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Is Mike Trout a veteran?

‘Veteran’ is a subjective term, but maybe we can start putting some numbers to the age-old saying.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Around this time last week, Jake Arrieta said some words, and once again, what he said was unfortunate. Arrieta was on ESPN Radio in Chicago and commented on whether bat-flipping was ok in baseball.

“Some of that might have to do with the situation, the magnitude of the game and who was doing the bat flipping. If it’s a young guy, he might not have earned that right yet. Somebody might wear the next one in the ribs.

“But if it’s a guy like [Jose] Bautista, somebody who’s been doing it for a number of years, then you got to tip your cap. Certain guys have earned the right to do that. It’s something that I think the fans enjoy. It just shows some enthusiasm. In big spots like that, there’s so much on the line and sometimes it’s nice to see guys lay loose and let that excitement really show.”

Hitting players intentionally is wrong. Even if you don’t intend to injure the player, you’re throwing a ball that’s going 90 mph-plus, and we know that pitchers don’t have perfect control or command. Even if you intend to hit them in the ribs — which can be pretty damaging too — you might miss your spot and bean them somewhere worse. Beyond that, the intent itself is malicious. The pitcher is trying to play guardian, subjectively deciding who’s allowed to have fun and show joy and who isn’t.

Plus, what the hell is a veteran anyway? It seems like such an arbitrary distinction.

Paul makes a good point — focusing on age alone doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. For example, what if a player is 28 or 29, but debuted last year? That player hasn’t been at the major-league level for very long, which is the whole point of ‘veteran’ status, is it not? Arrieta’s comments, ill-advised though they may have been, led me to ponder this conundrum.

Mike Trout is an interesting test case as well. In 2016, the median age in baseball was 28 years old, and Trout was 24. But, the median years played in the league was 4, while Trout played his 6th season. So, is Trout a veteran or not?

Before we go any further, let me emphasize that the following analysis is by no means advocating for anyone to get hit with a baseball. This is simply trying to quantify an age-old saying in baseball and in sports. Players who will fall under the mark to qualify as veterans should not be intentionally hit for celebrating a home run.

In order to answer this question, I gathered data from Baseball-Reference for the 2016 season. Armed with that information, I weighted the age of each position player who had played at least 10 games in 2016 by the number of years he had been in the league. Then I calculated the median, which will serve as our baseline.

The players with the most experience, by this metric, would be Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and Carlos Beltran. Both Ortiz and Rodriguez were 40 years old last year, while Beltran will turn 40 next month. The reason Rodriguez would lead this list is because he played his 22nd season last year, while Ortiz played his 20th. By this measure, someone like Mike Trout could be considered a veteran, if only so slightly.

This kind of makes sense. Trout has been in the league for a number of years now. Just about everyone following the game with some modicum of regularity will have heard of him. Yet Trout is also young. He made his debut when he was 19, and one of the reasons he’s so impressive is because he still, theoretically, hasn’t hit his prime on the aging-curve yet.

That said, this measure might not be doing Trout justice. Arrieta and other veterans have described players as “earning it,” which, in essence, should refer to performance, no? While Trout doesn’t have the same weighted age as A.J. Pierzynski, he certainly has more prominence in the game, especially considering that he’s been the best player in the game for the past five years.

So, with that in mind, instead of weighting age by years played, I weighted age by the player’s total career WAR.

With this measure, someone like Mike Trout is unarguably a veteran. That shouldn’t really surprise anyone, since, as mentioned, Trout has been the game’s best player since he entered the league. Indeed, players such as Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant — both of whom would not have met the last metric’s threshold — are also veterans using this methodology.

Veterans are often described as “leaders” and players who have earned it. But these subjective criteria are almost entirely based on age and not performance. Shouldn’t the best players in the game, or on a given team also be considered leaders? Shouldn’t they have ‘earned it’ (whatever that means)?

These results are not meant to be interpreted as rules for what qualifies as a veteran. The idea of who is and who isn’t a veteran is still subjective, with many other variables to consider (and, to reiterate, this is not at all to endorse what Arrieta said.)

That said, thinking beyond age would probably add value to the discussion as to what qualifies someone as a ‘veteran’. Age is probably the most important variable when considering who is a veteran, but other variables should be included in the discussion as well, which could bring us to less bias distinctions.

Julien Assouline is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. He’s written for Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, and BP Milwaukee. You can follow him on twitter @JulienAssouline