WFAN’s Sweeney Murti has a new blog piece up, one where he discusses Derek’s contract situation and asks people to check some of their assumptions on the aging core 4 players, specifically concerning Mr Derek Sanderson Jeter. He writes:
There’s another player, who at age 33, hit .336 with a .415 on-base, 20 home runs, 30 stolen bases. He tied his career-low for a full season by committing only 5 errors and won a well-deserved Gold Glove. It was probably one of the three or four best seasons of his career.
The next year Roberto Alomar’s OPS dropped nearly 250 points. Over the next three years he totaled 20 home runs and 28 stolen bases, and 24 errors, his lightning quick hands and feet no longer able to play at an All-Star level.
The scary part is this—go to Alomar’s page on baseball-reference.com and scroll to the bottom. Every player has a list of the ten closest players he compares to statistically for his career. The number one guy on Alomar’s list, the player he most closely resembles statistically…is Derek Jeter.
Don’t get me wrong…this is not me telling you that Jeter is going to hit .264 this year and fall off the map. I think Jeter has shown himself to be very conscious of what his body needs at this stage of his career and the work it takes to maintain this level of play. But when the skills erode (especially bat speed), they might go quickly.
I couldn’t agree more with Sweeney’s take. Coming off Alomar’s 2001 season, anyone who would have projected a big drop would have been called crazy, yet that’s precisely what happened. Most projection systems (CHONE/PECOTA/ZiPS) have Derek poised to have a good, if unspectacular season. It’s important to remember that while most projection systems take age into account, they are still an average of all potential factors. Recent seasons, age, player profile, etc. But when some players lose it, there’s nothing ‘averaged out’ about it. Their bat slows down, and they can no longer get around on the fastball. So they adjust and start sitting on breaking pitches. Pitchers notice this, adjust accordingly, and give the player a steady diet of nothing that he can handle. They challenge him with hard strikes in the zone (that he has to swing at) and the breaking stuff gets put in places where the batter can’t do much with it. Next thing you know, he’s having an awful season and most fans can’t figure out why.
This stuff goes on all the time in Baseball. Not just due to age, but sometimes a player will be hiding an injury which can affect his swing. With Pitch FX data, you can find a batter’s recent cold spot and attack it mercilessly (side note-That’s why many people over apply and misuse SSS. Advance scouting is all about gathering info based on small samples). Once opposing pitchers identify a weakness, they will pound you on it until you make them pay. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments. Once a player loses the ability to counter what pitchers are trying to do to him, his options dwindle and his career is coming to a close. That’s why Brian Cashman is smart not to sign Derek. An Alomar-style drop off this year would be bad enough on it’s own, having him signed for another 4-5 years after this at huge money would be brutal.
Another important note. In recent years, we have seen players doing amazing things at advanced ages, and have come to be more dismissive of the affects of age. We found out later that much of those accomplishments were chemically induced. We all assume Derek is one of the ‘clean’ players. If he is, then we should expect him to age the way players aged when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. Back then, 35 was an age that fans treated with great caution and trepidation. Some defied the odds, but most fell by the wayside and were one step closer to their next game being at Old Timer’s Day. We would be wise to take an equally cautious approach with Derek this season.