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Best season by a 29-year-old catcher (Hello, Mike Napoli!)

Posted by Andy on October 26, 2011

Mike Napoli has just posted the best season by a 29-year-old catcher, as ranked by OPS+. CLick through for the details.

Rk Player OPS+ G Year Age Tm PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Mike Napoli 171 113 2011 29 TEX 432 369 72 118 25 0 30 75 58 85 .320 .414 .631 1.046 *23D
2 Roy Campanella 159 143 1951 29 BRO 562 505 90 164 33 1 33 108 53 51 .325 .393 .590 .983 *2
3 Bill Dickey 158 112 1936 29 NYY 472 423 99 153 26 8 22 107 46 16 .362 .428 .617 1.045 *2
4 Mike Piazza 152 151 1998 29 TOT 626 561 88 184 38 1 32 111 58 80 .328 .390 .570 .960 *2/D
5 Gene Tenace 149 128 1976 29 OAK 508 417 64 104 19 1 22 66 81 91 .249 .373 .458 .831 *3*2/D
6 Gabby Hartnett 144 141 1930 29 CHC 578 508 84 172 31 3 37 122 55 62 .339 .404 .630 1.034 *2
7 Andy Seminick 143 130 1950 29 PHI 467 393 55 113 15 3 24 68 68 50 .288 .400 .524 .925 *2
8 Paul Lo Duca 142 125 2001 29 LAD 519 460 71 147 28 0 25 90 39 30 .320 .374 .543 .917 *23/7D9
9 Dave Nilsson 140 115 1999 29 MIL 404 343 56 106 19 1 21 62 53 64 .309 .400 .554 .954 *2/D
10 Carlton Fisk 138 152 1977 29 BOS 632 536 106 169 26 3 26 102 75 85 .315 .402 .521 .922 *2
11 Ted Easterly 138 134 1914 29 KCP 477 436 58 146 20 12 1 67 31 25 .335 .384 .443 .827 *2
12 Roger Bresnahan 138 140 1908 29 NYG 562 449 70 127 25 3 1 54 83 33 .283 .401 .359 .760 *2
13 Joe Torre 136 161 1970 29 STL 704 624 89 203 27 9 21 100 70 91 .325 .398 .498 .896 *25/3
14 Yogi Berra 136 151 1954 29 NYY 652 584 88 179 28 6 22 125 56 29 .307 .367 .488 .855 *2/5
15 Walker Cooper 136 112 1944 29 STL 426 397 56 126 25 5 13 72 20 19 .317 .352 .504 .855 *2
16 Ted Simmons 135 123 1979 29 STL 521 448 68 127 22 0 26 87 61 34 .283 .369 .507 .875 *2
17 Wally Schang 134 113 1919 29 BOS 413 330 43 101 16 3 0 55 71 42 .306 .436 .373 .809 *2
18 Johnny Bench 133 142 1977 29 CIN 560 494 67 136 34 2 31 109 58 95 .275 .348 .540 .889 *2/7395
19 Mickey Cochrane 133 139 1932 29 PHA 625 518 118 152 35 4 23 112 100 22 .293 .412 .510 .921 *2/7
20 Dick Dietz 130 142 1971 29 SFG 558 453 58 114 19 0 19 72 97 86 .252 .387 .419 .806 *2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/26/2011.

These are all seasons where the catcher was in his Age 29 year, played at least 100 games, and with at least half his games at the catcher position. Napoli, in fact, posted the highest OPS+ for any such season by a catcher of any age 29 or higher.

Interestingly, Napoli played a bunch of first base in 2011 and here are his batting splits by position:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
as C 60 243 209 44 76 12 0 19 43 31 43 .364 .449 .694 1.142 .385 118 222
as 1B 31 110 98 15 26 7 0 7 20 11 27 .265 .345 .551 .896 .297 71 122
as DH 19 73 57 11 15 5 0 4 12 15 15 .263 .411 .561 .972 .282 88 153
as PH 7 7 6 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 .167 .286 .333 .619 .167 22 104
as PH for DH 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100 -100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/26/2011.

There's a huge difference in his performance as C vs 1B, with about 100 more points of OBP and 140 more points of SLG. Some of that, though, is due to a large difference in BAbip, which I woudln't expect to be maintained over a larger sample size.

Here's a quick peak at the top seasons (by OPS+) for first baseman in their Age 29 season:

Rk Player OPS+ G Year Age Tm PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Albert Pujols 189 160 2009 29 STL 700 568 124 186 45 1 47 135 115 64 .327 .443 .658 1.101 *3/D
2 Jason Giambi 187 152 2000 29 OAK 664 510 108 170 29 1 43 137 137 96 .333 .476 .647 1.123 *3D
3 Frank Thomas 181 146 1997 29 CHW 649 530 110 184 35 0 35 125 109 69 .347 .456 .611 1.067 *3D
4 Lou Gehrig 180 156 1932 29 NYY 708 596 138 208 42 9 34 151 108 38 .349 .451 .621 1.072 *3
5 Derrek Lee 174 158 2005 29 CHC 691 594 120 199 50 3 46 107 85 109 .335 .418 .662 1.080 *3
6 Carlos Pena 172 148 2007 29 TBD 612 490 99 138 29 1 46 121 103 142 .282 .411 .627 1.037 *3/D
7 George Sisler 170 142 1922 29 SLB 654 586 134 246 42 18 8 105 49 14 .420 .467 .594 1.061 *3
8 Jeff Bagwell 168 162 1997 29 HOU 717 566 109 162 40 2 43 135 127 122 .286 .425 .592 1.017 *3/D
9 Ted Kluszewski 167 149 1954 29 CIN 659 573 104 187 28 3 49 141 78 35 .326 .407 .642 1.049 *3
10 Todd Helton 165 160 2003 29 COL 703 583 135 209 49 5 33 117 111 72 .358 .458 .630 1.088 *3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/26/2011.

