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The Rays roster is just reaching its prime

Forever Young...

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As any of you over the age of 30 likely know, our athletic abilities seldom improve with age.

Sure, maybe we compensate for a lost step by getting savvier, or better able to avoid mental mistakes, but with each year we are slower, have more sluggish reactions, and need longer to recover from our aches and pains.

The same is true for athletes too. Despite having access to world class conditioning and nutrition, baseball players lose skills as they age as well.

Luckily, despite a few aging players, the Rays may just be reaching their prime.

Which are the Prime Years?

Alex Speier of the Boston Globe wrote an article entitled "What is a baseball player's prime age?"and provides a chart from Baseball-Reference included below.

It delineates the "percentage of starting pitchers who registered 2.0 WAR or better and position players who accounted for 2.0 WAR of offense or better, broken down by age" as follows:


(DATA:; Luke Knox / Globe Staff, from Alex Speier, "What is a Baseball Player's Prime Age?"  Boston Globe, January 2, 2015. Totals use data compiled from 1984-2014)

As you can see, position players are in their prime between 25 and 31 years, and pitchers reach their peak somewhere between 24 and 28 years. As you'll eventually notice below, the Rays are in the sweet spot on both the pitching and hitting front based on this chart.

Another view, more focused on prime hitting years (courtesy of Fangraphs), came to terms with what seems to be a major shift in how hitters age:

(From Jeff ZImmerman, Fangraphs, "Are Aging Curves Changing? December 13, 2013).

It's interesting to note that what seems to be a "post HGH era" has resulted in a much quicker drop off for hitters. Jeff Zimmerman does note in the linked article that the drop off can also be attributed to the following factors:

"Teams have been better at evaluating players’ defense abilities and deploying better defensive alignments in the field. Also, the quality and quantity of hard-throwing relief pitchers has increased across the league."

Still, it's intriguing to consider the aging curve as a factor when building a roster.

On the starting pitching side of things, Zimmerman broke it down into many different categories, including velocity, K/9, BB/9, BABIP, HR9, FIP, and SWG strikex10:

Of course, these aging charts combine pitchers of all talent levels and must be interpreted loosely. But looking at the data we can find a "sweet spot" when walks are at a minimum, strike outs at their highest, and batting averages at their lowest points. That should, in theory, result in more success, but it doesn't guarantee anything.

With these charts in mind, wouldn't it be great to get a feel for how the Rays roster shakes out by age? Let's do it.

Rays Roster by Birth Year

As currently constructed, the 2016 Rays 40-man roster's position players average 28.1 years old.
























  • There were 29 players (72.5%) born between 1987 and 1991;
  • 9 players (22.5%) are born in 1989, making close to a quarter of the Rays roster approximately 27 this season. With many believing players hit their prime at that age, it bodes well for a successful season;
  • There are 32 players (80% of the 40 man roster) in the aging curve sweet spot of  24 - 31;
  • The average age of the Rays rotation (with Cobb added) is 27 years old and all starters - as currently constructed - will be between 26 and 29 years old in 2016, putting all of them within their prime years;
  • In 2015, the Rays were the 5th youngest team in MLB with an average roster age of 28 years old;
  • The oldest player on the 40-man is the newly signed Steve Pearce who will be 33 on April 13th, and only 4 players will be 31 or older in 2016; and
  • On the flip side, only 5 players currently on the 40-man roster will be 23 or younger in 2016.

While prime age is no guarantee of performance, it bodes well that 80% of the roster should be in their peak performance years.

More specifically, it seems the hitters are well within their prime years but yet are mature enough to be passed what Maddon used to call the "just happy to be here" stage. On the starting pitching side, they also seem to be on that cusp of being matured pitchers within their prime years, whether you use Speier's or Zimmerman's graph as listed above.

What's also interesting for the Rays is that the hitters no longer have an "up then down" curve to ride as they enter MLB. It seems they now are at their peak when they reach The Show and that their weaknesses are constantly exploited from that point on, among other factors, diminishing their overall performances.

Zimmerman suggests this in part reflects that players are coming to the majors with more and better experience; they are fully developed players when they make their debut.  But that means that what you are seeing with most MLB rookies is pretty much what you'll get in the ensuing years.  That's an extremely important note and places some pressure on the Rays prospect system.

And that's where things get interesting. With many young hitting prospects ready to make an impact in key areas, such as Ryan Brett at 2B, Daniel Robertson at SS, Mikie Mahtook in the OF, Richie Shaffer at 1B/3B, and Taylor Motter all over the field, the Rays are well stocked with players that can immediately step in and impact the Rays chances of success.

Closing thoughts

If you're wondering why the Rays didn't have more success last year while being within their prime years then as well, we can't overlook the fact that the team dealt with numerous injuries that forced them to use less seasoned pitchers instead.

Yes, even prime-aged players can get dinged up. If the rotation can remain healthier in 2016, it should show up positively in the standings.

On a similarly positive note, the Rays hitters are not only better balanced in 2016 than they were in 2015 but they have a lot more pop to work with and more versatility overall. While some moves are likely to be made before the season begins, there isn't one "old man" in the bunch and their proximity in age should help build good chemistry in the clubhouse.

There seems to be a good mix of talent, experience, and youth on this team. Let's hope they can reap the rewards of a nucleus of prime-aged players that are poised to display their best talents.