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 ESPN Insider, Baseball's best bets to beat Father Time (Feb 8, 2017)

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PostSubject: ESPN Insider, Baseball's best bets to beat Father Time (Feb 8, 2017)   Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:42 pm

ESPN Insider


Baseball's best bets to beat Father Time
Mike Trout's initial greatness makes him an obvious choice to be excellent with age, but who ranks right behind him? AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
10:34 AM ET

Dan SzymborskiSpecial to ESPN.com

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No matter how talented a player you are, or how many Cy Youngs and/or MVP awards you win, time will get you in the end. For a team investing a hundred million bucks -- or more -- in a player in his late 20s or early 30s, the difference between that player aging normally and aging terribly can have an enormous impact on the bottom line.

Want an example? Think Ryan Howard. If he had aged normally, it would have been a terrible contract. ZiPS projected him as being worth significantly less than half his contract at the time. But he aged worse than the typical player, and the contract was a total loss.

To really score on a contract, teams need to be able to identify players who are more likely to age well than even the projection models predict. With weak free-agent markets making it more imperative than ever to keep legitimate stars out of the winter auctions, teams can't afford to put these types of decisions off forever.

With the caveat that I don't personally have $100 million to risk on a player's career -- my bank was quite adamant about not granting that credit line increase -- let's take a stab at guessing which stars today will age well. Hopefully, I'm not teased about too many of these guesses in 10 years.

Mike Trout: In any list of Good Things, we're legally required to include Trout -- he probably makes it onto lists of top taco stands and the 10 best 2017 family sedans -- so it makes sense to get him out of the way at the beginning. Trout is the all-time Baseball-Reference.com WAR leader among hitters through their age-24 season, and only two players are even within 10 of his tally of 48.5 WAR at that point in their career -- Ty Cobb at 46.7 and Mickey Mantle at 40.9.

Injuries are going to be a concern for everyone, but in terms of raw ability, Trout is so far up in the stratosphere that decline barely dents him, short of getting hit by that proverbial bus. Trout is at more than 9.0 WAR per year in his full seasons, and if you ding him more than two-thirds of his performance and he becomes just a 3.0 WAR-a-year player for the next 15 years, he's still a top-20 player all time.

Now, paying Future Mike Trout money to a very good player rather than to Mike Trout would be disappointing, but a scenario in which he still doesn't contribute a lot to a winning team would need something cataclysmic.

Joey Votto: ZiPS currently pegs Votto to be one of the very rare first-base/DH bonanza deals to actually come very near to paying off fully for the team. There were some questions in 2014 about just where he was, but he has safely put those concerns to bed the past two years.

Votto is a great student of hitting, and you could see this in his approach in 2016. Despite a sub-.700 OPS as late as May 29, he still finished with a .326/.434/.550 season, leading the National League in OPS+ at 160. He reportedly worked as hard on his struggles as the hungriest prospect you can find.

I can see Votto still putting up a .400 OBP at age 40, and if he doesn't, Votto strikes me as one of those guys who would walk away quickly if he dropped down to mediocrity, something the Reds might appreciate, given that he's signed through an age-40 team option.

Editor's Picks

Can Freddie Freeman repeat his MVP-level breakthrough?

Freddie Freeman was one of the best hitters in baseball over the second half of last season. Will he be able to carry that momentum over to 2017?
Which players are primed for a decline in 2017?

Will Brian Dozier still hit tons of homers? Will the Cubs' defense continue to save John Lackey? We look at whether players will build on a strong 2016 or are set to regress this year.

Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner: I'm cheating to pick two in one entry, but even if Kershaw/Bumgarner isn't as difficult a debate as Mays/Mantle, these two pitchers are intrinsically linked as part of the modern Giants/Dodgers rivalry. ZiPS does use velocity data in its long-term projections, and while it's better to throw 98 mph than 88, high-strikeout pitchers who don't blow away hitters with high speed do hold up, short of injury (the bugaboo of all pitchers). Kershaw's curve will still be getting batters out in 10 years -- don't compare him with curveball artist Barry Zito, because Kershaw is better than Zito ever was -- and Bumgarner's slider/cutter thing, which is about 10 different pitches, depending on the velocity, will continue to fool batters.

Freddie Freeman: ZiPS only has Freeman aging a bit better than the average player, but I think Atlanta's franchise player will beat that. Of players with 1,000 plate appearances or more since 2011, Freeman is the line-drive champion; his 27.3 percent line-drive rate just squeezes out Joey Votto. And among those top 30 line-drive hitters in that span, only two are also in the top 30 for hard-hit balls: Freeman and Votto.

Jose Altuve: He has added home run power in the past two years, hitting 39 after 21 total in the previous three-and-a-half seasons. While the power won't last forever, the truly elite singles/doubles hitters have a history of aging like a fine wine. Neither Ichiro Suzuki nor Derek Jeter nor Tony Gwynn nor Paul Molitor nor Brett Butler showed any serious signs of decline until they were approaching their late 30s. ZiPS fully agrees with this, not projecting Altuve to decline to even the level of an average offensive second baseman until his age-38 season, an unusually non-grumpy long-term output for a projection system.

Christian Yelich: Call it a hunch, but watching Christian Yelich's swing, it's hard for me to not see him still hitting .290-.310 a decade from now. If anything, he reminds me of Will Clark, who retired at age 36 but probably would have stayed unchanged for another five years if he had come back (his final season was a 145 OPS+ with a .319/.418/.546 line). OK, Yelich is not as good as Clark, even if he shares a drool-worthy swing, but Will the Thrill wasn't going to be asked to play much center field.
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ESPN Insider, Baseball's best bets to beat Father Time (Feb 8, 2017)

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