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.