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Aging Angels and the Curve of Doom

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Aging curves of some of the “older” position players

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve already looked at some other predictors for the upcoming 2019 season, so this time we are going to look at a different one. Aging curves. Before we dig too deep into this, the Angels are certainly getting younger. On the position players side, guys like David Fletcher, Michael Hermosillo, Shohei Ohtani, and Taylor Ward are certainly helping to lower the curve - as our pitcher like Shohei Ohtani, Jaime Barria, and Keynan Middleton. In 2019, some more youngsters will likely be ready for their debut, including Matt Thaiss (24), Luis Rengifo (22), Jose Suarez (21), and Griffin Canning (23). We might even see a 20 year old Jo Adell make an appearance before the season is over.

However, there are some position players who are on the wrong side of the aging curve and we’ll take a look at them here. Exactly WHAT is the wrong side of the aging curve is up for a little bit of debate, but here is an aging curve from a few years ago. If you follow the green line, you can see the drop off has been a bit more pronounced since the end of the steroid era - certainly not a coincidence.

Another recent article points out that you don’t automatically become terrible at age 30.

The chart from that last article shows that older players don’t always suck - BUT it also shows a higher percentage of WAR by position players in the 26-30 range (roughly around “peak”) AND also shows that age 30-33 players are taking in a similar share of WAR as those 19-25 year old youngsters in recent years.

Let’s start this off with Andrelton Simmons who is NOT on the bad end of the curve and is also the youngest player in this article. If anything, it’s more of an example of a chart in which the player has not yet hit their peak, or started any sort of noticeable decline.

Simmons has a nice looking chart indeed. The Angels picked him up just as he was entering his prime on the offensive side and there’s no reason to believe he can’t keep up a similar level of performance or even improve over the next year or two.

I didn’t expect to see this in Justin Upton’s chart. He’s starting to enter the supposedly decline years and DID drop off slightly from 2017 to 2018 but he’s had dips just about evey other year. The question is - will his line continue to drop as he goes into his age 31 season or will he have another one of his chart spikes? Upton turns 32 in August, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him drop off a bit this season.

More bad news from Kole Calhoun. Re-tooling his swing may not be his only problem. Aside from a slight uptick in his age 28 season, he’s been dropping off since age 26. This “early aging” curve may be due much more to the increased in shifts, but if you saw my previous article on Calhoun, hitting against a shift isn’t necessarily his main problem. Either way, the trend the past few years has not been a good one and doesn’t bode well for a big season from Calhoun.

One year of decline doesn’t really make a compelling case, but Bour will be 31 in May and had a rather large drop off over his last season. If his drop became a trend, we could see him fall below 100 wRC+ in 2019. Can he bounce back in 2019 at age 31? An interesting note is that Bour (small sample size) has hit really well in Oakland and Texas. Angels Stadium is one of 5 stadiums where he has never logged an at bat.

Zach Cozart was perhaps never going to have another season like he did in 2017. AN injury shot down changes last year and now we’ll see what he can do in his age 33 season. If he comes back healthy, we may see him rebound back up around that 100 wRC+ mark but I wouldn’t expect it to go too high and somewhere int he 90s may be pretty realistic.

Jonathan Lucroy had a fantastic season in 2016 when he played for the Brewers and Rangers but has been on a downward slope since. It’s not unrealistic that Lucroy, who turns 33 in June, will continue this slide.

Not sure where to begin on this one and we’ve beat this dead horse a lot over the past few years. Pujols will be in his age 39 season with 3 years left on his contract and don’t even both looking at age 39 comps unless you want to be depressed. Pujols did have a slight rebound in 2018, but when you are rebounding from a 78 wRC+ in 2017, it’s not too hard to do that and still have your job. The question probably isn’t if Pujols can get back to 100 this year, but can he stay about 90 or even 80??

Age is just a number, right? Well, not always - at least when you play professional sports.