December 16, 2010 at 6:46 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
It seems that my unsolicited advice will go unheeded. Since the extension isn’t a done deal and we don’t know the financial terms I’ll refrain from discussing the financial and baseball ramifications. What I would like to talk a bit about is how Uggla is going to age.
Dan Uggla will be 31 years old in 2011. This may be a bit hard to believe seeing as he’s only been in the majors for five years, but remember he was a rule 5 pick that took awhile to develop, a late bloomer if you will. The fact that he has only been in MLB for five years does not change or soften the fact that he will be 31 years old in 2011, however. 31 is 31, regardless of how the previous 30 were spent.
Despite the fact that he will be 31 years old in 2011, Dan Uggla has been a very good player for the past five years. He’s a career .263/.349/.488 hitter (117 OPS+) who plays a premium position (albeit not too well).
What has happened is not what I’m concerned with, only what’s going to happen. In an effort to determine what Uggla’s next five years are going to look like, I pulled a group of players with similar offensive profiles and results during their mid-to-late 20′s and looked at what they did during their early-to-mid 30′s. So I took all players from 1969-2010 who recorded at least 2,250 plate appearances during their age 26-30 seasons with at least 500 strikeouts, an ISO between 0.205 and 0.245, and an OPS+ between 110 and 124. There are 15 such players, including Dan Uggla. I then looked at what they did in their age 31-35 seasons. Four of them–Uggla, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Adam LaRoche–are yet to play their age 31 season. Here’s what the other 11 did.
The Success Stories
Greg Vaughn — After hitting .248/.344/.466 (112 OPS+) in 2723 PA’s for the Brewers and Padres during his age 26-30 seasons (1992-1996), Vaughn actually improved during his 30′s, hitting .247/.348/.501 (120 OPS+) in 2833 PA’s over the next five years. He would go on to play two more seasons in MLB without much success, but the 120 OPS+ during his age 31-35 seasons is rather noteworthy.
Reggie Sanders — In 1994 Reggie Sanders led the league with 114 strikeouts in 107 games–how the times have changed. In 1995 he hit .306 with 28 homers and 69 walks. Overall during his age 26-30 seasons he hit .271/.357/.491 (120 OPS+) in 2251 PA’s. He would play nine more years in the majors, but during his age 31-35 seasons he hit .264/.339/.504 (115 OPS+) in 2492 PA’s. He produced slightly less on a rate basis, but racked up 241 more PA’s. Of course, the strike in 1994 might have something to do with that. Still, there’s relitivley little attrition here, which as you’ll see is quite uncommon for a player of this age and offensive profile, making him a success story.
Still Active, Still TBD
Alfonso Soriano — Soriano is much like Uggla in many ways. He spent the early part of his career in Japan and didn’t get significant MLB playing time until his age 25 season. He played 2B regularly until he was 30 years old, at which point he moved to the outfield. Overall from 2002-2006, his age 26-30 seasons, Soriano hit .283./.331/.526 (120 OPS+) in 3543 PA’s. He’s played four seasons since (next year is his age 35 season and he’s hit .271/.327/.505 (110 OPS+) in 2190 PA’s. His 2009 season was a disaster but he rebounded a bit in 2010, making the overall body of work acceptable. Unlike Uggla, Soriano doesn’t walk very much, which has undoubtedly hurt his offensive game a disproportionate amount as he loses bat speed.
Pat Burrell — Burrell had already received some MVP votes by the time his age 26 season rolled around and he stayed productive for the next five years (apart from the stink-bomb of a season he had in 2003), hitting .252/.370/.473 (116 OPS+) in 2967 PA’s during his age 26-30 seasons. Since he’s played three seasons, hitting .271/.327/.505 (110 OPS+) in 1558 PA’s. The book is still out on what Pat Burrell is capable of given his highly variable level of performance since he’s left Philadelphia, but the argument that his production has declined is unassailable.
