illustration by Samara Pearlstein
Age is one of my main concerns for next year…. not just old age, mind you (I’m no ageist!), but extreme youth as well. The Tigers are not going to be the oldest team in baseball, and they’re not going to be the youngest, but they might very well be the most extremely split.
Going on the currently posted active roster, the Tigers’ average team age will be 30.3 next season. Yes, I REALIZE that the roster that’s up right now is not going to be the roster we end up seeing in April, but a lot of the same guys will be there, and in the number-crunch that follows I’ll use that same not-quite-realistic current posted roster for each team. The idea is that while the Tigers’ roster is currently skewed with kids who’ll end up in the minors come April and some people who will get traded and one or two old dudes who’ll retire, everyone else’s roster is in the same boat (I’m not looking at the Red Sox, Racist Logos, Yankees, or Angels, because they all still have un-expanded 25-man rosters posted. Fair is fair). So we will all just have to inhale deeply and take this with a small but delicious grain of salt. Anyways.
30.3 isn’t a bad average age. Of the teams I looked at, the average average age (oy) is 29.11. The Tigers’ 30.3 is the highest of those, but the lowest is the Twins at 28.53, so there’s not a ton of variance. What’s interesting (and to me, worrying) is how that 30.3 breaks down.
What I did here was look at the standard deviation of ages on each team. The standard deviation tells you how closely your numbers hold to the average. So if you have a set of numbers with an average of 30 and you have a relatively SMALL standard deviation, your set would contain numbers like 30, 31, 32, 30, 29, 30, 31, 30. If your set had an average of 30 but a relatively BIG standard deviation, your numbers would look more like 45, 20, 30, 21, 38, 35, 43 and so on. A big standard deviation means that your numbers DEVIATE more from the average.
What standard deviation does for us here is tell us how widely variable a team’s ages are. A team with an average age of 30 and a relatively low standard deviation would have lots of guys right around age 30. A team with an average age of 30 and a relatively high standard deviation would have some guys right around age 30, but also lots of extremes, i.e. more really old guys and really young guys, and fewer ‘average-age’ guys.
My ~*~vague impression~*~ was that the Tigers would have a higher standard deviation in age than most teams. This impression was formed the same way comments about Derek Jeter’s calm eyes or David Eckstein’s scraptardation are formed: mostly baseless pattern-seeking tendencies in the human brain. I FEEL like the Tigers have unusually lots of really old or really young guys, but who knows, right? That might just be the result of me not paying such close attention to the rest of MLB.
This is not a stat blog. But I didn’t want to make a statement like that when I knew full well it could actually just be my own personal bias talking, and when it was something I COULD check. So, with no further ado, I present to you the average ages and standard deviations in age for the American League in 2008 (minus teams with unexpanded rosters at the moment).
average age: 28.8
standard deviation: 3.95
average age: 29.71
standard deviation: 4.31
average age: 29.05
standard deviation: 4.23
average age: 29.39
standard deviation: 4.06
average age: 28.81
standard deviation: 3.75
average age: 28.84
standard deviation: 4.07
average age: 28.71
standard deviation: 3.71
average age: 30.3
standard deviation: 5.23
average age: 28.53
standard deviation: 3.45
average age: 29
standard deviation: 4.21
Mmm, sweet juicy vindication.
As you’ll note, the Tigers have the highest standard deviation, by a lot. This means that, compared to most other AL teams, the Tigers have an unusually high number of Extreme Age players: guys who are either old and decrepit and Kenny Rogers, or guys who are young and bubbly and Cameron Maybin.
All of this is a very roundabout way of hammering home my concern. I’m not worried that the Tigers are too old or too young; I’m worried that the Tigers are too old AND too young. We’ll be suffering through inexperienced players trying to find their feet and older players physically breaking down AT THE SAME TIME. That’s what freaks me out. That’s not the norm for a baseball team. Usually it’s one or the other, or something else entirely. Both at once… I don’t know. I don’t like it. We need our team to merge back in towards the mean. The young kids have to grow up and the old guys have to sputter through the ends of their contracts.
What ALSO worries me is the way that our Extreme Age players seem to fall in places where we really don’t want them. It wouldn’t be SO bad if a lot of the pitching staff was on the older end, because you get older, mostly-effective pitchers fairly often. But look at our infield. Guillen and Polanco are both riding up on 33; that doesn’t seem so old, but it’s on the upper end of effectiveness for leaping, stretching, baserunner-impacting infield positions, especially for guys who already have injury histories. If we have to have super-young players, why can’t they be infielders? Alas, instead we have a fairly aged infield, some extremely young pitchers, and a pretty young outfield (assuming that we’ll have Granderson, and then even if Maybin starts the year in the minors, Clevlen and/or Raburn will stay). You can hide old guys in the outfield or on the pitching staff, but you can’t hide them at second base or at catcher.
I’m not sure if there’s a solution here. It may be that 2008 is the year we spend waiting for everyone to either mature or expire. I very much don’t want it to be, especially because I think we had the raw talent to go the distance THIS year if it hadn’t been for rotten luck and injuries… But. The young guys who just came up at the end of the year, in addition to the natural aging of everyone else, pushed our standard deviation of ages all out of whack. I don’t reckon we can re-whack it, and that worries me.