G-Beards v. W-Snappers: A New All-Star Event

A lot has been written about the youth movement in professional baseball. A bulge of pre-arb and arb-eligible studs are pushing out the hobbled gritty vets and reworking how the old ballgame is played, structured, and thought about. Aside from bullpen usage, this may be the biggest current trend in baseball, and the defining trait of the post-Moneyball, big-data, and steroid eras. The value and role remaining for baseball’s seniors is a question playing out on the field (Trea Turner) and in contract negotiations (Jose Bautista and Mike Napoli). But what if it was actually played out straight-up man versus child, craft versus skill, knee brace versus jock strap, once a year? A one-game exhibition between under-24s and over-34-year-olds. Graybeards versus Whippersnappers.

While the All-Star Game promises to be more entertaining now that Bud’s “This time it counts!” policy is no más, the majority of FanGraphs fans still likely prefer the weekend’s other event, the Futures Game. It’s a chance to see the abstract names and grades we’ve read about for so long on a real major-league diamond, showing what they can do against similar talent. A youth-versus-veteran competition would offer the same kind of spectacle. A chance to see how well the recently devalued old-timers, with their guile and years of experience, do against the heralded up-and-comers, with their loose swings and swagger. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? It would give players left off the All-Star roster but having respectable seasons a chance for publicity, and help create more generational fraternity among players in a way not based on locker-room hazing. It would be fun — there are not many avenues for inexperienced labor to directly challenge their seniors in any field of work — and I think it would also be surprisingly competitive.

Let’s imagine what this might have looked like last year in San Diego, using WAR leaders (100 PA or 10 innings pitched minimums) through the first half of the season for players 24 and under and 34 and older, not in the All-Star Game. For the actual selections, if this event ever took place, each team could send a player that fits each age bracket, or status quo could be maintained and fans could vote (in which case, I have a feeling Bartolo would start every year he’s not an All-Star).

Graybeards

Starters

(C) David Ross

(1B) Adrian Gonzalez

(2B) Ian Kinsler

(3B) Adrian Beltre

(SS) Jimmy Rollins

(OF) Nelson Cruz

(OF) Ichiro Suzuki

(OF) Curtis Granderson

(DH) Jose Bautista

Reserves

(OF) Rajai Davis

(2B) Chase Utley

(2B) Aaron Hill

(C) Victor Martinez

(OF) Jayson Werth

(OF) Marlon Byrd

(1B) Mike Napoli

(3B) Juan Uribe

(OF) Matt Holliday

(1B) Albert Pujols

(OF) Ryan Raburn

(C) A.J. Ellis

(OF) Coco Crisp

(OF) Nori Aoki

(2B) Brandon Phillips

(C) A.J. Pierzynski

Pitchers

Rich Hill

Adam Wainwright

John Lackey

CC Sabathia

Colby Lewis

Jake Peavy

Hisashi Iwakuma

R.A. Dickey

James Shields

Jonathan Papelbon (worth the price of admission)

Francisco Rodriguez

Brad Ziegler

Joe Blanton

Oliver Perez

Jason Grilli

Koji Uehara

 

Whippersnappers

Starters

(C) Christian Bethancourt

(1B) Miguel Sano

(2B) Jose Ramirez

(3B) Nick Castellanos

(SS) Trevor Story

(OF) Christian Yelich

(OF) Gregory Polanco

(OF) Joc Pederson

(DH) Javier Baez

Reserves

(2B) Jonathan Schoop

(3B) Maikel Franco

(2B) Rougned Odor

(SS) Tim Anderson

(2B) Jurickson Profar

(OF) Nomar Mazara

(OF) Michael Conforto

(OF) Max Kepler

(OF) Mallex Smith

(SS) Eugenio Suarez

(SS) Chris Owings

(OF) Byron Buxton

(1B) Tommy Joseph

(3B) Cheslor Cuthbert

(OF) Delino DeShields

(OF) Jorge Soler

Pitchers

Aaron Nola

Vince Velasquez

Carlos Martinez

Joe Ross

Lance McCullers

Michael Fulmer

Jon Gray

Robbie Ray

Carlos Rodon

Zach Davies

Matt Wisler

Julio Urias

Taijuan Walker

Blake Snell

Roberto Osuna

 

