Monday, February 13, 2012

On Gordon And Aging

I noticed an interesting thing the other day while looking at 20+ home run seasons by Royals outfielders, all but one of them were achieved by players in their 20's. See for yourself.

Rk Player HR Year Age
1 Danny Tartabull 34 1987 24
2 Jermaine Dye 33 2000 26
3 Bo Jackson 32 1989 26
4 Danny Tartabull 31 1991 28
5 Carlos Beltran 29 2002 25
6 Bo Jackson 28 1990 27
7 Jermaine Dye 27 1999 25
8 Carlos Beltran 26 2003 26
9 Danny Tartabull 26 1988 25
10 Amos Otis 26 1973 26
11 Bo Jackson 25 1988 25
12 Carlos Beltran 24 2001 24
13 Alex Gordon 23 2011 27
14 Al Cowens 23 1977 25
15 Carlos Beltran 22 1999 22
16 Bo Jackson 22 1987 24
17 Amos Otis 22 1978 31
18 Jeff Francoeur 20 2011 27
19 Mark Quinn 20 2000 26
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used

Now if Bo hadn't got hurt, if Beltran and Dye hadn't got traded and if Tartabull had resigned then, of course, this list would look completely different. But that's only four players, and in a franchise that has accumulated 40+ seasons, that's not much. Consider this; there have been just as many 20+ home run seasons by infielder/DH's in their 30's than by outfielders total. There have been 19 of those too, only four of which were by George Brett. (I count Jose Guillen's 2008 in this category since he hit half his home runs and did most of his damage as a DH.)

What that means I couldn't tell you, other than when an older player is signed or traded for, he more than likely was an infielder or DH (examples would include Gary Gaetti, Jeff King, Chili Davis and Jay Bell). There have been less than 30 seasons in team history where a 30+ year old outfielder came to the plate 400 or more times, and half of those were courtesy of Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Jim Eisenreich.

I can tell you're wondering what this has to do with Alex Gordon and I'm about to tell you. He just turned 28 years old and is close to entering the downward slope of his career. Now his body type and offensive approach suggests he will probably be productive into early 30's but I don't believe he'll have more than a couple seasons as dominating as last year's. What I'm saying is that if he doesn't come down on his contract demands, and ends up walking after the 2013 season, I may be ok with that.

Joe Posnanski wrote a wonderfully informative article on WAR and aging a few days ago, which I thought I would apply to the Royals. I'm going to stray from his methodology a bit and also include home runs and OPS+. And of course, as always, I'll be using's WAR.

We'll start with WAR. Now where Poz used 6.0 as the floor I'm going to use 4.0, which I think is still a mighty fine season, plus I wasn't looking for MVP candidates like he was. There have been 47 4+ WAR seasons in Royals history and 31 of those came by players between the ages of 23 and 27.

Of the 14 seasons by players 28 and older Brett accounted for five of them (man, that guy really skews the results of any Royals offensive historical search). By KC standards Gordon is at the early stages of being past his prime. Like with home runs, trades and free agency also affect this chart. But those things happen and will continue to happen.

For OPS+ I looked at all the players who were at or above 120 with a minimum 500 plate appearances.

Ages 24-26 is the magic number here but there is basically no difference between the ages of 27 and 31, which incidentally would be Gordon's age at the completion of a four year extension. The best two seasons of Danny Tartabull's career came at 28 (171) and 29 (152, as a Yankee). He only had one season above 120 in his 30's and that was at the age of 30 (134). Remember, Gordon will be in KC at least through his age 29 season. Just something to think about. Brett's best season came at 27 (203) when he won the MVP in 1980. From 28-31, though, he was no slouch as he posted a 142 OPS+, which is close to the 140 Gordon put up last year.

I mentioned home runs above and will finish with it so I guess we've come full circle. There have been 63 20+ seasons which is not that impressive or all that important, but I thought I'd include it anyway.

Unsurprisingly 25-27 year olds highlight this chart as well, but like with OPS+, it remains fairly steady among 28-31 year olds. Steve Balboni was 28 years old when he set the franchise record with 36 home runs and then followed that up with 29 at 24 the next two seasons. Gordon has a far more disciplined approach than Balboni so, you know, if Bye Bye can do it then so can A1.

My preference is for Dayton Moore to keep Gordon around through his age 31 season as I believe he'll be productive so long as he's healthy. I think Moore will find a way to make it happen without overpaying but if he can't, and Gordon does indeed walk after next season, I'm not so sure that'll be something to lose sleep over.

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