The 2011 Cardinals are old. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But it does have implications for the season ahead, both beneficial and detrimental.
With an average age of 32.0, the pitching staff has the potential to be the team’s oldest since the 1920s. The batters, too, are a relatively mature bunch, averaging 29.4, making the team average age 30.6 on Opening Day:
To be sure, those averages can be a bit deceiving, since they assume everyone gets equal playing time. Effectively, the team’s pitching is a little younger — the starting rotation averages 30.7 — while the starting eight batters are older than the overall group of batters at 30.2.
Like the man who wonders about the significance of the double rainbow, you probably want to know what it means. Let’s start with the good news:
- Older players usuaally make for a veteran team whose experience allows them to weather stormy stretches and not get overconfidence during smooth sailing.
- There’s reason to believe that older players maintain some residual value and that they have been undervalued by the marketplace, a potential market-inefficiency exploitation by John Mozeliak.
- With ample data, you usually know what you’re going to get with veterans (known performance expectations).
Now for the bad:
- Upside limitations; whereas younger players typically have more potential upside.
- Older players can mean fragile health. In the Cardinals’ case, they have little room for vets to get injured, given that they have at least a couple of younger players (Garcia, Freese) whose health statuses are far from certain.
- Older players may have less positional versatility, crimping La Russa’s style and forcing him to make unhelpful tradeoffs in the field. This obviously doesn’t really affect the pitchers, but in the case of Berkman and possibly Punto, TLR may find his options limited.
It’s possible, and perhaps probable, that the Cardinals will get younger as the season wears on. We’ll give Miguel Batista even odds for lasting the entire season, and his replacement is bound to be younger (at least we’re hoping so). The Cardinals start the year with some near-major-league-ready talent in Memphis, and as long as La Russa and company don’t repeat their midsummer 2010 moves in which they pulled the aging Randy Winn and Pedro Feliz off the future commentators unemployment line, their average age will regress to, well, their average.
The Cardinals have won before with oldsters. Will this group age as well and stay healthy and perform highly enough to help them do it again?