Napoli would still rank pretty highly, although in this case he played many fewer games than all these guys.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 at 9:07 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

91 Responses to “Best season by a 29-year-old catcher (Hello, Mike Napoli!)”

  1. I'm looking forward to Miguel Cabrera's age-29 season at 1B next year. His age-28 season wasn't bad (181 OPS+).

  2. Napoli only played 60 games at catcher, or a little more than one-third of the season. I'm not sure you could really consider him analogous to Roy Campanella (143 games at catcher), Mike Piazza (147 games) or even Bill Dickey (112 games, which is still twice as many despite being tied for the lowest number of games played on this list). In fact, none of these guys played fewer games at catcher in their 29-year-old season than Napoli.

    The inclusion of Napoli and Gene Tenace on this list (Tenace played more games at 1B that season, though he did play 30 more games at catcher that season than Napoli did in 2011) indicate to me that the criteria do not accurately capture what it means to be considered a full-time catcher.

  3. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Only problem with this is that only offensive contributions are taken into account. Would any of you actually trade Napoli for Bench at 29? And yes, Manny, Bench also played a lot at third and first; but I doubt that anyone here will deny that he was a> primarily a catcher; and b> a major force both at the plate, and behind it.

  4. Interesting...but can you really say playing only 113 games means you had the best season? Just for fun, what happens when you multiply OPS+ times games played...in this case, Napoli has the 7th best season:

    22952 Mike Piazza 1998
    22737 Roy Campanella 1951
    21896 Joe Torre 1970
    20976 Carlton Fisk 1977
    20536 Yogi Berra 1954
    20304 Gabby Hartnett 1930
    19323 Mike Napoli 2011

  5. The Original Jimbo Says:

    Somebody please explain to me why the Blue Jays aquired Napoli and then just dealt him off for nothing? He seemed like a great pickup and then they didn't want him. Would've been a great DH fit.

  6. @3, Frank -- OK, I'll bite: I would made that hyopethetical Bench-for-Napoli trade following their respective age-29 seasons, and here's why:

    Through age 29, Bench had caught 1,392 games -- more than any other catcher in MLB history through that age. (He actually did not play much at 3B or 1B until his 30s; he caught at least 120 games in each of his first 10 full seasons.)

    Only 3 others caught as many as 1,200 games through age 29: Ted Simmons, Ivan Rodriguez and Ray Schalk.

    Bench's decline starting at age 30 was fairly predictable. From age 30 to the end of his career (age 35), he averaged 394 PAs and a 118 OPS+, compared to 621 PAs and 131 OPS+ in the prior 10 years. His defense also declined, and he hardly caught at all in his last 3 years.

    Napoli has so far caught just 467 games in the majors, about 1/3 of Bench's total at the same age.

    As for Napoli's defense, I think this season and postseason have shown that, no matter what was true in the past, he is right now a good defensive catcher. He throws well (excellent rate of SB/G and good CS% this year), he blocks pitches well (better rates of WP and PB than teammate Torrealba), he gets out from behind the plate well (witness the last out of game 5). His pitchers have praised him.

    I think Napoli's future at this moment is brighter than was Bench's at the same age.

  7. That's a ballsy post, JA.

  8. @5, Kingturtle -- If we use Wins Above Replacement (which factors in games played by position), Napoli's 5.5 WAR is #9 among age-29 catchers, behind Campanella (7.0), Fisk, Carter, Piazza, Berra (6.2), Bresnahan, Torre and Dickey (5.6), tied with Cochrane, and ahead of Munson, Hartnett and Lo Duca (5.0).

    It's still darn good company. The only guy on the list who didn't really have an All-Star-caliber career was the last guy, Lo Duca.

  9. If Mike Napoli hadn't spent most of his 20's playing for Scioscia, we'd think of him as a modern Mike Piazza. Limited defensively, but not so much that it makes up for the fact that their awesome power made them a huge asset whenever they were in the lineup. Through their age 29 seasons, Piazza homered once every 15.6 at bats, Napoli once every 15.7. I don't care how bad Napoli was defensively - if he treated every pitch with the Bob Uecker knuckleball strategy, waiting until it stopped rolling to throw it back to the pitcher, he'd have still been an upgrade over Jeff Mathis.

  10. I'm wondering if Napoli was more apt to play 1B against certain types of pitchers because he wanted to get other bats in the lineup that particular day or if he was prone to playing 1B when the Rangers had a day game after a night game. It might explain differences in production based upon defensive position. Perhaps a reader who follows the Rangers more closely might be able to provide some info on this.

