Hello, friends. I was born on January 25, 1989, one day after two notable American League players–Los Angeles Angels pitcher José Quintana and Kansas City Royals second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield–and one day before Branden Pinder, a New York Yankees relief pitcher in 2015 and 2016 who is substantially less famous than Quintana or Merrifield. I am, by most human standards, not particularly old. By the standards of Major League Baseball, I am ancient.

The first MLB player younger than I am is Madison Bumgarner, which is an unsettling fact not only because Bumgarner debuted a dozen years ago but because he feels old. Baseball fans a century from now will assume Madison Bumgarner pitched against Steve Carlton at some point in his career. Any baseball fan my senior can surely relate to realizing, in stages, that there are players that are younger than you, that most players are younger than you, that very few players are older than you, and eventually, that every single player in Major League Baseball was born after you. I still don’t know who that player will be for me. Probably Yadier Molina.

Recently, I was contemplating Mike Trout, the first player younger than I am who was a realistic contender for Best Player In Baseball, and how he will turn 30 next month, and how while he is still a perfectly reasonable pick for the best position player in the sport, the next several candidates after him are younger than he is. There was a point a couple years ago when I realized that Mike Trout was probably the pivot point–if players born before August 7, 1991 and players born after August 7, 1991 gathered to play in a game of baseball, the side that Trout (the only player in MLB history born precisely on that date) wound up moonlighting with would probably, on paper, be the better team. It doesn’t seem like Trout is still that pivot.

Or maybe he is. I don’t know. I’m curious to find out, though, for reasons which escape me. And if Mike Trout is no longer the median Great Baseball Player, which I suspect he probably is not, who is? I decided to investigate whether the Olds or Youngs would have a stronger starting nine based on projected Wins Above Replacement for the remainder of 2021, per the ZiPS formula. But since starting pitchers have an outsized influence on an individual game–if you have to win precisely one baseball game and you are electing to add a player other than Jacob deGrom to your lineup, you are a madman–I multiplied his value by four. Is this arbitrary? Yeah, kind of, but since there tend to be more dominant thirtysomething pitchers than hitters, it seems like a fair concession. And, hey, deGrom’s even older than I am!

As much as Mike Trout inspired this thought process of mine, he is merely a dynamic supporting character in this exercise rather than the focal point. But I decided to set the bar to start at those turning 30 years old today–let’s call it the Steven Okert Line. Let’s check out the lineups of guys born before and after Steven Okert.

OverROS WARDOBUnderROS WARDOB
CJ.T. Realmuto2.13/18/1991Will Smith1.83/28/1995
1BFreddie Freeman2.19/12/1989Vladimir Guerrero Jr.2.23/16/1999
2BJosé Altuve2.25/6/1990Ozzie Albies2.31/7/1997
SSMarcus Semien2.49/17/1990Trea Turner2.86/30/1993
3BAnthony Rendon2.16/6/1990José Ramírez2.99/17/1992
LFMichael Brantley1.65/15/1987Juan Soto2.810/25/1998
CFStarling Marte1.510/9/1988Mike Trout3.18/7/1991
RFWhit Merrifield1.71/24/1989Ronald Acuña Jr.3.312/18/1997
PJacob deGrom2.86/19/1988Shane Bieber2.35/31/1995
WAR26.90WAR30.40

Note: Technically, Anthony Rendon and Nolan Arenado, 30, are tied in projected WAR for the remainder of 2021, but I decided to go with Rendon for two reasons. One, Rendon was listed first on the leaderboard. Two, avoiding the St. Louis Cardinals third baseman is a good way to get people to accuse me of being an Arenado hater again.

