Does plate discipline come with age?

Even father time was unable to temper Vladimir. - Harry How

Do players gain plate discipline as they age and mature? Using DISC+, we question with numbers, the idea of increasing discipline with age.

A week ago I did a piece on quantifying plate discipline with the metric DISC+. The results, that of which you can read here, yielded a year to year R^2 of .77, telling us that we captured a real repeatable skill in DISC+.

Now that we have a simple way of calculating a metric that at least can map the very essence of a player's plate discipline skill -- we can look into the correlation between age and patience at the plate.

It has long been considered a given that plate discipline is a skill that becomes more developed with age. With a way to quantify discipline in our hands, we can at least try to distinguish the correlation -- whether it exists or not -- between age and plate discipline.

Before we do that, I should announce that a few changes have been made to the overall DISC+:

1) Z-CONTACT/Z-SWING

2) (1-ZONE)*O-SWING*(1-O-CONTACT%)

3) PITCHES/PA

Yielding the formula:

((Z-CONTACT%/Z-SWING%)/(Z-CONTACT%(lg)/Z-SWING%(lg))*100+*((1-ZONE(lg))*O-SWING(lg)*(1-O-CONTACT%(lg))/((1-ZONE)*O-SWING*(1-O-CONTACT%))*100+(PITCHES/PA)/(PITCHES(lg))/PA(lg))*100)/3

Using these principles, we will adjust them for league averages to be a plus stat -- like we did in the previous article. Doing this, the year to year correlation between DISC+'s jumps form 77% to 84% -- a really fantastic improvement.

Moving on, lets look at a chart for the average DISC+ totals for each age, 21-40, since 2002:

Results

Age DISC+
21 120.43
22 99.71
23 101.82
24 103.96
25 107.79
26 107.35
27 108.45
28 107.38
29 109.33
30 106.21
31 107.69
32 110.15
33 112.85
34 110.42
35 110.17
36 109.13
37 106.93
38 124.62
39 128.58
40 120.86

You can see that there seems to be little relationship between age and DISC+; but interestingly enough, the 38, 39, 40 age seasons was where we saw an uptick in the average discipline totals.

However, there is no significant correlation to age with and R^2 of .01 -- but DISC+ is a significant predictor with a p-score of 0.0006947.

Even in this small sample size we see an interesting trend -- 21 year olds exhibited above league average plate discipline. However, in the early 20's, the average is around below league average; meanwhile, in ages 25-31, players exhibited a DISC+ around the league average of 108.

Interestingly enough, a trend upwards occurs in plate discipline during the 38, 39, and 40 year seasons that makes you wonder if age is a function of discipline. This, however, could be a function of the lack of qualified seasons from 38, 39, and 40 year olds since 2002 -- so this result also screams small sample size.

In the end, the numbers tell us that there is no significant trend behind age and discipline as quantified by DISC+, even as much as I want to believe in its existence.

For the sake of discovery, let's take a look at the player seasons with an age over 38 -- the time in which we saw the most significant trend upwards in discipline -- and look at the biggest gainers and losers during that age period:

Name Season Age Gain
Omar Vizquel 2005 38 17.62
Rafael Palmeiro 2003 38 8.69
Craig Biggio 2005 39 8.07
Steve Finley 2003 38 5.76
Raul Ibanez 2010 38 4.77
Ichiro Suzuki 2012 38 4.01
Barry Bonds 2003 38 3.86
Luis Gonzalez 2006 38 3.69
Kenny Lofton 2007 40 2.70
Craig Biggio 2007 41 1.25
Jamey Carroll 2012 38 0.98
Omar Vizquel 2006 39 0.85
Frank Thomas 2007 39 0.74
Craig Biggio 2006 40 0.54
Omar Vizquel 2007 40 0.35
Luis Gonzalez 2007 39 -0.64
Derek Jeter 2012 38 -1.40
Raul Ibanez 2011 39 -6.14
Craig Biggio 2004 38 -15.73
Edgar Martinez 2004 41 -20.70
Jeff Conine 2004 38 -23.40
Steve Finley 2004 39 -24.27
Rafael Palmeiro 2004 39 -30.70
Barry Bonds 2004 39 -32.95

Palmeiro and Bonds made jumps in their DISC+ totals in the 2003 season -- both at the age of 38. Subsequently, the duo both took ugly dips downwards in 2004 at -30 dives in their discipline rating.

Also, as you can see, the amount of lost discipline far exceeds that of which was gained by the population; only complicating our findings on the overall uptick in the age 38 - 40 seasons.

In the end, there may be no significant correlation here, but given the fantastic year to year consistency of DISC+ a player who has a plate discipline skill is unlikely to lose it when he ages. For guys like Omar Vizquel and Marco Scutaro, their fantastic plate discipline had less to do with their age and experience and more with there career skill. With the mean of DISC+ around 108 and the standard deviation of season to season gain being only 9, it is not unreasonable to think of DISC+ as a skill rather than a function of experience. More often than not these skills do not deteriorate. If a player enters the the league with a good eye, he will retire with a good eye. If a player enters the league with a terrible approach, his DISC+ will stay fairly constant with the original quantified approach.

Finally, lets take a look at two players who entered the league with completely different skill-sets to back up the above points -- Vladimir Guerrero and Jason Kendall:

Guerrero starts his career off with below average plate discipline skills, while Kendall begins with exceptional plate approach. Despite a late surge towards the end of Vladimir's career, he ends up right where he left off -- below league average. Despite Kendall's prime years discipline being better than where he started off as a rookie, he regressed back to where he started his career. Although this is only a snapshot into two player profiles, you can see discipline has more to do with skill and entry rather experience and tenure.

What do you guys think? Do you believe that age is a component of discipline and that the secret is hidden within?

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You can contact Max Weinstein on twitter.

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