    I'm thinking back a few years to when Jason Giambi was a Yankee and he had much better offensive numbers when playing 1B rather than DH. One explanation was that playing defense kept him more focused. Another was that he was more apt to DH when he had a minor injury or needed a bit of a break. So there were other factors involved in the numbers.

  11. @7, Andy -- Yeah, it's easy to say that I'm using 20-20 hindsight, and if someone rolled his eyes and said "Sure, Autin, sure," I would not argue the point.

    But I mainly wanted to make the point that Bench had been a workhorse behind the plate throughout his 20s, and it was not a complete surprise that he was able to catch just 350 game from age 30 onward.

  12. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Only time will tell, JA...but then, I was the one who, in '69, thought that Bench was a "flash in the pan"; in fact, I even said that in a letter to the editors in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Sort of a "The Phillies Are Done" kind of moment.

  13. Catchers can wear down rather quickly. Especially when abused.

    The most extreme case I can recall off the top of my head is
    Todd's daddy, Randy Hundley.

    Without looking it up, I believe he caught over 150 games for four
    consecutive years.

    IMO, no catcher should catch over 125 games a year.

    A strong number two catcher who can pick up this slack is a
    valuable piece.

  14. @10, Evan -- Napoli's game log suggests that Washington used him mainly at 1B and DH early in the season because he wasn't really sure what he had in Napoli. Remember that Napoli arrived in Texas saddled by Scioscia's evident disdain for his catching abilities. He caught just 11 of the team's first 44 games.

    Torrealba went into a 3-for-43 slump in May, and Washington started using Napoli more behind the plate.

    Starting with his return from the DL on July 4, Napoli played in 67 of the team's last 76 games, and caught in 39 of those.

  15. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Jason reminded me of another "Johnny Bench" moment that bears his point...

    Around here, a popular joke in '76 was "If the John {Bench} needs help, we can always count on the {Bill} Plummer".

  16. Further to my #14 ... I think the difference in Napoli's production at C vs. the other positions is mainly a coincidence of timing, reflecting the fact that he hit superbly over the 2nd half, when he mostly caught, whereas he did not hit so well in the 1st half, when he mostly played 1B/DH.

  17. Thanks for the research John, I didn't have time to dig in BR too much at work today and didn't suspect it would be that simple to see the split. From what I heard of the weather in Dallas this summer, it sounded fairly favorable for hitting as well: very hot, with moderate humidity.

  18. If I may be forgiven for quoting my own post (http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/15443):

    "[W]ith Napoli starting 63 of the last 76 games (mainly behind the plate) and hitting .375/1.162, the Rangers went 51-25 to finish 10 games up in the division, with a franchise-record 96 wins. In September, as they fought off the Angels' challenge by going 19-6, Napoli had a 1.361 OPS with 8 HRs and 19 RBI in 21 games. Overall, Texas was 67-35 in games Napoli started, a 106-win pace per 162 games; otherwise, they went 29-31.

    "Perhaps the biggest surprise was his solid defensive play. His 36% CS rate was a career best and ranked 4th among AL catchers, and he scored his first positive defensive WAR. Napoli logged almost as many innings behind the plate as original #1 catcher Yorvit Torrealba and posted far superior numbers: passed balls, 1 to 7; wild pitches, 14 to 25; SB per 9 innings, 0.25 to 0.61. It may be that Torrealba handled the more challenging pitchers, but clearly Napoli is pulling his weight back there."

    (emphasis added)

  19. Sorry for running on, but ... Napoli will turn 30 this Monday, Halloween. A World Series ring and possible WS MVP selection would be a nice birthday gift.

  20. This analysis proves that OPS+ comparisons can be misleading. As good as he was, how can you say that Napoli, with just 113 games, 432 PAs, and 75 RBI was better (in value to his team) than Piazza, with 151 games, 626 PAs, and 111 RBI or Hartnett, with 141, 578, and 122? No way. The age 29 seasons of Dickey, Fisk, Torre, Berra, Bench, and Cochrane also eclipse Napoli's.

    What OPS+ fails to quantify here is the value of durability manifested by playing more often and producing more runs.

  21. Stu, I think that's quite obviously true. The list is simply ranked by OPS+ with the given criteria.

  22. Can anyone explain why there is an "*" next to the "2" in the position column of the table above? I notice it doesn't display that way (correctly) on his player page. Even if you only count the base number of games as 113 (Napoli's total, instead of the 162 team games), his 60 games as a catcher is still not 2/3 of his overall games.

  23. @15 Frank-

    Now you got me thinking about long term back up catchers
    who played behind greats.

    Thanks.

    I guess Bill Plummer's hero was Charlie Silvera, wouldn't you think??

  24. @21 Andy: Then I guess I miss the point of ranking by OPS+.

  25. Richard Chester Says:

    @22

    It might mean that the player had the required number of at bats for the batting title.

  26. Richard Chester Says:

    @25

    I take that back, I see Napoli had to few PA. I have noticed on player pages that the asterisk seems to appear only when the player has a significant number of GP.

  27. I believe (though I'm not certain) that the asterisk indicates that the first position listed constituted at least 50% of his games played.

