MLB trends younger and the Mets need to do likewise

As we near the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, the game is different than it was back in Y2K. Everyone focuses on the increase of strikeouts, especially as it compares to hits. But one thing that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is how the game is trending younger. Baseball-Reference includes age-related numbers, breaking down into four age groups. Here are the PA for batters in each of those groups, in the year 2000 and 2018:

Ages 2000 2018
25- 38,683 51,175
26-30 81,171 85,758
31-35 58,493 43,054
36+ 11,914 5,152

MLB today has fewer than half the PA by guys age 36 and older than it did 18 years ago. There’s also more than 15,000 fewer PA by guys in the next highest age bracket. The majority of these lost PA by baseball senior citizens are going to guys 25 and younger, although there’s been an uptick in the 26-30 class, too. Overall, there are over 5,000 fewer PA here in 2018 than there was in 2000.

Percentage wise, the 2018 numbers break down as follows:

25-: 27.6
26-30: 46.3
31-35: 23.3
36+: 2.8

With the National League not using the DH for the vast majority of their games, the expectation is that there are fewer guys age 36+ in the senior circuit. Overall this year, there were 92,885 PA in the NL and 1,890 of those came by guys 36 and older. That’s 2.0 percent or fewer than the 2.8 MLB number for this age bracket.

Furthermore, players in the age 36+ bracket had the lowest OPS (.711) of any of the four age groups. The league OPS was .722 in the NL this season. So, the overall trend is for fewer players at this age, there are fewer guys in this age bracket in the NL than in the AL and the baseball senior citizens are the least productive as a whole.

Now let’s look at the Mets. Here is their PA breakdown by age:
Youngest – 2,216
Prime – 1,521
Older – 1,951
Senior – 489

The Cubs led the National League with 520 PA by players age 36 and up. The Mets were second and the Brewers were third with 273. The reason the Cubs had so many is because 37-year-old Ben Zobrist – a one-time Mets target in free agency – is still very good. Zobrist posted an .817 OPS in 520 PA this year. Zobrist was the only senior player used by the Cubs.

The Mets had a lot of PA in the first category thanks to Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario. And with their emphasis on adding guys on the wrong side of 30 through free agency the past few seasons, the older grouping was well-represented, too. But the senior category was what was so frustrating.

In the first two-plus months of the season, Adrian Gonzalez was in the lineup nearly every day. And shortly after they cut ties with him, Jose Bautista became a regular until he was dealt to the Phillies. Bautista gave the club six good weeks but unfortunately he played over twice that long with the Mets. These two combined for a .701 OPS.

The Mets gave more opportunities to baseball senior citizens and they responded with worse production than league average. And the only reason the numbers weren’t even worse is because Jose Reyes and his .580 OPS just missed the cutoff at age 35.

The five oldest players on the Mets – Bautista, Gonzalez, Reyes, David Wright and Jose Lobaton – combined for 799 PA and put up a .202/.303/.342 line. Bautista really saves this group but even that comes with an asterisk. After a great start, he put up a .585 OPS over his final 177 PA with the Mets. If there’s any justice in the world, not one of these five guys will be back next season.

The hope is that the new GM will not have the same allegiance to older players that the previous GM did. It would be a step forward if the oldest guys to get a PA for the Mets in 2019 were Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier, who will both be in their age 33 season.

It’s unknown what the Mets’ budget will be next year. COO Jeff Wilpon intimated the other day that it will be up to the new GM if the Mets are active players in the free agent market this offseason. Generally, if you want to avoid adding guys on the wrong side of 30 to your team, then free agency isn’t the place to shop. But the new GM will have the option – if not necessarily the financial resources – to go after Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who both will be in their age 26 season in 2019.

18 comments for “MLB trends younger and the Mets need to do likewise

  1. b
    October 3, 2018 at 8:17 am

    no. vets are needed

  2. Mike Walczak
    October 3, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Machado is the player that the Mets need to go after.

    • Rae
      October 4, 2018 at 8:27 am

      No. Machado is a selfish hothead that the Mets do not need to have on their team. Harper is another hothead, and the Mets cannot afford either of them so they may need to look at making sure either Luis Guillorme or Phillip Evans helps Todd Frazier with playing 3rd base because he is hitting far below the Mendoza line, and they need infield help anyway so having both Guillorme who bats lefty and Evans who bats righty help with SS, 2B and 3B might really help. Evans has a rocket for an arm, and Guillorme profiles as an elite fielder. Evans also can play RF and LF, plus he has done some catching duties with the Mets so I think both of these guys need to be on the Mets 25 man roster in 2019.

      • Chris F
        October 4, 2018 at 8:45 am

        Yikes.

  3. Eraff
    October 3, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Frank Robinson was traded as he approached his 30th birthday…. the old acid test for MLB Mileage was in place when Robbinson was traded in before the 1966 season.

    Great Pay and year round conditioning has enabled players to extend their productive years…. the steroid era provided a false indicator that guys could push high production thru their late 30’s.

