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:
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:
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.