  28. Stu, it's one way of looking at things, and as with all stats, it needs context. Napoli's limited game time definitely hurts the argument that his season is best, although his offensive output was the best when he did play. It's the start point for a debate, which is what we're having here. You just seem to want to complain, as has been your trend lately.

  29. Sorry Andy, sometimes I like to play devil's advocate.

    @23 Jason: Some notable backups also played behind good but not great catchers, like Duffy Dyer (Jerry Grote), Jerry McNertney (Ted Simmons), Ron Hodges (Grote and John Stearns), Dave Duncan (Gene Tenace), Jim Price (Bill Freehan), and Milt May (Manny Sanguillen), just to name a few.

  30. Hindsight is the best foresight. I wish Napoli was still an Angel.

  31. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @23/ Jason -
    "@15 Frank - Now you got me thinking about long term back up catchers
    who played behind greats..."

    Jason, how about Ralph Houk, behind Yogi from 1947 to 1954?
    Although:
    1) Yogi wasn't really the first-string catcher yet in 1947.
    2) Houk was more like the THIRD-string catcher after 1947; in 1947 he had nearly half his career games (41/101) and over half his PA (104/171).

    Echoing what others have said, although Napoli's OPS+ is the best for the age-29 seasons listed, I would take the majority of the other catchers listed above to be my full-time catcher.

  32. What really needs to be asked is how freaking crazy are the Angels? Forget the fact that they traded him. Maybe they really just didn't like something about him. But they traded him for VERNON WELLS. The worst contract in all of baseball. I will do Vernon a favor and not post his atrocious line here.

  33. @32 Rich

    Yeah but look at Wells' OPS+ the past 6 years: 129, 85, 122, 86, 125, 83. So he's due for a 120+ OPS+ next year.

    Seriously, what the heck is up with Wells??? He's consistently inconsistent. Or is it inconsistently consistent???

  34. The Original Jimbo Says:

    I asked this a million times, and now twice in this thread and nobody, and nobody ever responds.

    Why did the Blue Jays just aquire Napoli and then deal him right away for just a reliever and cash? Why didn't they keep him?

  35. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    I am surprised the phrase "regression to the mean" hasn't been brought up; if Napoli had the normal 550+ PA for a full season, his OBA and SLG would probably go down, as would his OPS+.

    Useless World Series factoid:
    Napoli in the 2011 WS has 9 RBI on only 4 hits! (two SF helps). Has this ever been done before in post-season play?

  36. mr. drizzle Says:

    @ 33 -- consistently inconsistent, i think.

  37. Richard Chester Says:

    @27

    John: You were close. The asterisk means that the player had 2/3 of his games at the first position listed. A slash means less than 10 games played at a position(s) listed after the slash.

    Simply place the cursor on Pos on the player's title bar batting stat listing.

  38. Richard Chester Says:

    @37

    If you look at Yogi Berra's stats in the list above you will see that 2/3 of his games were as catcher and less than 10 games (actually one) at third base . On the last day of the season the Yankees engaged in some end-of-the-season shenanigans. Berra played at 3B, Mantle was at SS and Moose Skowron (normally a first-baseman) was at 2B.

  39. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    And while we are talking about top-flight reserves, let's not forget the Redlegs duo {what can I say? I have been a Cincy fan since the days of Walters, Derringer and Blackwell} of Edwards and Pavletich -- the former of whom got traded to the Cards to make room for the oft-aforementioned Bench.

  40. @34, Original Jimbo.

    Okay, I'll take a stab at why Blue Jays dealt Napoli.

    First, I think the Blue Jays were/are high on Arencibia.

    Second, I don't think they were necessarily going after Napoli. They were just thrilled to find anyone willing to take on Wells' contract.

    Third, Napoli's truly had a breakout season, one that couldn't reasonably have been anticipated. And, at 29, it's probably downhill (slowly) from here, although his low mileage should mean his decline phase will be extended relative to other catchers.

  41. The Original Jimbo Says:

    It was such a bummer. The Blue Jays got rid of Wells' contract, and picked up a guy with some pop who could get time split between C/1b/DH. Then before I could finish smiling about it, they dealt him.

  42. @34 (via @40): Or perhaps getting Napoli caused the Rangers to offer Francisco, now knowing he was 'available'. Perhaps the Rangers wanted Napoli but didn't know he was available, or they didn't have enough to tempt LA. But when the Jays got him, the Rangers suddenly had a package attractive enough to get him.

    If it had been a 3-team trade then this wouldn't be an issue, which is essentially what it turned out to be. I don't think you need to read more into it than he was just a by-product of the trade. They probably felt he gave them value but when an offer came for something they apparently did want, they shipped him off.

  43. I read somewhere once that the majority of HOF players had their career years at age 29. If so, I wonder if that statement is true for all players? Maybe not a majority, but a significant number having their best years at that age. Napoli may be peaking at the expected moment and, come Monday, it could be all downhill from here. We'll see.

  44. There is a lot of discussion about Ron Washington's moves in the WS vs Tony LaRussa's moves by baseball writers in the past few days. I'd like to see a thread here, and see what some of the smart folks have to say about the subject. I'd also like to hear what some of the dumb folks have to say also. Actually, to be honest, I'm more interested in what dumb people have to say.

