079 573
5 Tris Speaker 1925 1.057 518
6 Edgar Martinez 2000 1.002 665
7 Andres Galarraga 1998 .991 648
8 Rafael Palmeiro 2002 .962 663
9 Bob Johnson 1944 .959 626
10 Tony Gwynn 1997 .957 651


SEASON
AGE = 38
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Barry Bonds 2003 1.278 550
2 Ted Williams 1957 1.257 546
3 Ty Cobb 1925 1.066 490
4 Babe Ruth 1933 1.023 575
5 Edgar Martinez 2001 .966 581
6 Frank Thomas 2006 .926 559
7 Hank Aaron 1972 .904 544
8 Eddie Collins 1925 .904 533
9 Honus Wagner 1912 .891 634
10 Jake Daubert 1922 .886 700

SEASON
AGE = 39
PLATE APPEARANCES displayed only--not a sorting criteria

OPS YEAR OPS PA
1 Barry Bonds 2004 1.422 617
2 Ted Williams 1958 1.042 517
3 Jim O'Rourke 1890 .925 519
4 Willie Mays 1970 .897 566
5 Andres Galarraga 2000 .895 548
6 Eddie Murray 1995 .891 480
7 Jeff Kent 2007 .875 562
8 Cy Williams 1927 .867 570
9 Willie McCovey 1977 .867 548
10 Paul Molitor 1996 .858 728

Tony Cloninger
07-01-2009, 11:04 PM
I sure wish it hold true ....beacuse the Yankees would be a team that would tank based on the after 32 age projection.

Did you people know i hate the yankees? :)