Major League Baseball goes through different stages of what is considered a player’s peak. Usually, it falls somewhere in a player’s late twenties, though in the late 1990s through early 2000s, when older baseball players such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds were Simply Working Harder Than Everybody Else Out There (after all, they were Baby Boomers, unlike the slacker Gen-Xers and Millennials who have followed them in the sport), the sport was littered with players in their thirties who remained dominant. Today, much of the popular attention in the sport is paid to young, ascending superstars.

If you’re a reader who is in your late 30s or older, it is obvious that you are older than the bulk of Major League Baseball. There may be some older players than you, but there is no illusion that the distribution between those older and those younger than you is anywhere close to equal. By the same token, if you’re a teenager, every player in the big leagues is older than you are.

But if you’re in your mid-to-late twenties, it’s not quite as obvious. So that is where this pointless exercise comes in–at what age would a team of players older and a team of players younger be of roughly equal value?

There is no exact, scientific way to do this, but I want to keep things relatively simple, so I am going to use 2019 Steamer projections for Wins Above Replacement to create a nine-man lineup, one at each position. Perhaps a 25-man roster would make more sense in some ways, but then it becomes more difficult to account for playing time. Additionally, evaluating pitchers are a bit tricky in that if we were to assume that one game is being played, the pitchers are certainly the most valuable players in the game, but I’m going to justify weighing them equally based on the fact that any other weight is going to be arbitrary, so I might as well keep players on an even playing ground.

I’m going to show my work here, so let’s start, conservatively, at 30. Any player in his 30s or above is on the Over team, and any player in his 20s or below is on the Under team. In baseball terms, if you’re Jose Quintana (who turned 30 yesterday) or older, you’re on the Over team.

Over:

Catcher: Buster Posey (4.2 WAR)

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt (4.2 WAR)

Second Base: Robinson Cano (2.8 WAR)

Shortstop: Brandon Crawford (2.6 WAR)

Third Base: Justin Turner (4.1 WAR)

Left Field: Starling Marte (2.8 WAR)

Center Field: Lorenzo Cain (3.7 WAR)

Right Field: J.D. Martinez (3.4 WAR)

Pitcher: Jacob deGrom (5.8 WAR)

Under:

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto (3.6 WAR)

First Base: Freddie Freeman (4.2 WAR)

Second Base: Jose Altuve (4.5 WAR)

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor (6.6 WAR)

Third Base: Jose Ramirez (5.9 WAR)

Left Field: Christian Yelich (4.9 WAR)

Center Field: Mike Trout (8.7 WAR)

Right Field: Mookie Betts (7.1 WAR)

Pitcher: Chris Sale (6.5 WAR)

The Over team is worth 33.6 WAR. The Under is worth 52 WAR. Obviously, we will need to push the median forward in time a bit. So let’s make the cut-off “anyone born in 1990 or before” is the over. I can tell right now that pushing to 1989 isn’t going to cut it (the only 1989 players are Freeman and Sale).

Over:

Catcher: Buster Posey (4.2 WAR)

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt (4.2 WAR)

Second Base: Jose Altuve (4.5 WAR)

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons (3.9 WAR)

Third Base: Anthon Rendon (5.0 WAR)

Left Field: Marcell Ozuna (3.4 WAR)

Center Field: George Springer (3.8 WAR)

Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton (4.2 WAR)

Pitcher: Chris Sale (6.5 WAR)

Under:

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto (3.6 WAR)

First Base: Cody Bellinger (3.9 WAR)

Second Base: Ozzie Albies (3.3 WAR)

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor (6.6 WAR)

Third Base: Jose Ramirez (5.9 WAR)

Left Field: Christian Yelich (4.9 WAR)

Center Field: Mike Trout (8.7 WAR)

Right Field: Mookie Betts (7.1 WAR)

Pitcher: Luis Severino (4.5 WAR)

The new WAR balance amounts to 39.7 WAR for the Over and 48.5 WAR for the Under. It’s getting closer, but we aren’t quite to an equilibrium. The Under is largely helped by the presence of two particular players–Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Perhaps sliding one of the two to the older team is in order. The new cut-off is players born on or before August 7, 1991, so that Mike Trout can switch teams.

Over:

Catcher: Buster Posey (4.2 WAR)

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt (4.2 WAR)

Second Base: Jose Altuve (4.5 WAR)

Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons (3.9 WAR)

Third Base: Anthony Rendon (5.0 WAR)

Left Field: Marcell Ozuna (3.4 WAR)

Center Field: Mike Trout (8.7 WAR)

Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton (4.2 WAR)

Pitcher: Chris Sale (6.5 WAR)

Under:

Catcher: Gary Sanchez (3.1 WAR)

First Base: Cody Bellinger (3.9 WAR)

Second Base: Ozzie Albies (3.3 WAR)

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor (6.6 WAR)

Third Base: Jose Ramirez (5.9 WAR)

Left Field: Juan Soto (4.0 WAR)

Center Field: Christian Yelich (4.9 WAR)

Right Field: Mookie Betts (7.1 WAR)

Pitcher: Luis Severino (4.5 WAR)

The Over stands at 44.6 WAR. The under stands at 43.3 WAR. And if the date moved from August 7, 1991 to August 6, 1991, the under would win. Unsurprisingly, the balance of power in baseball comes down to Mike Trout.

One thought on “The break-even age for modern baseball stars

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