  45. Re: Toronto's trade of Napoli for F.Francisco --

    Maybe Ricciardi thought Francisco was undervalued because his ERA+ was out of line with his underlying rate stats. From 2008-10, Francisco averaged 10.9 SO/9 and 3.39 SO/BB (165 IP, 200 Ks, 59 walks) -- but a 128 ERA+, which is quite pedestrian for a reliever.

    For 2008-10, there were 22 relievers with at least 100 IP who had SO and BB rates similar to Francisco's (SO/9 between 9 and 11, BB/9 between 2.5 and 4). The median ERA+ for that group was 144, and 8 of the 22 had ERA+ of at least 166.

    Anyway, the breakout didn't happen; Francisco turned in a carbon copy of his last 2 years.

  46. @43, Larry R. -- That figure should definitely be age 27, not 29.

  47. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Using Kingturtle's #4 as a starting point, here are the top ten of these seasons in terms of WAR:

    1. Campanella, 7.0
    2. Fisk, 6.8
    3 (tie). Piazza, 6.2
    3 (tie). Berra, 6.2
    5. Bresnahan, 5.9
    6 (tie). Dickey, 5.6
    6 (tie). Torre, 5.6
    8 (tie). Cochrane, 5.5
    8 (tie). Napoli, 5.5
    10. Hartnett, 5.1

  48. @27 and @37,

    Thanks for your responses.

    I know on the regular player page the * indicates 2/3 of team games at the position. And for Napoli (on his player page) there is no "*" for this year as his 60 games @ C was not 2/3 of his teams games. My question was specifically for the table in this thread where he has the *. I am just curious if there is something about the queries that generate these tables that produces the *. No big deal.

  49. @31- Lawrence. I brought up Charlie Silvera in comparison to
    Bill Plummer, because Silvera was Yogi's backup from 1949-54.

    In an era when salaries were low, Silvera commented how those
    World Series checks paid off his house. He had five winners
    shares in those six years.

    He averaged 71 plate appearances in those six years.

    As for Ralph Houk. it is true that Yogi's backup didn't play
    much in the early years, as Yogi played in between 134 and 151
    games every year from 1950-57.

  50. He hits .320/.414/.631, leading the Rangers in OBP and SLG, for the season and in the World Series he hits 7th, 7th, 7th, 8th, and 8th. Either the Rangers are some kind of crazy good or ...

  51. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @46/ John Autin:
    "@43, Larry R. -- That figure should definitely be age 27, not 29."

    Yes, Bill James popularized this over two decades ago, in his 80s Baseball Abstracts. It has been accepted as conventional wisdom for a while.

    However, there are many exceptions to this; some players peak as early as age 21/22 (Al Kaline, Mel Ott), or as late as 31/32 (Joe Morgan), plus it is often difficult to identify one year as a player's peak.

  52. @:43 I was listening to a pre-game show in the early 80's & they were talking about a baseball players most productive years being age 26-30. (5 years)
    That was before the good ped's though. Maybe it has changed.

  53. Just a head's up - 2012 is Joe Mauer's age 29 season and 2013 is Brian McCann's. . . .

  54. Richard Chester Says:

    @49

    In Houk's last 6 years with the Yankees from 1949-1954 he had a total of 38 PA or just over six per year. In essence they were playing with a 24 man team during that period. The Yankees held on to him because of his baseball acumen and managing potential and they did not want to lose him to another team.

  55. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @49/Jason -
    I did not realize that Charlie Silvera was actually Yogi's back-up; your reference to him in #23 makes a whole lot more sense now. So in essence, Ralph Houk was Silvera's back-up?

  56. The Original Jimbo Says:

    @50

    Yeah, it's messed up.

    Like so many other managers that blow my mind, Ron Washington chooses to bat the weakest hitter in his entire lineup 2nd! Over the course of 162 games, you would expect this batter to come to bat 95 more times than the number 7 hitter, and 76 times more than the number 6 hitter, and so on. I just can't imagine why any manager chooses this.

  57. @43,46,51: I'm not sure what Bill James take was,but it"s pretty hard to make a case for age 27 using the 20 catchers & 10 first basemen on this page.

  58. Regarding players peak seasons: I glanced thru some players with that in mind some time ago- mostly HOFers or at least very good players with at least 10 years as a regular- and while I wasn't systematic and didn't have any hard and fast criteria it seemed to me at the time that among hitters their peak was more often at 25 or 26 years old. Pitchers were far less consistent but overall seemed to peak later.

    And I'm a little surprised that no one has commented yet on Carlos Pena being on that second list, surrounded by Hall of Famers (OK not Lee or Klu or probably Giambi or maybe Helton but still...)

  59. @57 Scott-53

    I don't understand your comment. For many of the 20 catchers and 10 first basemen on this page, their age 29 season wasn't their peak season.

  60. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Following through on Ed's comment, I wonder what a study of "peak seasons" by age would show, if segregated by, say, ten- or twenty-year intervals. Would the 29-year-old catcher of the 1940s fare as well as a player the same age in the '60s? And I wonder, by era, what the average "peak years" would be.

    If this all made sense to you, then you are as off-balanced by the rainout of the World Series game tonight as I am.

