As Bill James put it, age-arc projection for batters is basically a simple thing. Past age 30, they are skiing down a slope towards replacement level, and how long it takes them is merely a function of how high up the slope they are when they start.
- Fielder's age-arc projection is more complicated than for most hitters, in my view:
- He'll only be 28 (!) at the start of his contract -- won't turn 28 until next May.
- His top eight B-Ref comps averaged 10 years of cleanup hitting from here.
- Out-of-shape hitters DO seem to age quicker: Luzinski, Dunn, Hrbek, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Boog Powell.
Adam Dunn, if this be his crash year (?!) hit it at age 31, but I doubt that it is. Anyway, he'd be quite an outlier in this group; the comps include Eddie Murray who had 15 ! years left at age 27, Strawberry, Will Clark, Juan Gonzalez, etc.
There isn't much doubt that Prince will hold court until he's 33, anyway, but his agent will battle you to pay the very years you're scared to pay. That's what Fielder's contract will be all about: who will risk the most years at the end.
=== Whatever Position You've Got, It's Been Played Before, Dept. ===
I've got a bad vibe about Fielder's age-arc: "physically sloppy" left hand cleanup hitters seem fragile to me:
Adam Dunn is 31 and struggling. That's probably irrelevant...
Greg Luzinski was a 150 OPS+ guy, but his last good year was age 32.
Kent Hrbek was a chubby LHB, a 130 OPS+ guy with a coupla 140 years, last year age 33.
Cecil Fielder, a RHB, had two great years at ages 26 and 27 and you don't wanna see this. At age 28 he became Raul Ibanez and ages 32-33 he was hanging on.
Boog Powell had a 160-OPS peak, kept hitting 140-150, and SUDDENLY after age 33, he was just dunn.
Mo Vaughn was literally an MVP, hitting .320 with 40+ homers, but his Raul Ibanez years started at age 31 and after age 34 he was out of baseball.
David Ortiz is a nice counterexample. He also looked to have fallen off the cliff at ages 32-33, but somehow he's rallied at ages 34-35. ::whew::
Babe Ruth is a counterexample .... hehehehehehehehhhhh
You could do a formal study to isolate guys like this - lefty superstars who were wayyyyy out of shape - but I'll bet you 4 to 1 that they lose three-to-five years at the end of their careers.
Wasn't it one of our NPB friends who pointed out the importance of body fat % in decline years? Check me, but I think that in Japan they consider body fat % v-e-r-y important for aging players. Not because of vanity, but because of its observed effect on reflexes.
There's a chance, say 10 or 20% (see below), that Prince will do what his daddy did, and lose the luster NEXT year. On the other 80%, I'm very uncomfortable paying him past age 32 or 33.
But it is part of the price of the contract to pay MLB superstars for two years after you think they'll be good. If you're paying Fielder as a first baseman, $20M+ times 7-8 years ... that is, through age 34 or 35 ... is going to be the convention. You don't get to sign FA "heavyweights" by paying them what you're comfortable paying them.
=== There's A Reason He'll Get the Long Green ===
Prince's strongest suit is equal to = the most important thing in baseball. In 2012, the kid has more walks than he does strikeouts. How do you do that, swinging as hard as he does? His pappy's EYE was more like 0.50 or 0.60.
The EYE isn't decisive. Mo Vaughn had an EYE near 1.00. On the other hand, Mo was always a bit of a Fenway creation...
Shandler, after Prince's "down" year in 2010, confidently predicted an immediate recovery. "Pro: PX still strong, CT% and EYE stable... Verdict: nothing wrong here that a HR/F rebound won't fix." He priced Fielder sky-high at $26, predicting 40 homers or close to it.
For me, Fielder's EYE trumps his WT, easily. Fielder's sloppy fitness becomes very worrisome at age 33-34, but until then he's a LEFT hand, 1.00-eye superstar who is, right now --- > the one peg who fits into the Mariners' cleanup hole at Safeco.