This article is part of our The Saber's Edge series.Just a few years ago, it seemed like Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay were mainstays on the front of fantasy rotations. Both of their talents levels dropped quickly. In 2011, Roy Halladay had 19 Wins, 220 strikeouts and a 2.35 ERA. By 2013, he was out of the game. In 2013, Lee looked great with 14 Wins, 222 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA. Now he is also out of the game. Both of these two pitchers were 34-years-old in their last good season. Other stud aces saw their talent fall off quicker, like Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana. In preparation for the 2016 season, I will look at the ages when fantasy aces see their talent fall off to the point they are no longer rosterable by fantasy teams.
Normally, I will try not to roster a pitcher older than 30 because of previous work I have done on aging curves and injuries. It seems like some top pitchers, like Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer, have each had their 31st birthday and may fall off the planet at any point. Some aces like Greinke and Scherzer are being picked in the first few rounds and it would be nice to know the pitchers' likelihood of completely crashing.
To start the analysis, I need to define a fantasy ace. For this discussion, it will be a pitcher who had each the following stats over the previous three seasons (1994 to current):
• 400 IP
• 400 K
• 35 Wins
• 3.50 ERA
Nearly every season, 15 to 20 pitchers meet these criteria. For this analysis, I will group the aces by age and see if they fail to live up to expectations. To fail expectations, I set the bar at any stud starter who didn't reach 150 innings or posted an ERA over 4.00.
Here are the results in tabular and graphic form.
|AGE||TOTAL||OVER 150 IP||PERCENT||UNDER 4.00 ERA||PERCENT|
One unintended piece of information I found was that the number of aces steadily starts declining at age 29 and the number is cut in half by age 34. I know they may not be the same pitchers, as some late bloomers maybe added to the mix, but it does mean in more than 20 years worth of data, only 12 34-year-old pitchers had ace status.
The playing time data has some downward slope (blue in the graph), but it is generally all over the place. The overall non-breakdown chances is more of a steady decline from season to season with each additional season played increasing the chances of breaking down by 2 percent. Using the equation from the graph, here are the breakdown chances:
Age: Projected chances of maintaining ace status
Looking at the graph, there may be a major chance of decline at and past the age 33 seasons. I decided to group several of the seasons together and got the following results:
Age group: Chances of maintaining ace status
In all, the chances exist with all aces having a one in three chance of subpar production, but the rate seems to steadily increase as the pitcher ages. There doesn't seem to be some magic talent drop point, but more of a steady decline.
With the preceding information, here is a look at some of the aces coming into the 2016 and my expectations for some of them. Of the 22 pitchers listed, historically only 13.5 will reach 150 IP and keep their ERA under 3.50.
John Lackey: 3.35 ERA, 605 IP, age 37, 49 percent non-breakdown chance
Lackey, along with Garrett Richards, are the pitchers I have an issue labeling as aces. They both are on the edge, but have performed decently the last few seasons. Lackey is the only pitchers with less than 50 percent chance of keeping up his past performance based on his age.
Hisashi Iwakuma: 3.17 ERA, 527 IP, age 35, 53 percent non-breakdown chance
He is a talented pitcher who has had issues staying healthy. I could see him not keep up the production.
James Shields: 3.41 ERA, 657 IP, age 34, 55 percent non-breakdown chance
I think Shields is a little underappreciated in '16 drafts, but I can understand the concern with his '15 production and current age. Shields was decent for so many seasons, and it is tough to see him on the decline.
Adam Wainwright: 2.61 ERA, 496 IP, age 34, 55 percent non-breakdown chance
Just like Shields, age is catching up with Wainwright.
Zack Greinke: 2.30 ERA, 602 IP, age 32, 58 percent non-breakdown chance
Francisco Liriano: 3.27 ERA, 509 IP, age 32, 58 percent non-breakdown chance
Jon Lester: 3.18 ERA, 637 IP, age 32, 58 percent non-breakdown chance
Max Scherzer: 2.95 ERA, 662 IP, age 31, 60 percent non-breakdown chance
Corey Kluber: 3.17 ERA, 604 IP, age 30, 62 percent non-breakdown chance
Felix Hernandez: 2.86 ERA, 641 IP, age 30, 62 percent non-breakdown chance
Johnny Cueto: 2.81 ERA, 515 IP, age 30, 62 percent non-breakdown chance
Jordan Zimmermann: 3.20 ERA, 614 IP, age 30, 62 percent non-breakdown chance
David Price: 3.01 ERA, 654 IP, age 30, 62 percent non-breakdown chance
Jake Arrieta: 2.52 ERA, 460 IP, age 30, 62 percent non-breakdown chance
These six pitchers are now entering their age 30 seasons. On average 2.4 of these aces will not keep up their production in '16. People may point to Cueto and Zimmermann as being the most likely candidates, but truthfully, it could be any of them.
Lance Lynn: 3.26 ERA, 580 IP, age 29, 64 percent non-breakdown chance
Oops, the group of pitchers has its first victim.
Clayton Kershaw: 1.92 ERA, 666 IP, age 28, 66 percent non-breakdown chance
I think if I was in a dynasty or keeper league with Kershaw, I may look at moving him now or next season. It will easier to make a trade with no 30 next to his name.
Dallas Keuchel: 3.34 ERA, 585 IP, age 28, 66 percent non-breakdown chance
Garrett Richards: 3.46 ERA, 520 IP, age 28, 66 percent non-breakdown chance
Chris Sale: 2.93 ERA, 596 IP, age 27, 68 percent non-breakdown chance
Madison Bumgarner: 2.90 ERA, 636 IP, age 26, 70 percent non-breakdown chance
Stud young pitchers. I will be targeting pitchers in this group.
Gerrit Cole: 3.07 ERA, 463 IP, age 25, 71 percent non-breakdown chance
Julio Teheran: 3.37 ERA, 606 IP, age 25, 71 percent non-breakdown chance
These two haven't been lights out, but both provide steady contributions and increased health coming with youth.