    See y'all tomorrow.

  61. @59: Maybe I have it wrong, but at (46 John) & (51 Lawrence) seem to be saying according to Bill James age 27 is the peak season for Major League players.

    No evidence of that from the players listed on this page. As a matter of fact some of them had noticeably down seasons at age 27. Pujols, Torre, Piazza to name a few.

  62. The Original Jimbo Says:

    Well, nobody will argue that baseball players tend to peak between about age 27-31.

    I would guess it's a little younger for catchers such as 24-28, and maybe a little older for pitchers such as 28-32.

  63. Tenace & Bagwell a couple more with noticeably down years at age 27. It's close,
    but you could say Sisler had his career year at age 27. The problem with that one is he batted .420 at age 29.

  64. Naploi may be first in OPS+ among 29-year old "catchers" but he's 10th in Runs Created, which does not even adjust for his playing in a hitter's park.

  65. Whoops, in "Naploi" I have inadvertently created an offspring of Mike Napoli and Nap LaJoie. That would be one heckuva player.

  66. @61/63

    James isn't saying that every player peaks at age 27. That's the average. He also gave a range of 25-29 or 26-30 (internet sources seem to disagree and I don't have a copy of his '82 Abstract where he did this work).

    Of course we also have more sophisticated measuring tools available nowadays (such as WAR) than what James had in '82. Not sure that would change anything but it would be interesting to see.

  67. I agree with CatNamedManny!

    Napoli only playing 60 games at Catcher makes him uneligible on this list in my honest opinion. His stats being his best in his career may have something to do with this. Perhaps the he was less phased by the wear and tear of playing catcher because he played in so few games at that position. I'm not taking away anything that Napoli has done because he showed a lot of heart this season after the Angels gave up on him since signing him in 2000. But it's unfair to Campy in Piazza to put Napoli's 2011 ahead of them if he's not wearing the tools of ignorance for more than 37% of the actual season.

  68. @66: It was 1983 that I was listening to that pre-game show. (See post 52)
    Most likely was '82 Abstract where they were getting their info. You are probably right average age of 27.4 or something like that.

  69. @ 45 Doesn't matter what Ricciardi thought, he was long gone :)

  70. After he wins the World Series MVP, they will be saying:

    Welcome to the Napoli-est place on earth

  71. @Bill James comments

    These are lists of the top OPS+ for players in their age 29 seasons. It is thus biased toward players who did very well in their age 29 season. Why would you try to draw conclusions about what season players generally peak at from looking at a list of players that did well at one particular age? If Andy were to post a list of the best OPS for RHB against RHP, would you look at these players' careers and conclude that there is no platoon advantage?

    I'm fairly certain the James examined quite a bit more than 30 players and looked at a random sampling of them.

  72. Regarding the most common peak age -- My comment @46 was in response to a query about ALL players, not specifically catchers. It is often said (and it may even be true) that catchers take longer to develop than other position players, although I suspect that is more of a factor in the age at which they first land a starting MLB job.

  73. I did a quick study of catchers at age 27 and age 29 over the last 50 years, taking in everyone who had at least 200 PAs at the given age, with at least half their games at catcher.

    There was virtually no difference in the offensive rates, but the 27-year-olds played more.

    Combined stats for age 27 and age 29 (in that order):
    PAs -- 75,526 / 64,917
    BA -- .256 / .257
    OBP -- .323 / .325
    SLG -- .393 / .394
    OPS -- .717 / .719
    OPS+ -- 95 / 95

    Obviously, this isn't the best way to study the issue. It would be better to take a specific set of catchers and chart their value over the course of their careers. But at least it's a good-sized sample -- at least 173 catchers in each group. And so, to me, even this quick-and-dirty look suggests that a typical catcher is slightly more valuable at age 27 than at age 29, if only on the grounds of durability.

  74. @71: Point taken. A list of 20 catchers with the highest OPS+ at age 27 might show it was the best season for many of them. These 30 players did have several noticeably weak age 27 seasons. The original thought was having career years at age 29 that got off track. (post 43)

  75. @73: That was quick. Must of taken me more than 6 minutes to get my answer together. 73 wasn't posted yet. I'm slow.

  76. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @46, @66 - concerning Bill James' "players peak at age 27" statement:

    1) As Ed points out, he was not saying every player, or most players, or even a majority of players peak at age 27. He was saying that most players peak between 25 and 29, and within those years, there are more age-27 players than 25, 26 , 28 , or 29. This was done with with hundreds of player's careers, so there are also peak seasons from the early 20s to the mid-30s.

    2) This study was first done in 1982 (?), and since then, there is a factor which probably pushes the average peak age back:

    Overall conditioning is at a much higher level than then; up until the 1990's, most players came to Spring Training to get in shape; nowadays most players arrive at ST already in shape. This is due largly to the higher salaries, which mean that they do not need to work off-season jobs (after their first few MLB seasons) and concentrate on working out to stay in shape.

  77. Johnny Twisto Says:

    JA/73, I don't know if your stats necessarily show the age-27 catchers were more durable, without knowing how many there were of each age. It may just be that there were more of the age-27 guys, so they total more PA. But of course, if there were more of them, that is an indication of guys peaking at that age -- some of them were either given fewer than 200 PA, or were out of MLB entirely by age 29.

