Tigers young and old

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

Blue Jays
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

Wrong Sox
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.


16 responses to “Tigers young and old

  1. I initially misread the numbers and was like, “Hey, high is good! . . . Wait a minute. OH CRAP.”

  2. hmmmm this is a lot of numbers. who ever said you need data to back up your theories?!
    but i understand your general concern.

  3. Ha ha, well, it’s not like a high SD is inherently bad… it’s nice that we have all those young guys for the future, for instance. But teams made up of extremes, either young or old, just seem to have more problems than otherwise. Again, it’s not ALL bad: sometimes the two offset each other, like the old guys are more likely to get injured but the young guys are marginally less likely to get hurt, or the young guys don’t really know what to expect in various situations but the old guys do and can mentor them a bit. I would just feel a lot better if the whole team was more moderately aged…

  4. Thank you for taking a vague fear of mine and making it concrete. Ugh. “We’re too young AND too old!” seems like such a stupid thing to say, so I’m glad you did this and gave me something I can point to, like, no, we REALLY ARE. But. Dude. I now fear whatever other vague concerns I had about the ’08 team…

  5. Aw, Samela is sooooo cute when she gets all number-y… lol. I have to wonder if what this really means is that Papa Double D and Curmudgeonly Uncle Smoky Jim really know what they’re doing… The risk that you are talking about, that we’re too young AND too old? Guess what? I think that’s what happened to us THIS year. Old pitcher turned up with strange veinous problem that shut him down for the first half of the year, then also turned up with a tender elbow that put him on the shelf for basically another month. Young pitcher who hasn’t passed the “injury nexus” (something like a theory that all young pitchers will face a serious injury at some point before they are, say, 27, then can expect, say, 6-8 years of good health before their actual physical skills start to decline) gets shut down for half the year. Young-ish infielder (Inge) inexplicably forgets how to hit for months at a time. Old infielder needs plenty of days off for rickety knees (Guillen). Middle-age outfielder who was never that good in the first place (Monroe) just plain disappears. Youngster that’s brought up to replace him (Maybin) clearly isn’t ready. All those problems you’re describing? They already happened. And the team still won 88 games, and if they had been able to go 10-8 vs. the aslk;flakwjgad Indians instead of 6-12, they’d have at least played game no. 163. I don’t view this as a bad thing at all. Concern over what the Tigers will look like in 2011? Sure. But why worry about 2011 today?

  6. I think this did happen a bit this year, but I think (and I think this is what Sam’s sayin’) it’s going to be a lot worse next year, i.e. the divide between the really young and really old is expanding, hence that big fat sdev. Our old guys obviously all got a year older, and we’re getting a big influx of young guys (if not right out of the gates, then certainly when call-ups start filtering in for good). We’re still contracted into a bunch of those old guys for next season, and some of them the season beyond that. I think that’s why the concern is big for next year, and it’ll be a bigger factor in ’08 than it was in ’07, and it’ll be a bigger factor in ’08 than it will be in ’09 (when we lose more of the old guys and the team average age as a whole tends towards the younger).
    BTW, good post, Sam. I wonder how the Tigers’ team age stacks up against the NL… but I surely don’t have the patience to go through each team and calculate it. :P

  7. Yeah, well, *maybe* it gets worse next year… But doesn’t it get better after that? Rogers has to retire at some point, and even if he doesn’t, Maybin, Zumaya, Bonderman, Jurrjens, Miller… They all get a year older. In fact, a team’s standard deviation, assuming no changes in the players (yeah, I know, quite an assumption, but still), should stay constant due to the fact that *all players age at the same rate*. It’s only what players are added or subtracted that will make any difference. And, in that vain, we’ll probably be adding a middle-aged shortstop at some point this off-season… And that shortstop will likely stay for at least 2-3 years, and during those years, Kenny Rogers will likely retire, and maybe Todd Jones will, too… And the middle-aged Vance Wilson will replace the young-ish Mike Rabelo, don’t forget… And what else are we looking for, maybe a left fielder? Maybe a FA SP to shore up one rotation spot? All of those would be adding more middle age to the roster…
    Wait, did Sam’s calculations have Jurjens, Maybin and Miller in them? If not, I can see where things will skew a little farther next year. But if they do, I think it will likely only get better.