Retired after age 35 season
Tony Armas — Armas is one of the two players in the sample that played exactly five more seasons after his age 30 season. After hitting .252/.287/.481 (110 OPS+) in 2998 PA’s during his age 26-30 seasons, Armas was injured and mostly useless over the next five years of his career, hitting .261/.296/.451 (103 OPS+) in 1551 PA’s. Not that he wasn’t mostly useless during his age 26-30 seasons. Corner outfielders with sub-.300 on-base averages aren’t any good.
Carl Everett — Everett had two awesome seasons, one pretty good season, and two pretty forgettable seasons during his age 26-30 seasons. Overall he hit .287/.354/.503 (119 OPS+) in 2551 PA’s during his mid-to-late 20′s. Over the next five seasons of his career he hit .261/.329/.439 (98 OPS+) in 2220 PA’s, a fairly significant drop-off.
Raul Mondesi — Braves fans probably remember him best for the big fat .211/.271/.359 line he put up in 41 games for the 2005 Braves. That was his age 34 season and he would never play in the majors again. In his age 26-30 seasons, he was a productive hitter, boasting a .273/.337/.498 line (116 OPS+) in 3046 PA’s. After that, he hit only .246/.318/.439 (96 OPS+) in 1525 PA’s over the next four years.
Geoff Jenkins — Geoff Jenkins was an offensive force for the Brewers during his prime, hitting .275/.349/.493 (117 OPS+) in 2571 PA’s during his age 26-30 seasons. After that he played three more seasons in MLB, posting a .259/.330/.437 line (96 OPS+) in 1341 PA’s. His last (age 33) season was particularly offensive; he hit only .246/.301/.392 for the Phillies.
Dean Palmer — Palmer bounced around the American League during his age 26-30 seasons, hitting .273/.339/.507 (113 OPS+) in 2659 PA’s for the Royals, Rangers, and Tigers. He played one more full season beyond that and parts of three seasons, amassing a .232/.318/.421 line (93 OPS+) in 961 PA’s. Meet the nightmare scenario.
Jesse Barfield — Barfield’s peak was very nice but he crashed hard after it. He hit .256/.342/.466 (120 OPS+) in 3030 PA’s during his age 26-30 seasons, but played only parts of two more years after that and amassed a terrible .203/.286/.391 line (87 OPS+) in only 426 PA’s.
Brad Hawpe’s age 31 season was last year and he hit only .245/.338/.419 (94 OPS+) in 346 PA’s in addition to being released by the Rockies, the only team he’d ever played for. Over the previous five years he had hit .285/.379/.503 (120 OPS+) in 2689 PA’s. Like Burrell it’s not certain that he’s done being a productive major leaguer, so there aren’t a lot of conclusions to be drawn here.
Overall the group averaged a 117 OPS+ during their age 26-30 seasons and a 106 OPS+ during their age 31-35 seasons. Furthermore we haven’t accounted for survivor bias. That is, the better players tend to play longer, so the 106 OPS+ would undoubtedly be lower if we had a purely representative sample of all of their age 31-35 seasons. The only player to do better in his 30′s was Greg Vaughn.
Obviously looking at the data alone isn’t enough to determine how a player will age, but it’s pretty clear that, historically, players with Uggla’s offensive profile haven’t fared nearly as well in their age 31-35 seasons as they did during their age 26-30 seasons. This is to be expected, of course, most players aren’t as good during their 30′s as they were during their 20′s. Still, the potential for extending Uggla to turn into an unmitigated disaster–especially considering his defensive limitations–is enough to make me think very seriously about letting him walk after 2011. He could age beautifully, but there’s a non-zero chance he’ll be a below-average hitter with no position by age 35. When Keith Law says he wouldn’t want to lock up Uggla through his mid-30′s, this is what he’s talking about. Players with Uggla’s offensive profile generally struggle to remain productive after their age 30 season.