On Opening Day 2016 the average age of a Major League Baseball player was 28.6 years old, the lowest total since the 1994 season when the owners were preemptively preparing for the players’ union strike and signing young players at a discount rate. Since peaking at an average age of 30.3 years to begin the 1997 season, the trend has been regressing downward. Why is it that in fewer than twenty years the average age of a MLB player has decreased by nearly 1.75 years?
The wealth of talented young players in MLB today has never been rivaled; we are on the cusp of witnessing greatness in the likes of: Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. You will be absolutely shocked if you look at a list of the current MLB stars aged 26 and younger, the sheer number of players performing at such a high level at such a young age is staggering. While others will disagree, the wealth of young talent in today’s game is by far the biggest reason behind the overall decline in average age among big league players.
Performance Enhancing Drugs (“PEDs”)
It would be quite difficult to come up with an exact metric as to the impact of PED use on the average age of MLB players; however, there is almost certainly a causal effect between the end of widespread PED use and the average age decreasing amongst MLB players. In 2004 not a single MLB player was suspended for a violation of PED testing and up until that point PED use was commonly accepted among those in and around the game of baseball. PED testing really began to take effect in the 2005 season when the players union and MLB owners agreed to very stringent testing and penalties for those caught using PEDs. By no means do I consider myself an expert on the various benefits and uses of PEDs; however, it makes sense that if veteran players were using anabolic steroids, their careers would be lengthened by: 1) recovering more quickly from injuries 2) increase overall level of strength. For all intents and purposes, the use of PEDs in the game has been drastically extinguished and appears to play a part in the youth movement of today’s MLB.
The decrease in power and the home run in today’s MLB forced teams to derive value from players in other areas of the game. Run scoring trended downward after the “Steroid Era” and as a result, teams placed a greater emphasis on the value speed can bring to a team. When fewer runs are scored as a whole, each incremental run becomes more important to the team. Therefore a player who is able to steal bases and put his team in a better position to score a run becomes more valuable than he would have been in a higher scoring environment. The same logic applies on the defensive side of the ball, where each run saved becomes more crucial to the team’s overall chance of success. All of this leads to the point in the game where we are today, which sees General Managers valuing speed more and more. Naturally the more weight an organization puts on speed, the younger their roster will present itself.