MLB Playoffs 2012 and Team Ages: Nationals are youngest, Yankees Oldest

Greg Fiume - Getty Images

Is extensive veteran presence important, when so many successful teams this season are very young? That's a clown question, bro. Don't look now, but the best team in baseball is also one of the youngest.

I know you know this by now, but the Washington Nationals are just finishing up an excellent run through the 2012 regular season. With a home-field advantage in the NLDS, and Natitude taking the world the internet the city of Washington the Nationals PR department by storm, things look very bright in the nation's capital.

But not only is 2012 a sterling season, the Nationals also have reason to be very optimistic for the future. You see, not only are the Nationals an excellent playoff squad, and probably the best team in the majors through the regular season, they are also quite young. How young, you might ask? Well, their hitters are the fourth-youngest in baseball, according the the averages run at Baseball-Reference. And their pitchers? They're the youngest in the bigs.

Surprised? Me too. Below, you'll find a couple of tables, with stats pulled from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. Go ahead and check them out, they contain the ages and stats for the ten presumptive playoff teams and the league averages.

Team Hitter Ages + Stats

Team Average Age MLB Rank (Age) OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR rWAR
Nationals 27.2 4 0.322 0.426 0.323 101 29.0 19.4
Athletics 27.7 7 0.310 0.403 0.312 98 23.1 19.0
Giants 27.8 8 0.328 0.397 0.315 99 30.0 27.9
Orioles 28.0 13 0.313 0.42 0.317 96 15.9 11.8
Tigers 28.1 14 0.335 0.424 0.328 105 21.2 14.4
Braves 28.5 18 0.320 0.390 0.310 92 29.8 23.6
LgAvg 28.5 N/A 0.319 0.406 0.315 96 22.7 17.8
Reds 28.8 20 0.316 0.413 0.315 93 27.4 14.9
Cardinals 29.2 22 0.338 0.423 0.330 107 34.9 26.9
Rangers 29.7 25 0.334 0.448 0.335 104 26.6 18.6
Yankees 32.7 30 0.335 0.451 0.340 112 29.7 25.7

Team Pitcher Ages + Stats

Team Average Age MLB Rank (Age) ERA- FIP- K/9 BB/9 fWAR rWAR
Nationals 27.0 1 85 91 8.12 3.05 21.2 20.1
Reds 27.1 2 83 94 7.72 2.66 20.5 24.9
Orioles 27.6 8 93 99 7.12 2.93 16.6 20.8
Braves 27.6 9 87 96 7.64 2.92 18.1 11.7
Athletics 27.9 13 88 97 6.95 2.83 17.4 22.4
Tigers 28.2 17 91 85 8.33 2.72 25.0 22.4
LgAvg 28.4 N/A 100 100 7.56 3.06 15.2 11.8
Cardinals 28.6 19 97 95 7.47 2.69 18.5 12.5
Rangers 28.7 20 91 88 8.02 2.78 24.1 24.4
Giants 30.0 26 97 101 7.66 3.06 14.6 6.5
Yankees 30.3 29 93 94 8.20 2.69 19.6 20.6

Note: Yes, I'm aware that these aren't yet the numbers for the full season, as we have two games left to go for most teams, but we're pretty close to the end and any last-minute changes should be relatively minor. A guy's gotta make his deadlines.

In terms of playoff squads, we see that the Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers are all older than league average, while the Nationals and Orioles are quite young, and most other teams are somewhere in the middle, or have one older side and one younger side.

The Strange Case of the Nationals

As I mentioned prior, the Nationals are young, almost strikingly so. Since the conventional wisdom indicates that veteran presence is critical for postseason success, I wonder if recent playoff teams have had much success with either pitching or positional units as young as the Nats?

It turns out that, in the last 10 years, only three teams made it to either LCS with hitters as young as the Nationals. The '08 Rays had an average hitter age of 27.2 also. The '07 Diamondbacks were younger, averaging 26.6 years, while the '02 Twins averaged 26.8 years. None of these teams won a World Series.

As far as LCS pitching staffs go, the '06 A's shared a staff age of 27 with the Nationals. The '03 Marlins have the Nationals beat, with a pitching staff average age of 26.3 years. They're also the only team to actually win a World Series over that period with a younger staff. That's it, at least as far as the last ten years go.

All that tells us that teams as young as the Nationals don't usually find themselves in the ALCS or NLCS, and haven't recently found themselves in a World Series, with the exception of the '03 Marlins. I'm not trying to imply causation here, as the sample is too small, but it goes to show that the Nationals are an unusual case.

Bryce Harper is an outlier among outliers, as nobody else in baseball is as young as he is, much less accounting for nearly 600 plate appearances for his team. When you run a 19-year-old out there every day, your average hitter age will certainly drop. Without Harper, the team's average age isn't that much less than the league average, despite playing time given to Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi.

But it's the Nationals' rotation that's the real age-related twist. The "old man" of the Nats rotation is 28-year-old Edwin Jackson. The Nats have only run out seven starters this season, and Chien-Ming Wang (who only logged 32.1 innings) is the only one over the age of 30. The other rotation mainstays are Gio Gonzalez (26), Jordan Zimmermann (26), Ross Detweiler (you'll never guess ... 26!), and Stephen Strasburg (23).

Before I bring this thing to a close, I'd like to offer a couple of quick hits and factoids regarding major league average ages:

Quick Team Age Hits:

  • Believe it or not, the Tampa Bay Rays are one of the older position-player teams in baseball for this season. They're fifth-oldest in position players, coming in at an average age of 29.7. I always think of Tampa as a "young" team, partially due to the age of their rotation (the Rays are only 28.1 years old in pitching), and partially due to their consistent position as a low-payroll squad. While the team's had a phenomenal run of developing young pitching talent, they need to start pumping out young, cost-controlled position players relatively soon.
  • As you might imagine, some of the worst franchises in the bigs are some of the youngest. The Astros are third-youngest in pitching, and second-youngest in hitting. The Royals are fourth-youngest in pitching, and youngest (by a sizable margin) in hitting. The Indians, Mariners and Blue Jays are also younger teams.
  • Other than the Yankees, some of the oldest teams in baseball are the Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, Rangers and Brewers. Think it's a coincidence that large-payroll teams skew older? Me neither. Free agency, man.
  • The New York Mets have the oldest pitching staff in baseball, no doubt buoyed by Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana. Their position players, however, are safely younger than league average.
The conventional wisdom states that winning teams have a solid veteran presence. Well, if that were the case, then the Yankees look to be in solid position to make the jump to success in the playoffs. But looking at the long-term, the Nationals and their fans should be pretty pleased. Not only are they one of the best teams in the bigs this season, but they're also young enough to be considered contenders for the near future.
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