Those are pretty interesting lists of names. All-time greats like Ichiro and Pujols against great career starts like Odor and Story. The AL ROY (Fulmer), many former top prospects, and familiar names make up the pitchers. Almost all the elder statesmen have played in an All-Star Game before, and it’s likely many of the youngsters will get their chances soon. Some 2016 borderline All-Star snubs like Beltre, Kinsler, Yelich, Cruz, and Polanco would have had an opportunity to show what they can do in San Diego. Clearly, the lists show that shortstops don’t last as long and catchers take a while to mature. Youth is heavy on starters (suggesting they will either flame out or be converted to relievers) while age has more relievers sticking around, racking up WAR.

The W-Snappers’ position players edge the G-Beards in total WAR (26.7 to 19.2) and average wRC+ (103.8 to 98.04), but trail in rate stats (7.3 to 9.3 BB% and 23.4 to 18.2 K%) that tend to refine as players age. Counting stats show that under-24s lead in strength and speed (233 to 224 home runs and 96 to 78 stolen bases) despite having nearly 1000 fewer total plate appearances. Age wins in the “old-school” counting stats RBI (850 to 787) and runs (864 to 799). These tallies and plate appearances suggest that teams continue to use their veteran players more often and higher up the lineup than might be prudent. But the game would be a chance to see if savvy situational hitting by aged hitters, in fact, met the eye test. Despite these stats, it would be hard to bet against a lineup with Bautista, Beltre, Kinsler, and Cruz, but I do wonder if that is that only because I’ve been seeing those names for years? Surprisingly, both sides pull the ball and hit for hard contact at nearly the same rates (around 32 and 40% of the time respectively), although the younger players are luckier, with a 29-point higher BABIP (.317 to .288), likely due to their speed.

For pitchers, the two arsenals come in with nearly identical ERAs (3.9 for youth and 3.8 for age), BB/9 (around 3/9), and K/9 (around 9/9), but again the younger players have the edge in total WAR (21.9 to 15.8). Contact (77%), Zone (48%), Swing (46%), and Hard Contact (31%) rates are all uncannily similar across both teams. I suspect the similarities are because the sampling of player quality is roughly equivalent, but I had wondered if there would be more noticeable differences in how pitchers on opposite ends of the age spectrum were getting hitters out (nibbling and generating weak contact, for example).

To make the game more about the players, there would be an additional rule: player-managers for both sides. This would be a chance for managerial hopefuls like David Ross to audition and stir their dogged age-grades against the ravages of time. On the other side, young clubhouse leaders could emerge and rally their cohort against the stubborn establishment. Baseball is about rituals, and what is a more eternal ritual than coming-of-age ceremonies in which fathers initiate young men into adulthood, but not before a challenge of brawn? Imagine the storylines: brush-backs, pick-offs, and Ichiro beating out an infield single would all take on new meanings. Names would be made and stars would fade honorably into fatherly roles who could still show they had it.

Would players go for it? Probably not. They wouldn’t want to label themselves as old, and might see the game as a gimmicky sideshow to the weekend’s main attraction, where everyone would rather be playing. If it were going to work, it would need to be branded in a respectful way: MLB’s Mentorship Game (sponsored by The Boys and Girls Club of America!) between veterans and young guns. The Player’s Union would probably not like older players missing their chance to rest during the break, but it also might be enticing as an opportunity to demonstrate that both vets and youth have a place in the game, and that aging players should receive more contract interest and younger players should have more early-career leverage.

I highly doubt many emerging players would miss a chance to hang out with their elder heroes and show them up during All-Star weekend. So, the question is, what say you, Napoli and party — challenge accepted?



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