Pointed remarks from new Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward about why he did not re-sign with his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, were widely reported following his introductory press conference.
One prominent factor is that the central players on the Cardinals roster are considered by Heyward to be advancing in age to the point that he was unsure what the team’s makeup would be before his new contract would end.
The term “aging core” is widely being used to summarize that point of view of the Cardinals.
Let’s test this out for both Heyward’s prior and current teams.
Though the 2016 25-man Opening Day rosters for any club are yet unknown, 40-man rosters are readily available for analysis.
In Major League Baseball, the single most important milestone of experience is at six years. That is the point at which players move from being under team control to being able to choose their own employer via free agency – as Heyward just did.
One other point of reference. One year of MLB service equals 162 days. That is reflected in the totals below. (For example, 163 days equals 1.001.)
|MLB||* Contract||MLB||* Contract|
|St. Louis Cardinals||service||years||zWAR||Chicago Cubs||service||years||zWAR|
|6+ year players||yrs.days||Age||remaining||2016||6+ year players||yrs.days||Age||remaining||2016|
|Matt Holliday||12.000||36||1||1.6||John Lackey||13.095||37||2||3.4|
|Yadier Molina||11.123||33||2||3.3||David Ross||13.001||38||1||0.3|
|Jhonny Peralta||11.118||33||2||2.6||Jon Lester||9.075||31||5||4.6|
|Adam Wainwright||10.027||34||3||3.6||Miguel Montero||9.031||32||2||2.0|
|Jonathan Broxton||10.020||31||2||0.3||Ben Zobrist||8.034||34||4||3.2|
|Brayan Pena||8.081||34||2||0.4||Jason Hammel||8.153||33||1||1.6|
|Jaime Garcia||7.047||29||1||1.8||Pedro Strop||6.098||30||1||0.9|
|Mike Leake||6.000||29||5||2.5||Jason Heyward||6.000||26||8||4.7|
|Average per player||9.101||32.4||2.25||2.0||Average per player||9.061||32.6||3||2.6|
|By position||By position|
|Starting pitchers||3||Starting pitchers||3|
|Starting infielders||1||Starting infielders||1|
|Starting outfielders||1||Starting outfielders||1|
|* option yrs excluded||* option yrs excluded|
As much focus as there has been on St. Louis’ allegedly-aged roster, consider the number of similarities in the data presented above.
Both the Cardinals and Cubs currently have eight players with at least six years of service. Chicago employs the two most experienced ones – former Cardinals pitcher John Lackey and catcher David Ross. The two are also the oldest on either club at 37 and 38 years of age, respectively. The Cubs also employ the youngest player of the group in Heyward.
Barring injury, these 16 players, eight per club, will almost certainly be on their team’s opening 25-man roster, leaving the other 17 spots on each club to be filled by zero-to-six year players, primarily developed in the respective organizations’ farm systems.
Though Chicago has the lower total service time across the veteran group, it is slight. Averaging the individual service time of the eight six-plus year players on each team brings a difference of just under 50 days on a base of over nine years per man.
In terms of calendar age, the two team’s veterans average almost the same, with the Cardinals very slightly younger.
The Cubs appear to have less flexibility going forward. They are financially committed to their eight most-veteran players longer – 24 additional player years (including 2016) compared to 18 seasons for the Cardinals group.
Projected performance in 2016 using ZiPS from Fangraphs indicates the Cubs’ veteran eight is expected to produce about four wins over replacement more than the Cards’ eight, or about 0.6 zWAR per man. (As a reminder, in contrast to the facts presented elsewhere in this article, these are computer-generated projections.)
Finally and surprisingly, the position breakdowns of the eight veteran players across the teams are identical – three members of the rotation, a set-up man, both catchers, one starting infielder and one starting outfielder.
One can always argue which players might make up a team’s core, but it cannot be disputed that both the Cardinals and Cubs each feature eight free agent-level players of comparable age and experience and with an identical position distribution – and the Cubs are contractually committed to their veteran group longer. By one system’s projections, Chicago’s veterans are expected to deliver more wins in 2016.
The reader can decide whether or not you see the differences as significant, but to me, the variations in the hard numbers are slight – and certainly not worthy of all the chatter occurring about it.
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