Friday, April 01, 2011

Twins Past Their Prime? Not Hardly.

One of our local sports writers is getting ahead of himself. He suggests that the Twins are an aging team and therefore should expect to finish behind the White Sox and Tigers. But, in fact, the Twins remained one the younger side teams in baseball last season. According to baseball reference the average age of their hitters and pitchers was each only slightly over 28. Bill James, back in the mid-80's did a study that players' best year was somewhere between 27 and 28. That is also the average age of major league players. But baseball reference uses a weighted average based on how much a player played. The raw league average age is pulled down by young players who get brief callups. And if you look at performance by age, it is not a bell curve. In fact, players averages hit their peak around 27 or 28 and plateau until age 30 or 31 and then start to decline.

Using baseball reference ages, the Twins hitters on average were the 10th youngest team in baseball, only Cleveland in the Central Division was younger. Its pitching was slightly older than average at 28.6, the major league average was 28.4. That put them at 22nd in terms of pitching. In the division, KC,Detroit and Cleveland were all considerably younger. The White Sox pitching was almost a year older.

Of course, that was last year. The only hitters over the average age last year who will be back are Jim Thome (who pulled the average up a lot with 108 games and 340 at bats),MIchael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. Players who pulled the average up that are gone include Orlando Hudson, Nick Punto and Brendan Harris. From this year's Twins lineup, based on their age last year, you would expect four players Span,Young, Valencia, Casilla and Nishioka to be better than last year. You would expect Mauer, Kubel and Morneau to be in their primes, neither much better or much worse and you would expect declines only from Cuddyer and Thome. The bench has Butera who should improve, while Repko and Tolbert are in their primes. That is not a formula for decline. In fact, the Twins offense should get slightly better based on their age last year and the fact they got younger in the offseason.

On the pitching staff, Pavano and Nathan are the only returning players who are past their prime based on age. Rauch, Guerrier, Fuentes pulled the average up and they are gone along with Jesse Crain who was right at league average. Baker and Blackburn are in their primes at 28, the same age as Crain. Slowey, Duensing and Liriano were all below league average in age. As were Capps, Mijares, Perkins and Manship who will be with the team this year. Again, the Twins got rid of a lot of aging players over the off-season and restocked with young players.

Based solely on their age, you can expect declines from Pavano, Nathan, Cuddyer and Thome. You can expect Mauer, Kubel, Morneau, Baker and Blackburn to perform at about the same level. And you can expect Span, Young, Valencia, Casilla, Nishioka, Capps, Mijares, Perkins and Manship to improve. Of course age is not the only factor. If they are healthy, Nathan and Morneau will probably be more productive than last year.

So our local sports writer's claim that the "ravages of age" are catching up to the Twins is wrong. He knows better and is just stirring the pot. What this actually shows is one reason the Twins have been successful for so long. The Twins are constantly replacing aging players with younger ones. That was part of what prompted the middle-infield makeover this off-season. Where he is right, is that the Twins two MVP's, Mauer and Morneau, are no longer up-coming young players. But he ignores the likely emergence of Delmon Young into that group of stars that provides the basis for a championship team. And, as I said at the start, he is way ahead of himself. The Twins may be headed for decline in the future if guys like Young, Gibson, Hicks and Sano don't blossom into superstars like Mauer and Morneau. But that is not going to happen in 2011.

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