Before we begin, we need to understand a few things. First of all, in just the past ten years there have been more than 400 shortstops that have enjoyed the opportunity to play at the MLB level. We will not be analyzing every single shortstop that has played the game over the past 100+ years. This leads us to our next point, we will use a sampling of SS to reach our conclusions. Some of those SS are, or will be, Hall of Famers, others were grinders. We will take the sum of those samplings to reach our our conclusion. Finally, we will base our findings on the following formula:
WAR per year rating above or below career WAR average. Only years with a WAR above their career average are considered “peak years”.
By basing our findings on WAR we take into account the league average of any one given year. Plus, we are able to negate the differential between offensive and defensive production. Although that does raise a proposition for statistical analysis identifying peak offensive and defensive years…but I digress. Let’s dive into our beloved SS peak-year analysis.
Derek Jeter (NYY)- Career Avg WAR: 3.9
Peak Age Years: 22 – 31
Caveat- Jeter had one year (age 25 season) during his prime years where he performed below his career average WAR (3.7). Also, Jeter had one year (age 34 season) during his sub-prime years in which he performed above his career average WAR (6.8).
Ozzie Smith (STL)- Career Avg WAR: 3.6
Peak Age Years: 25 – 34
Caveat- The Wizard had two seasons (age 26 and 28 seasons) during his prime years where he underperformed his career average WAR (0.7 and 3.4 respectively). He also outperformed his career average WAR twice (age 36 and 37 seasons) during his sub-prime years (both with a 5.1 WAR).
Alex Gonzalez (TOR)- Career Avg WAR: 0.7
Peak Age Years: 22 – 29
Caveat- Alex Gonzalez had three seasons during his prime years (24, 26, 28 age seasons) that he underperformed his career average WAR (0.3, -0.3, 0.6). During his subprime years he outperformed his career average (age 31 season) WAR once (1.5).
Edgar Renteria (STL)- Career Avg WAR: 2.2
Peak Age Years: 25 – 30
Caveat- Renteria underperformed his career average WAR twice (1.7 and 1.7) during his peak years (age 27 and 28 seasons). During his subprime years he outperformed his career average only once during his rookie year with a 3.5 WAR.
Rafael Furcal (ATL & LAD)- Career Avg WAR: 2.5
Peak Age Years: 24-31
Caveat- Furcal underperformed his career average WAR twice (1.4, 2.1) during his peak years (age 28 and 29 seasons). Furcal only outperformed his career average WAR once during his rookie year.
These are just a few examples of the types of shortstops we dissected through our research. We used a combined 100 shortstops to find our conclusions. What we found is a pronounced trend. For shortstops who were able to play until at least their age 36 seasons, the more than 80% of those shortstops endured at minimum a slight drop in their WAR during their age 32 seasons and falling below their career-average WAR by their age 33 seasons. For shortstops who played until they were at least 32 but not past 35, over 75% of them suffered a steep decline below their career-average WAR by age 30.
For such a demanding position which requires speed, athleticism, quick hands, quick feet, a good glove and at least a serviceable bat it was impressive to find that out of the 100 shortstops we evaluated, 9% were able to play until at least their age-40 seasons. In order to compare the most like positions, our next analysis will evaluate second basemen.
Paul is an eleven year veteran money manager and former hedge fund Managing Partner. He has been a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan since he first put on a glove at the age of three. Paul is a student of the saber metrics side of baseball, but after playing baseball for thirteen years in his youth understands the importance and need for traditional scouting. With his financial and business background you can be confident that Paul will defer to the numbers when conducting analysis.