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Thread: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

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    Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/200...6/29/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.


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    Danger is my business! oneupper's Avatar
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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    ...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
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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    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

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    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.
    "Even a bad day at the ballpark beats the snot out of most other good days. I'll take my scorecard and pencil and beer and hot dog and rage at the dips and cheer at the highs, but I'm not ever going to stop loving this game and this team and nobody will ever take that away from me." Roy Tucker October 2010

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    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?

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    I'd say Jamie Moyer doesn't help Bill James theory one bit.
    "Boys, I'm one of those umpires that misses 'em every once in a while so if it's close, you'd better hit it." Cal Hubbard

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by dfs View Post
    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!
    "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    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...
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    I believe a lot of guys quit taking steroids this season. Nearly all of those guys are suspected of PED use.
    "My mission is to be the ray of hope, the guy who stands out there on that beautiful field and owns up to his mistakes and lets people know it's never completely hopeless, no matter how bad it seems at the time. I have a platform and a message, and now I go to bed at night, sober and happy, praying I can be a good messenger." -Josh Hamilton

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by George Anderson View Post
    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?

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea Ray View Post
    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.
    "Even a bad day at the ballpark beats the snot out of most other good days. I'll take my scorecard and pencil and beer and hot dog and rage at the dips and cheer at the highs, but I'm not ever going to stop loving this game and this team and nobody will ever take that away from me." Roy Tucker October 2010

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    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.

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    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
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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    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.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Re: Talkin' about the age-33 falloff phenomenon, with Bill James

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    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.
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