B(old) and the Beautiful, Part 2

Mike Stobe

After comparing older and younger hitters in fantasy production, we now turn our attention to starting pitchers to see how older and younger pitchers stack up to one another.

Fantasy managers are fickle. They love shiny new toys, especially when it comes to young, flame throwers. It remains to be seen, though, if these guys are really any more productive than their older, veteran counterparts. In my previous Bold and Beautiful--hitter's edition post I concluded that older hitters (ages 32-39) have roughly the same or better overall offensive production as younger hitters (ages 21-26). Today we will focus on starting pitching and see what the numbers say.

In this particular sample I took all the young pitchers, aged 20-25 (20 players), and then took another group of aging vets, aged 32-40 (19 players) and compared their numbers across the 2013 season. Here's what I came up with (all stats courtesy of fangraphs.com):

Age W L G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
24 13 9 31 31 192.2 7.62 2.74 0.93 0.280 75.12% 44.62% 10.28% 3.50 3.71 3.74 2.82
35 13 11 32 31 196.9 6.76 2.34 1.04 0.294 74.56% 44.62% 10.93% 3.79 3.91 3.85 2.59

As you can see at a glance the numbers are very similar in both age groups. There are few significant difference between the two except that young guys, not surprisingly, strike out almost one more batter per 9 IP than their veteran counterparts. The older guys tend to give up the long ball a tad more and their ERAs are about .3 higher than the young studs. However, when factoring in how much you will pay for those young arms in the draft, especially in redraft leagues, the results are negligible.

So, let's do the name game again to compare a young "desirable" fantasy commodity with an over-the-hill vet who is "on his last leg":

Player Age W L GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
A 20 12 6 28 172.2 9.75 3.02 0.52 0.24 79.40% 45.10% 7.10% 2.19 2.73 3.08 4.2
B 36 10 11 30 191 9.85 3.16 0.52 0.305 71.80% 56.50% 9.10% 3.3 2.8 2.92 4

These two have eerily similar numbers, and you can probably guess that Player A is Jose Fernandez (MIA) since there weren't any other 20 year-olds pitching in the majors last year. Obviously he had a monster year and will be all the rage next season in fantasy circles (but watch out for BABIP regression!). What you probably wouldn't guess is that Player B is A.J. Burnett (PIT). This is not to say that Fernandez=Burnett, especially in dynasty formats. However, it is comforting to know that older vets can put up dominating performances as well as younger guys.

Just one more example:

Player Age W L GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
A 23 13 9 31 201.1 8.9 2.77 0.67 0.251 75.70% 46.80% 8.20% 2.77 3.05 3.32 3.7
B 40 18 6 30 190.1 5.53 1.37 0.66 0.294 80.00% 41.50% 6.00% 2.65 3.23 3.95 3.9

Obviously Player A is getting it done via the strikeout, while Player B is a finesse/control artist. In case of Mr. A, some BABIP regression could be expected, as is the case with Player B's LOB%. They were both a little lucky this year but ended up with very similar results, the older being a tad more valuable to his team than the younger. No one could have predicted Bartolo Colon (B) doing what he did this year, and no one in their right mind would have taken him over Madison Bumgarner either. Perhaps you still wouldn't.

What's the take away here? The really young pitchers and really old pitchers can be of similar value to you throughout the fantasy season. Whatever gains you may make up in ERA, you lose in WHIP, and you'll get a few more Ks with the young guy. In either case above you are not going to go out and swap Colon for Mad-Bum, Burnett for Fernandez. However, it takes a manager with guts to trade for a wily vet SP to make a playoff push (or to win the championship). Likewise, even though your league mates might laugh when you draft Hiroki Kuroda (38 ys, 3.8 WAR) over Stephen Strasburg (24, 3.2 WAR*) in a yearly league, but you'll be the one laughing in the end, and whatever you've saved in upfront costs can be used to fortify your roster elsewhere without sacrificing performance.

*I realize WAR is not a fantasy category, but it's a short-hand way for me to show overall value.

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