As you can see, the Over 30 team is still really, really good. The team holds an edge in the battery and has only a modest deficit in the infield. But the outfield, while perfectly good for a team in the thirty-team Major Leagues, is lacking for superteam purposes. I mean, one of the guys–Merrifield–is moderately out of position, but I also don’t care enough about a Whit Merrifield vs. Mike Yastrzemski argument to really put up a fight. The point is that, as great as Jacob deGrom is, Shane Bieber is clearly superior if he also comes with Juan Soto, Mike Trout, and Ronald Acuña Jr in the outfield. I can see from the WAR differential, though, that Trout alone isn’t going to be enough–if you switched Trout for Marte, the U30s would only need a league average or so center fielder to keep it even. So let’s dial it back a full year–let’s look at the rosters of players before and after July 9, 1992.

OverROS WARDOBUnderROS WARDOB
CJ.T. Realmuto2.13/18/1991Will Smith1.83/28/1995
1BFreddie Freeman2.19/12/1989Vladimir Guerrero Jr.2.23/16/1999
2BJosé Altuve2.25/6/1990Ozzie Albies2.31/7/1997
SSMarcus Semien2.49/17/1990Trea Turner2.86/30/1993
3BAnthony Rendon2.16/6/1990José Ramírez2.99/17/1992
LFChristian Yelich1.812/5/1991Juan Soto2.810/25/1998
CFMike Trout3.18/7/1991Cody Bellinger2.27/13/1995
RFAaron Judge2.34/26/1992Ronald Acuña Jr.3.312/18/1997
PJacob deGrom2.86/19/1988Shane Bieber2.35/31/1995
WAR29.30WAR29.50

The gap has narrowed significantly and it is entirely outfielder based. The young team only lost one player–Mike Trout, who is replaced by a mere former MVP in Cody Bellinger–but the Olds importantly picked up Christian Yelich and Aaron Judge, guys who aren’t projected as strongly as Soto or Acuña but who are improvements over Michael Brantley and Whit Merrifield. The Youngs still have an outfield advantage, but it has narrowed significantly, and given that the Olds have Jacob deGrom, who sure doesn’t seem like he should be over a full year older than Madison Bumgarner but is, they are keeping things very respectable. But they still fall 0.2 WAR short.

From this point forward, the exercise becomes considerably more granular. The obvious place to turn is to the oldest player on the Youngs, which is Cleveland third baseman José Ramírez. Given that he represents a 0.8 WAR improvement over Anthony Rendon, even if the Youngs had an exact Ramírez replica, the Youngs can’t overcome the improvement of the Olds. But that’s not the guaranteed route–it is possible that there is a player or combination of players born between July 9, 1992 and September 17, 1992 who could swing things to the Olds without hurting the Youngs. And while there are 54 MLB players, including a few big names such as Noah Syndergaard, who fit said criteria, none move the needle on this superteam even a little bit. Until you get to José Ramírez. Here are the rosters once the September 17, 1992-born José Ramírez switches sides.

OverROS WARDOBUnderROS WARDOB
CJ.T. Realmuto2.13/18/1991Will Smith1.83/28/1995
1BFreddie Freeman2.19/12/1989Vladimir Guerrero Jr.2.23/16/1999
2BJosé Altuve2.25/6/1990Ozzie Albies2.31/7/1997
SSMarcus Semien2.49/17/1990Trea Turner2.86/30/1993
3BJosé Ramírez2.99/17/1992Alex Bregman2.63/30/1994
LFChristian Yelich1.85/15/1987Juan Soto2.810/25/1998
CFMike Trout3.18/7/1991Cody Bellinger2.27/13/1995
RFAaron Judge2.31/24/1989Ronald Acuña Jr.3.312/18/1997
PJacob deGrom2.86/19/1988Shane Bieber2.35/31/1995
WAR30.10WAR29.20

If you were born before September 17, 1992, congratulations on being washed. It’s an honorable group. We have Mike Trout on our side–how bad could it be? If you were born precisely on September 17, 1992, congratulations on your newfound significance. And if you were born after September 17, 1992, let me be the first to assure you that your time will come.

One thought on “What age is the mid-point for a premier 2021 MLB baseball player? A half-hearted research project

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