  8. She said she included everyone on the roster… I’d assume that includes Jurrjens et. al. And I think it WILL get better after next year because, like I said, the older players will leave (either retiring or because their contracts are up and we HOPEFULLY won’t re-up them), but it’s next year that we’re worried about. If we were an entirely young team we could say, eh, wait a year for everyone to mature, and if we were an entirely old team we could say, eh, wait a year for some of the kids to come up… but both at once? Urk.

  9. Firstly – that baby Tiger (I almost want to name Cammie May or something) is so freaking cute. I almost want to replace my sad Tigerfly wallpaper at work with that. His little stirrups!
    I’m not *too* worried about age. Maybin can only get better and Jurrjens was already looking good, even if both are young. Verlander had an awesome 2nd year which bodes well for an even more awesome 3rd year. Bonderman, fingers crossed, will have realized you *say* something when your elbow is ouchy. Granderson is going to show us that he has no ceiling and other really really optimistic things that I like to tell myself as winter dawns and the next Tigers game is months away. It’s gonna be awesome! I can totally believe that for at least two months, right?

  10. PfP, you’re welcome. :P
    Jeff, FrogMan addressed some of what I would’ve said to you. My concern is for next year, and I DO think this is going to be a problem. Sure we can wait ’til ’09 or ’10, but why? We have a talented team– like you said, we did damn well this year with these guys, and a lot of them will be back– and we can do well with them in ’08…. if the old guys don’t break down and the young guys don’t get fatigued with a big league season they’re not used to, or whatever. Of course that’s a problem that plagues EVERY team… but on a team with a big split between really old and really young players, the problem is magnified. And my point is in part how utterly frustrating that’s gonna be if it turns out to screw up the ’08 season: knowing we have these talented players, just we’re catching them together at the wrong times in their careers!
    Trev, you’re right on about most of that. I actually DID start looking at the NL numbers, and a couple of them had higher sdevs than the Tigers did (‘tho for instance the Braves’ number was definitely skewed by the fact that they still have Julio-holy-freaking-cats-he’s-gonna-be-50-Franco on their roster). It was just taking way too long and I figured it was more important to at least have the AL covered.
    k, hee, I’m glad someone noticed the stirrups! I’m agitating for their return.
    And yeah, I think Granderson is going to be great next year… heck, he was great this year. He’s also not too young at 26, and (knock on wood) hasn’t had any persistent injury problems. It’s mostly true that Maybin can only get better, but given how he was hitting in the bigs, that may not be saying much! Personally speaking I’d like to see him at least start the year in AAA. I don’t know… guys seem to get rushed up at young ages a lot more these days, and I’m not sure it’s exactly a wise move. I think Jurrjens would benefit from some more time in the minors too. It’s good that they’re young in the sense that they’re somewhat less injury prone, and if they do get hurt they tend to heal faster, but they also tend to fatigue faster and they may or may not be mentally ready to play in the majors– I don’t think there’s a good test out there for that just yet. :P

  11. Oh, I meant to say this the first time but forgot. If you take away the cane, that oldster tiger almost looks like a tiger-ified version of Jim Leyland…

  12. Samara has gone sabermetric! Got to love those standard deviations.

  13. Check out this video of this Tigers fan at Comerica Park, it’s hilarious: http://www.expotv.com/videos/reviews/21/188/Comerica-Park/175338

  14. I can’t agree with Jim that the Tiger fan in the video was hilarious, ya know?

  15. Jules, yeah, the guy in that video says “y’know” as often as teenage girls say “like”. I’m afraid I can’t exactly call it recommended viewing. :P
    PfP, he kind of DOES look like Jim Leyland. I swear that was unintentional…
    Lee, just ’cause I usually choose not to saber up the blog doesn’t mean I can’t. :) I just see RotT fitting into a rather different type of blogging niche.

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