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Goldy Extension: How Long Did Other Good Hitters Play For?

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Last week we saw that the truly good, all-around hitters still hit well into their 30s. But how many good hitters last more than a few years?

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Last week, we took a look at some Goldy comps to see how other similar hitters fared after their age 31 seasons (e.g. the upcoming age that Goldy will become a free agent). While the sample size was very small, the four other hitters in the 2000s that shared Goldy’s level of BB%, ISO, and BABIP in their “prime” years (ages 29-31) all managed to remain rather successful hitters well into their 30s. Their performance did drop but they still remained largely above-average hitters through at least age 38. There was about an overall drop in wRC+ of about 20-30 points so they were certainly falling out of their prime, but overall still being productive hitters. They may not have been returning full value on their contracts, but they certainly weren’t “bad” contracts, either.

Last week’s article was only focused on the performance aspects of aging. If Goldy was to stay healthy for several years, it could be relatively assumed he would continue to still be a productive hitter into his late 30s, albeit likely no longer at an elite level. It was correctly noted, however, that this sample was small and didn’t account for things like injuries and other players that didn’t make it into their 30s.

Today’s article will be a first attempt at seeing how hitters fared into their 30s with regards to playing time. To do this, a sample of players was created. Here was the criteria for these players:

  • Years 2000-2012 (stopped at 2012 to allow for them to have at least 6 full seasons beyond age 31)
  • Ages 29 - 31
  • Combined wRC+ of 125 during those three seasons
  • Qualified Hitter

While Goldy has not played his age 31 season, he would have to be below 90 wRC+ for a full season to drop his wRC+ from ages 29-31 below 125, which seems highly unlikely. The wRC+ of 125 was picked in order to focus the sample on GOOD hitters - we want to see how other good hitters have aged since Goldy is clearly in this category. Many lesser players simply aren’t going to play beyond age 32 and having their limited playing time in our sample is going to make it difficult to approximate how a hitter like Goldy might age.

In total, there were 52 players that met these criteria. For the most part, this list makes up the majority of the really good hitters in the 2000 - 2012 range. The list is too long to reasonably publish in this article but can be provided upon request.

In their age 29-31 seasons, this sample of 52 players had an average wRC+ of 140. Conveniently, this is very close to where Goldy has been the past three years (average of 139.3). Collectively, this same group combined to average a 114 wRC+ in their age 32+ years for an average drop of about 26 points per player in their mid-to-late 30s. This matches up fairly close with the results from the article on performance last week.

But the focus here isn’t on performance but rather playing time - how long did these players play in their age 32+ seasons?

As a whole, this group averaged 2604 PA/player in their age 32+ seasons. A couple of these players are still playing (Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, and Chase Utley), so this average will still increase over the next few seasons. To look at this in “#s of full seasons”, this is about 4.34 full seasons worth of baseball (600 PA/season). It’s hard to guess exactly how long Goldy’s contract will end up, but a range of 5-7 years seems most likely. Only 6 players out of the 52 have racked up at least 7 full seasons worth of PA in their age 32+ seasons so it’s unlikely to expect Goldy to play 7 full seasons if he did get a long contract, but he’s looking to be pretty close to 50/50 of being able to play out a full 5 year contract, based on past hitters. That might be a bit better than many people might be expecting.

However, this can be taken one step further. There is a fairly strong relationship between how good these players were in their age 29 - 31 seasons with how many PA they got from age 32 and beyond.

As should be expected, the players that were better when they were younger were more likely to receive more PA as they got older. An R^2 of 0.4025 is a very solid relationship for two fairly broad statistics like this.

This is likely to lend itself to Goldy’s favor. Goldy posted fWARs of 5.2 and 4.9 the past two seasons, which is putting him up pace for around 14-15 fWAR over his age 29 - 31 seasons. Plugging 15 fWAR into the equation in the chart above yields a result of 3052.14 PA or just over 5 full seasons of baseball.

Combined with the data above, it seems reasonable to expect Goldy to have about a 50th percentile projection of about 3000 PA or 5 full seasons of baseball in his age 32+ seasons. Now, these PAs are almost certainly not going to be played in five years (probably spread out over more than 5 seasons) but it gives a rough idea of how much Goldy should be expected to play.

Putting these together and a good “middle ground” estimation for Goldy’s free agent production is an average of 120 wRC+ for 5 seasons. 1B at the 120 wRC+ range are typically 2 - 3 WAR players, depending on other factors (fielding, baserunning), which gives Goldy a reasonable estimation of 10 - 15 WAR over the course of the contract. FanGraphs latest estimation still has wins at about $8 million/WAR on the open market, which values Gold at $80 - $120 million based on these estimates. Goldy will likely get a bigger contract than that but past history shows that players like Goldy will still provide value well into their 30s.