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Older hitters with Extra risk

It’s often that we see a player just drop off suddenly, but it’s no less surprising as a spectator, and no less heartbreaking as a fan. Andruw Jones is perhaps the poster child for this, going from consistent 6.0+ fWAR seasons to barely replacement level, right after he turned 30. But drop offs are expected, as players rarely age so gracefully as the likes of Barry Bonds (insert steroids joke).

Once players start to creep past 30, their average against higher velocities goes down, the power shrinks, and overall the production just isn’t the same. For some this comes with a steady decline, and others it happens quickly and sharply. Here, we dissect cases that fit the latter, projecting for 2016.

Edwin Encarnacion

It’s hard to say much about E5 that isn’t in a positive light. He’s eclipsed 30 bombs for the past four seasons, maxing out at 42 in 2012 and almost getting to that plateau again this season (39). But underneath his sheer power is some concern. He only got to this total with an absolutely torrid month of September, playing well but not at this level the rest of the year. He saw his strikeout numbers stay similar, but he whiffed on more pitches – up to 9.3% from 7.6%. For a power hitter he needs his fly balls, and he has been on a downward trend, losing three percent down to 44.5%. This requires a higher HR/FB ratio, one he kept at 20% in 2015, but that ratio is a career high; a 33-year-old just can’t maintain that.

The power is ready to go down, and he’s in danger of striking out with much more frequency. Not a good mix for a man who’s been one of the more deadly hitters for the past few seasons. This could be the year he fails to live up to his ADP.

Shin-Soo Choo

Choo is coming off one of the better rebound years we’ve seen, with a 27 point increase in his wRC+ from 2014-2015. But much of his strong 2015 campaign was fueled by a good portion of luck. His BABIP, which tends to regress to .300 for any player, shot up from .308 to .335, one of the largest leaps in the sport. Expecting this to fall back down to earth; it’s hard to imagine Choo keeps his average as high as his .276 mark, which wasn’t too spectacular to begin with.

His power was the best we had seen since 2009, with a .187 ISO. Another strong mark, but one we can expect to decrease with age, and he’s turning 34 next season. His whiff percentage followed a three-year climb, from 7.3% in 2014 to 10.1% in 2015, signaling a larger increase in strikeouts.

With Choo, his peripherals tell a larger story than his big numbers. He’s built a solid season on a shaky foundation, not something we can expect him to hold on.  There are plenty of younger outfield options with floors equal to his current ceiling.

Troy Tulowitzki

Tulo has been this generation’s version of that one player who would win the MVP if he could just stay healthy. After six consecutive seasons of him missing at least a month’s worth of games, it seems that he may have already spent his most productive years. It’s just impossible, no matter the talent, to sustain as much as his body has and still be able to compete at 100% after 30.

His four-year upward trend of strikeout percentages continued, reaching 9.4% with a 22% strikeout rate. Both are bad numbers and make a high average while retaining good power tough to handle. His isolated power was a very human .160, a far cry from his years of .200+ that happened seemingly annually. And although the Rogers Centre is still a hitters haven, it isn’t quite the paradise that Coors Field represents. His contact has worsened, something usually independent of a part change like his, with his average dropping to .280 from a career mark right around .300. He’s hitting the ball less hard and missing more often, something that should worry you. Let someone else reach and pay for his potential past glory.

Jhonny Peralta

For someone who can’t even spell his own name correctly, he’s surely made a fantastic career for himself. Although with some concern his exceptional 2013 was due to either a contract year or a PED suspension, he followed it up with an equally impressive 2014 (two season average of 122 wRC+). His 2015 season was also very good, but we are starting to see some cracks in his armor, telling us that the end might be near.

Entering his age 34 season, we can expect some regression with power. His ISO dropped to just .130, which is passable for a shortstop but less so for one who traditionally makes his value with it. His fly ball rate dropped to just 31%, dangerously low for his career trends. His walk rates dropped two percentage points, which is especially worrisome because as hitters age they need to increase their discipline to counter the drop in power. Compounding on this, his hard contact percentage has dropped to just 31%, a three-year trend that has just gotten worse.

As age affects him in a physically demanding position, it remains harder for Peralta to stay as strong as he’s been. He’s another one ready for a sharp decline and should be avoided.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.

2 comments on “Older hitters with Extra risk

  1. Poor old dudes. I’m kind of surprised Bautista isn’t on this list since he’s even older than E5.

    Nelson Cruz is also getting up there in age.

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