    Taking the average stats for each age isn't the best way to look at it, because it's a selective sample of the guys who were good enough to be playing at that age.

  78. Johnny Twisto Says:

    And I glossed over your post, so I now see you did acknowledge that.

  79. "Nepali! Nepali! Nepali!"

    (Context: My wife is Sherpa. Our three sons are half Sherpa. I don’t go anywheres without my Sherpas! We are Los Angeles Angels season ticketholders who went to Games 3, 4, and 5 of the 2011 World Series in Arlington.)

    Suka, Roger and I are back from Texas. Suka led the cheers with “Nepali! Nepali! Nepali!” every time Mike Napoli came to bat. Napoli had 7 rbis in the three games we saw. Game 5 had a trifecta: ex-Dodger Adrian Beltre had a game-tieing home run, ex-Angel Mike Napoli had the game-winning hit, and ex-Angel Darren Oliver was the winning pitcher. Game 3 saw a Ruthian performance by Albert Pujols. That Albert went 5-for-6 to tie three World Series one game records (5 hits, 3 HRs, and 6 RBI) and set one (14 TB). Inbetween Derek (Dutch Treat) Holland hurled 8 1/3 innings of 2-hit shutout ball to earn the win in Game 4. That was a far cry from Holland’s 13 pitch (1 strike, 12 balls) three walk relief appearance is 2010 WS Game 2 in San Francisco (that I went to) that helped turn a 2-0 Giants lead into a 9-0 forfeit score.

    Is Tony LaRussa senile or suffering from Alzheimers disease? You don’t have LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski warm up in the bullpen without a righthanded pitcher warming up at the same time. It does not matter how loud it was during the telephone call to the bullpen—the bullpen coach should have known better. Perhaps the Cardinals will have a new bullpen coach next year? Having a lefthanded pitcher pitch to Mike Napoli with the bases loaded late in a tie game is tantamount to presenting the World Series trophy to Napoli on a silver platter. I am confident with my Rangers in six games World Series prediction.

    Kudos to Allen Craig for getting thrown out stealing in the 7th and 9th innings in Game 5. That was the first time since 1955 a player had been caught stealing twice in a World Series game. That gave catcher Napoli more ammo in his MVP quest. The 7th inning caught stealing was damning because it created an intentional walk for Pujols. The 7th inning caught stealing came on a 1-1 pitch. In the 9th inning it was on a 3-2 pitch. Yes, Pujols led the N.L. in grounding into doubleplays (GIDP) in 2011 with 29. Three of those GIDPs were on Opening Day. That Albert led the N.L. in GIDPs wire-to-wire in 2011. Albert never had a day out of GIDP first place.

    The only way to drink Johnny Walker Black Label or Seagrams Crown Royal (no Jack Daniels) at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is in speakeasys on the second deck club level near the left and right field foul poles. The left field speakeasy had fans lined up outside waiting to get in. Rather than wait in line I walked halfway around the stadium to the other speakeasy. There was nothing secret about the speakeasys. They had clear glass windows so you could see inside and outside. However, a security guard was stationed at the door to make sure no alcoholic drinks left the drinking room. So much for buying a double and taking it to your seat. Clearly visiting the speakeasy was only a worthwhile pregame activity.

    The Holiday Inn we stayed at was a mile north/northwest of the ballpark. Suka and I drank Cabernet Sauvignon before and after each of the three games. Four bottles were enough for three games. A marguerita vendor came through the stands so we would not be dry during the games.

    There was a missed call in Game 3. Pujols led off the top of the 4th inning with a line single to leftcenter. Matt Holiday followed with a bouncer deep in the hole at short. Elvis Andrus started a 6-4-3 doubleplay. Second baseman Ian Kinsler’s throw to first pulled Napoli off of the bag. However, Napoli did tag Holliday on the helmet before Holliday stepped on first base. Ron Kulpa (born and bred a St. Louis Cardinals fan) was the first base umpire who muffed the call.

    Instead of two outs and nobody on base there was one out and a runner on first. Lance Berkman singled, David Freese doubled in a run, and Yadier Molina was intentionally walked. Jon Jay then hit a bouncer to Napoli at first. Napoli attempted a 3-2-3 doubleplay but did a Steve Garvey throwing the ball behind catcher Yorvit Torrealba to the backstop for an error allowing two runs to score. With two outs Napoli simply would have stepped on first base to end the inning with NO runs scored. A Ryan the Riot single plated the fourth run of the inning. Rafael Furcal bounced into a 1-2 forceout and Ranger starter Matt Harrison was removed from the game. Scott Feldman came in and the Cardinal shooting gallery shifted to automatic fire in the next inning.

    Vin Scully says there are no predestined events in baseball. Change Holliday’s 4th inning 6-4 forceout into a 6-4-3 doubleplay and the entire complexion of the game changes. With their starting pitcher Harrison still in the game and down only 1-0 the Rangers may well of won this game and emerged victorious in five games in the World Series. Was umpire Ron Kulpa drinking Budweiser or Lone Star after Game 3?