    It’s never Game Day that gets you…. it’s the day after…it’s 162 Game Days…… that’s a young man’s game.

    • October 3, 2018 at 10:17 am

      In his age 29 season – his last with the Reds – Robinson had a .925 OPS/151 OPS+. I think a distinction needs to be made about acquiring a guy for his age 30 season coming off that type of production compared to what the Mets did this past offseason.

      Reyes – .728 at age 34 – re-signed for 35
      Gonzalez – .642 OPS at age 35 – signed for 36

      Besides, Robinson was traded because of off the field issues and the “not a young 30” was the cover story floated to the press.

      • Eraff
        October 3, 2018 at 10:51 pm

        What were his Off Field Issues?…was He “Guilty of Being Black in Cincinatti” ?

        • October 4, 2018 at 9:41 am

          Yeah, I think that was a big part of it. Here’s a nice summary:

          “It paints a picture of Robinson as shy and introverted, but also as a player who didn’t always get along with his teammates. The article briefly mentions Robinson’s arrest in 1961, but according to Before the Machine by Mark J. Schmetzer, that event may have had a profound influence on Robinson’s relationship with DeWitt. Robinson had had a run in with the law in 1958, and then-general manager Gabe Paul and interceded on his star player’s behalf. When Robinson was arrested in 1961, new GM DeWitt did not help him in any way. Robinson may have been expecting the same treatment he had gotten previously and may have been bitter about not getting it again. And despite the team treating it as a joke, Robinson’s threat to quit baseball in 1963 had to have rubbed the front office the wrong way. In the era before free agency, a holdout was the only weapon the players had in contract negotiations. A threat to quit baseball entirely was a serious matter and DeWitt must have thought Robinson meant it, since he caved and gave Robinson the trade he was demanding. At the time, it was very common for malcontents (or perceived malcontents) to be traded away, and sometimes teams would take whatever they could get to be rid of a supposed troublemaker.”

          The article also talks about the mid 60s Reds being a great hitting team that needed a pitching upgrade. Made me think of the 75 Mets needing a reliable fourth starter, so that offseason they traded their best hitter for Mickey Lolich…

          https://www.redreporter.com/2013/11/23/5133726/revisiting-the-frank-robinson-trade

  4. October 3, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Alderson thought guys in their 30’s were undervalued and in Grandy and Cabrera’s cases it worked out for him, but others not so much.

  5. TJ
    October 3, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Clearly the age bar has shifted, which requires better drafting and development since this is really the only way to get premium players in premium years.

    Where the “prime years” end does vary from player to player. The Mets have been burned by disproportionate health issues for guys 39-34. Missing huge blocks of time is much different that erosion of production. Supplementing a young core with 30-32 aged vets is not a bad plan, but the vets can be the heavy lifters.

    Just wondering if you have any stats on the trends for bloggers and commenters’ prime years?

    • Mike Walczak
      October 3, 2018 at 11:57 am

      I am in my commenting prime at age 56. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.

      By the way, this really was a great article.

      It also depends where you shop. The Mets shop at the junkyard and have overpaid for junk.

      Let’s hope the new GM makes some good decisions.

    • October 3, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      My opinion is that as long as you continue to be curious about new things and don’t think you know everything there is to know about the game, your prime can go on a very long time.

      • Mike Walczak
        October 3, 2018 at 5:46 pm

        I think my prime will be the rest of my life. I have seen a lot of changes and evolution to the game since I became a fan in 69.

        I love the Mets and I love baseball.

  6. October 3, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Ugh Doug Melvin is getting an interview he’s too old school for my tastes even though he made great trades back in 2015 getting a ton back for Gomez and Parra.

  7. October 3, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    I’d suspect the steroid era will see the most at bats for older players for a very long time. Now maybe we’ll see the love affair with Homer’s end too.

  8. MattyMets
    October 3, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Great post Brian. Even in the post steroid we, I think there are still exceptions, especially with DHs and pitchers. That era saw too many guys peaking in their late 30s and early 40s. Unless the NL adopts the DH I would think twice before giving out a long term that extends into a player’s late 30’s. The bigger issue, IMO, is that MLB and the player’s union need to take a long look at reworking the system that doesn’t allow players to hit free agency until six or seven years into their career when they’re 30 in many cases.

    Some guys age better than others. Very few players who rely on speed can hang on the way Rickey Henderson did. I would consider Josh Donaldson on a short term deal but would hesitate to give a long-term deal to AJ Pollock.

    • Mike Walczak
      October 3, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      Maybe if we say it enough, it will happen.

      Machado
      Machado
      Machado
      Machado
      Machado

      The worst would be to get a GM who makes really bad trades.

  9. Eraff
    October 3, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    I’d really like to see the Mets Hire a Young General Manager…they need their own “Young Brian Cashen”. It would be spectacular to Hire a GM for the next 20 years as a main goal—someone to build a New “Mets Way” that will be the stamp of this team from the Draft on through the MILB system, and right into the MLB Dug Out, and onto the field.

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