Does Speed Age Well?

Even before word began getting out that Carl Crawford had signed a seven year $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, questions were being asked about how a player like Crawford, whose value to a team is so strongly associated with his speed, would age under the length of the deal.

There were two camps in the discussion:

On one side it was argued that as a player aged, his speed would disappear and the value he brought to a team would vanish with it.  On the other side of the conversation, it was suggested that faster guys are normally better athletes, and as such they can maintain their athletic abilities longer.

Enter sabermetric extraordinaire Tom Tango, who has worked in the past with both the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays on statistical analysis.

Previously, Tango discovered that great players, those who had four years in their career where they averaged 4+ WAR (wins above replacement), tended to drop 0.5 wins per season after those four years.

Tango then took the players from that study and parsed them down to only those who, like Crawford, “derive a great deal of their value from SB, CS (total SB runs of at least +20)” during their four years of 4+ WAR.

His first finding was that the speedsters produced a higher average WAR than the regular great players over the four year range, but more importantly they actually aged slightly better than the common great player.  Where the average player’s contribution lessened by 0.5 each season after the four years of greatness, the speedster’s value decreased by 0.45.  When Tango lessened the threshold from 4.0 WAR to 2.5 WAR, he found that the speedsters value lessened by only 0.38.

So . . . speedy players do, in fact, age better than average players.  Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you that the Crawford contract is unbelievable considering the left fielder has never hit 20 home runs in a season.

I’m sure that will go well.

Comments (11)

  1. Nice post.

    But something that also has to be taken into consideration is a lower body injury… A bad enough one, and Crawfords contract is completely useless… Not saying it will happen, but they aren’t uncommon…

    I would guess with Crawford, he either plays at a pretty high level the entire life of the contract OR does a total nose dive and Boston is left with a liability on their books. I don’t see a steady decline…

  2. You could say that about any contract. Every single deal is one bad injury away from liability status.

    P.S. the teams are injured up, down, and back up the ass again.

  3. But…but…Jon Heyman says…Jon Heyman says that Crawford’s deal is ridiculous because he’s never hit 20 home runs. And…and…and…he says that Jayson Werth would’ve been a better fit for Boston because he’s awesome and has hit more than 20 homeruns before.

    We know two things:
    1) Jon Heyman knows everything
    2) Home Runs are the only stat that counts in baseball

    So…how now Parkes?

  4. Not really on topic, but in 76 career games at Fenway, Crawford has only OPS’d .706 with a OBP around .300. I guess 76 games is a relatively small sample.

  5. Well then by that logic, they should have put together a massive care package in offer of JoBau

  6. Interesting numbers. All the Boston writers have been going to town on how much Crawford has killed them in the past with his speed.

  7. With Ellsbury and Crawford, good thing the Jays brought back Molina. Although, I am basing this off of what I saw, and am too lazy to check the stats.

  8. Does anyone remember Kenny Lofton? Over the seasons from ages 29-35 (same age as CC) he totaled nearly 30 WAR. That’s pretty good. The Sox don’t have too much to worry about.

  9. Why would anyone want Crawford when they can have the Toronto class A hero Vernon Fucking Wells?

  10. @nunya. It is very easy to criticize the Wells deal in hindsight. At the time of the deal other CF’s were getting HUGE contracts as well. The fear was that he would make more on the open market when he became a FA. I would suspect that Godfrey was involved as well (wanting to sign Wells long term as a marketing tool).

  11. @Travis Reitsma: I bow before the stunning logic of Jon Heyman. He almost has as much baseball savvy as Bob McCown. It’s really close.

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