    Kulpa’s bad call set the stage for a Cardinals rout. I am confident that if you told Ranger manager Ron Washington that Albert Pujols would hit three home runs in the World Series Skipper Washington would reply “I hope he hits them all in one game.” In Game 3 of the World Series Pujols had five hits (two singles and three home runs). In the other four World Series games Pujols has zero-nada-zilch hits.

    Trick or treat? It was a treat seeing Pujols hat trick. It more than made up for missing the April 15th tax day Cardinals @ Dodgers game in which Pujols and Lance Berkman (Sir Lancelot a.k.a. Fat Elvis) each hit two home runs. We had to miss that slugfest because Roger had a Lions Play Action Flag Football game that night. Would I rather have two Albert regular season home runs in the bush or three Albert World Series home runs in the hand? I’ll take the World Series trio. Game 3 saw the greatest offensive one game individual performance in World Series history. Only Babe Ruth (1926 and 1928) and Reggie Jackson (1977) had previously hit three home runs in one World Series game.

    This makes eight consecutive seasons (2004-2011) I have seen the team that wins the World Series win a post-season game. We saw the Rangers take two-out-of-three games from the Cardinals. I have both teams covered this year. Pete Rose says don’t bet on a streak to end. I am all for doing this again next year!

    In 2010 San Francisco Giants fans left Pac Bell Park World Series games chanting “U-ri-be! U-ri-be! U-ri-be!” In 2011 Texas Rangers fans left the Ballpark in Arlington chanting “Na-po-li! Na-po-li! Na-po-li!” I have seen Uribe and Napoli each hit one World Series home run. Lifetime (regular season and post season) I have seen Napoli out-homer Uribe 35-1. The Angels trading Napoli to Toronto and four days later seeing him move on to Texas could have been worse. Napoli could have wound up with the Dodgers. Instead Frank McCourt and company traded for Juan Uribe.

  80. @77, JT -- Yes, "durability" wasn't quite the right word there.

    The 27-year-olds did average slightly more PAs, 380 to 375, but the biggest factor in the total PAs was that there were 199 catchers in the younger group and 173 in the older group.

    I do think that still carries some meaning; in a broad sense, we're looking at catchers who were considered good enough (or were healthy enough) to get 200 PAs in a season, and there were 15% more of those at age 27 than at 29. I just couldn't find a concise way to express that in the context of the peak-age issue.

  81. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    As a current example of a player who peaked late, I give you Marco Scutaro:
    - played his first MLB game at 26
    - first full season at 28
    - first qualified for the batting title at 32
    - "peak" year was in 2009 (age 33), so far

    Zack Wheat arguably had his peak at ages 36-37.

  82. @81.

    I think Bill James called the one-season, late 30s revival, the "last hurrah" phenomenon.

    Ted Williams had a season like that - he was playing at a high level right to the end, but had a monster season in 1957 or 1958. More recently, I recall Benito Santiago (just to pick someone who comes immediately to mind) had a "last hurrah" type season a few years ago. But, in almost all cases, this would not be a peak season, just a very good season similar to a player's peak.

  83. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @82/ Doug -
    I understand what you are saying; James also called it the "age 37" season phenomenom; an aging player will realize his physical skills arre slipping, and train extra-hard.

    But while Wheat had his best offensive years at 36/37, he probably wasn't quite the defensive OFer he was in his 20s, so his overall value may not have clearly been the highest at 36-37. WAR does suggest 36-37 as his peak, though 26-28 is almost as good.

    Ted Williams is kind of an exception to this peak stuff, as his only "off" year wasn't until age-40 in 1959, when he suffered much of the year from from a pinched nerve in his neck, and he couldn't turn his head to watch the baseball without difficulty. Now that's what I call a real "pain in the neck"...

    Can you imagine how many more years Williams could have played with the DH around?

  84. @83.

    Other players with Williams abilities (some imaginary players, I guess) might have gone on for several more years as a DH. Somehow, I don't think Williams would have.

    If Williams couldn't play at the highest level (and had no prospects for returning to that level), I don't think he would have stuck around. But, that's just based on what I've read about him, and sensed about him from some of the filmed interviews I've seen.

  85. Richard Chester Says:

    @83

    After 3 consecutive seasons with BAs of .255, .275 and .288 Stan Musial rebounded to hit .330 at age 41.

  86. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @84/ Doug -

    I think Williams could have played another year or two at a high level, he just would've played a few less games so that wouldn't get worn down. If you look at 1956-1960 and ignore 1959 (the neck injury), it's a gradual but steady decrease in games played.

    Yaz, nowhere the hitter that Williams was (but still pretty good till the end), DH'ed regularly till almost age 44.

  87. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    As for late peaks;

    How about Olivo, the reliever for the Pirates who didn't even make the majors until he was past forty. Would you say that his "peak year" was his age 41 season?

  88. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I meant to say Diomedes Olivo. Yet another typo!

  89. Richard Chester Says:

    @87

    Ditto Connie Marrero who entered the ML at age 39 and had his peak year at 41.

  90. These comparisons of players from year to year throughout baseball history are always interesting. Some of you may be aware but there is currently an All-Time Fantasy draft going on over at Nfbc.Stats.com of which I am taking part. Check it out if your interested. http://nfbcboards.stats.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi

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