Many years ago conventional wisdom in baseball claimed that a player’s peak occurred between the ages of 28-32. When researcher/author Bill James looked at the issue in his essay, “Looking for the Prime,” he concluded, “If you must assign a five-year peak period to all players regardless of description, the best shot would be 25 to 29.”
But then something happened which maybe didn’t refute either the old conventional wisdom or James’ conclusion but at least made us reconsider the premise – the Silly Ball era of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. Maybe hitters still had a prime in those years mentioned above but they were able to be productive players for a longer period of time than originally thought.
And while we appear to be in another Silly Ball era, if we look at hitters on the wrong side of 30, we see that there are fewer of them turning in star seasons now than there were back in the original era. In the year 2000, there were 24 players age 31 or over to amass an fWAR of 3.0 or greater. Compare that to 2017, when only 13 players ages 31 and up passed that mark.
Why look at age 31?
In the offseason, the Mets re-upped with or added the following players, with their baseball age in the 2018 season in parenthesis: Jay Bruce (31), Asdrubal Cabrera (32), Todd Frazier (32), Adrian Gonzalez (36), Jose Lobaton (33) and Jose Reyes (35). Now, the latter two were not expected to play much, if at all, but they fit the pattern. And we can also add mid-season acquisition Jose Bautista (37) to the mix. And while we’re focusing on hitters, on the pitching side there were Jerry Blevins (34), Anthony Swarzak (32) and Jason Vargas (35) – and there’s also AJ Ramos (31) who they traded for near the deadline of 2017 and offered arbitration to for the ’18 season.
When you look to free agency, the vast majority of time you’re dealing with players on the wrong side of 30. However, it’s not realistic to close off an avenue to acquire players. But ideally you look to free agency to supplement a homegrown core of players in their twenties. You look for complementary pieces, not the stars who are going to drive your club forward.
Many have criticized the farm system of Sandy Alderson, just like they did with his predecessor Omar Minaya. We all want to see guys like Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto – guys who come up at ridiculously early ages and experience immediate success. And while those are tremendously fun guys to root for, we don’t really need that. Instead, what a team needs is for guys in their 20s be given a chance for regular playing time and not to be pulled if they don’t have immediate success.
Injuries and the lack of other options have caused the Mets to give more playing time to guys in their twenties this month. And how have these younger guys who came up from the farm system produced with this shot? Let’s take a look:
Michael Conforto (25) – in his last 63 PA he has a .293/.349/.569 triple slash line. That’s a .918 OPS that comes with a .300 BABIP.
Wilmer Flores (26) – In his last 63 PA he has a .315/.381/.463 line.
Brandon Nimmo (25) – In his last 60 PA he has a .300/.417/.620 line.
Amed Rosario (22) – In his last 62 PA he has a .300/.306/.500 line.
Without a doubt, these are all tiny sample sizes. But the point remains that Conforto and Rosario got off to slow starts while Flores and Nimmo needed injuries to get more playing time. With the benefit of opportunity and time these 20-somethings are delivering.
As a greybeard myself, the last thing I want to do is to practice ageism. But it’s hard to look at the MLB landscape and conclude that what any team in general but the Mets in particular need are more guys in their thirties.
Looking forward to 2019, the Mets are already locked into contracts with Bruce (32), Frazier (33) and Yoenis Cespedes (33). Two of those three guys are currently on the DL and the third probably needed to be earlier in the year. Old guys get hurt and they take longer to recover, even ones who were really healthy in their 20s. One of the calling cards for Bruce and Frazier was that they were durable. Woops. We used to say the same thing about David Wright but his thirties haven’t been kind to him, either.
Next year, the Mets need to find ways to get playing time for a trio of guys who will be in their age 24 season – Peter Alonso, Luis Guillorme and Dominic Smith – at the major league level. That shouldn’t be too hard – Guillorme can take over at second base while one of the other two can man first. But people will clamor for the team to re-up with Cabrera while importing some slugger for first base. And if there’s a speedy center fielder in the Dexter Fowler/Lorenzo Cain mold – that guy will have advocates, too.
Instead, let’s embrace the guys in their twenties and give them the shots they need. Root for the young guys in the farm system who are achieving – like Andres Gimenez, a shortstop in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with an .808 OPS at age 19. Perhaps most importantly, let’s hope the system hits a home run on its pick in the draft next month, when they have their highest selection (6) since 2004. Their two highest picks in the last 10 years were Conforto (10) and Matt Harvey (7) and both of those guys were contributing in the majors shortly afterwards. Harvey was drafted in ’10 and was wowing us down the stretch in ’12 while Conforto was picked in ’14 and playing in the World Series in ’15.
You always want to pick the best available player, regardless of position, and let the talent sort itself out. Maybe the planets align and the best guy when the Mets pick is an outfielder who will replace Cespedes in the year 2021. That way, the Mets would be replacing a guy in his thirties with a guy in his twenties. That’s the way this needs to be and the sooner the Mets embrace guys in their twenties, the better off they’ll be.