May 29, 2008


Surprise Teams Are All Young Teams (TIM MARCHMAN, May 29, 2008, NY Sun)

One of the emerging themes of this season is the sheer number of surprise teams. Arizona, expected to be good, spent much of the first two months as the best team in the National League. Tampa Bay, which has never lost fewer than 91 games, has taken over first place in the American League East. The Chicago White Sox, coming off a 90-loss season, are running up a lead in the American League Central. Florida, which looked like one of the worst teams in baseball on Opening Day, is lording over the National League East. And Oakland, which looked set for a year of rebuilding, is making a run in the American League West.

Meanwhile, some heavy favorites have been playing miserably. Both New York teams have been flailing about trying to reach .500; Detroit opened the season with seven losses and hasn't righted the ship yet, and Cleveland, which came within a game of the pennant last October, has been nearly as bad as Detroit. And the teams with the worst records in their leagues are Seattle, with a $114 million payroll and a new ace in Erik Bedard, and San Diego, which last year just missed making its third straight trip to the playoffs.

The causes of a given team's record are always overdetermined, but when you class them up, the teams playing above their heads tend to be unusually young. This shouldn't be a shock; younger teams are a bit healthier, have more players at an age where they're likelier to improve than to decline, and have more players in their primes, all of which adds up to a functional definition of the kind of luck that can help a team come out of nowhere. Nor should it be a shock that the under-performing teams are unusually old; teams full of brittle, declining players are of course the least likely to live up to expectations. What is surprising, though, is just how dramatic the differences are.

...the main effect may turn out not to be the increase in year over year performance but the high performance at advanced age of many players. Absent chemical assistance such older guys seem to be having more trouble getting and staying healthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 29, 2008 2:22 PM

"May"?????? Good grief. The primary advantage that steroids gave was NOT in strength, it was in recovery time. Guys like Canseco, Giambi, Bonds, McGwire, Bagwell, etc., used them to laughable excess to blow themselves up like balloons because there was absolutely no check on them, but guys like Palmeiro knew that you didn't have to do that. Historically in-season peformance dropped off a cliff in August and September, and career performance dropped off starting at age 34 or so. A 40-year-old is just not supposed to be physically capable of working out every day for 6 months straight.

Posted by: b at May 29, 2008 2:43 PM

Ryan, Maddux, Glavine, Moyer.....

Posted by: oj at May 29, 2008 7:30 PM

June is about to start, and Chicago's NL team upholds its traditions by being in 1st place. Not that it'll end up there.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 30, 2008 7:37 AM

most teams are on to the older players.

i never understood why everyone predicted such good things for the mets but, essentially, they are an old team. And they are, now common knowledge, a .500 team over 160 games. a plethora of older players couldn't sign contracts this off-season. No one wants the old guys anymore. except sf. why? there's something wrong with that gm.

yankees....older players past prime, but still good, which is why they might have something left in the tank. but it's an old team.

here's something fun to watch. they say the padres will dismantle and they'll give away some nice parts this trading session coming up. but look at who'll be available. nothing young, all old. they are saying the padres will get young. but i say no, i say no one wants the old padres players. no one's giving up much for what they'll offer.

no one wants the old. it officially became a young game this year. billy beane was 3-5 years ahead of the curve, theo 2. young is better.

Posted by: neil at May 30, 2008 7:54 AM

oj: I don't quite understand what point you think you're making by listing the names of 3 finesse pitchers and 1 pre-steroid power pitcher who appears to have been a legit freak of nature? Even these finesse pitchers were unable to do better than 5-6 innings every several days when they were in their late 30s. In the pre-modern era they wouldn't have been considered worth keeping on a roster.

Posted by: b at May 30, 2008 11:19 AM

Capable. Game changed.

Posted by: oj at May 30, 2008 11:35 AM

Yes, the game changed. What didn't change is that a 40-year-old body can pitch half a game every 5 days for most of a season, but cannot pitch a full game every 4 days or play 9 innings every day for a full season, unless drugs are involved.

Posted by: b at May 30, 2008 1:02 PM

They can, management doesn't have anyone do so.

Posted by: oj at May 30, 2008 3:18 PM