Reds By The Numbers

A Weird Data Investigation into the Reds ‘Youth Movement’

Supposedly the Reds are entering a bit of a “youth movement.” Bryan Price first uttered that phrase on June 6 of last season, sending the fanbase into a tizzy expecting mid-summer trade after mid-summer trade. It just didn’t quite happen that way.

Sure, Johnny Cueto was sent to Royals for three strong propects and Mike Leake went to the Giants for another two, but other than an August cash-dump of Marlon Byrd, the “youth movement” just kind of puttered through the summer doldrums. Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Brandon Phillips all made their homes in the Queen City by season’s end. Two of those names still do as of Opening Day 2016, which made me wonder: Are the Reds really in the midst of a youth movement at all?

After breaking down the Opening Day roster (noticeably missing the movement’s centerpieces Jose Peraza and Jesse Winker as well as Anthony DeSclafani and Michael Lorenzen), I found that the Reds are absolutely, 100 percent indeed trending towards a young man’s game.

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Alfredo Simon is the club’s elder statesman at 34 years and 332 days of age, with Brandon Phillips only 51 days behind. Phillips, however, takes the cake in terms of MLB service time with 11.022 seasons under his belt. Robert Stephenson obviously has the lowest service count as he never made an appearance on the 25-man before Monday, but Brandon Finnegan is the youngest at 22 years and 356 days.

A quick explanation of service time provided by FanGraphs:

Service time is exactly what it sounds like; the number of years and days of major league service a player has in their career. Typically, it’s written as Year.Days, so we would express a player with four years and one hundred and fifteen days of service time as 4.115. You earn a day of service time for every day you are on the 25-man roster or the major league disabled list during the regular season. If you’re called up on June 22 and you’re sent down after June 28, you’ve earned seven days of MLB service. Your team doesn’t have to play a game for you to accrue a service day.

There are usually about 183 days in an MLB season, but a player can only earn a maximum of 172 days per year. That means if you’re on the roster for 178 days, you earn 172 days. If you’re on the roster for 183 days, you also earn 172 days. Not surprisingly, 172 days of service is equal to one year of service.

In the above graphic, age works the same way as service time, where the decimal is a number of days and not a percentage of a year. Given that variable format and the lack of a pre-existing dataset for either of those variables, and it became clear to me that this data would only be compiled for the National League. Forgive me for not doing so, but putting together the data for the American League would’ve pushed this post far, far past deadline.

But alas: for comparison’s sake we still have the Senior Circuit where, surprisingly, the Reds are first in something. Not only do the Redlegs have the lowest average service time of all National League teams, but they also claim the third lowest average age of any team. And as I said above, these numbers don’t even include a good number of the young guys expected to make an impact this year but currently reside on the DL. The team is trending young for sure, but more interestingly, they’ve left the usual assortment of gritty veterans behind.

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No surprises that the Phillies are the second most inexperienced team; after all, having no aspirations for a championship allows a team to try new things. The only truly puzzling entry on this list is the Braves–they have no chance to compete in 2016 so why continue to play the same old guys?

Answer: The Braves have the best farm system in the MLB (according to Keith Law at least). With the new generation about to take the reins, the Braves can afford to go a year with older, stopgap players and hopefully luck into a trade chip or two in the process.

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Looking at the age chart, the immediate takeaway is: What the heck is going on in Arizona? The Diamondbacks average age is a full year younger than the second youngest Phillies. You would have to go to the ninth ranked Cubs to find an equivalent gap between the Phillies and another club. As such, the D-backs only have four players over 30 but have a whooping 10 players 25 or younger.

The Reds meanwhile are the young guns of the NL Central, but the Cardinals are close behind. With a good portion of the aging core set to retire, there’s a decent chance that the Cards could be rejuvenated and rebuilt before they even take a faltering step.

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Put it all together, and I would say the Rockies are in theoretically the best place–a mix of young but experienced talent. However, the case can easily be made for either the Cardinals, the Mets, or the Dodgers as having the ideal composition of players.

All of which should be taken with a grain of salt of course because these are just the Opening Day rosters. Core guys are on the DL, prospects are warming for two weeks in the minors, and random free agent signings are lingering for now before they will be unceremoniously DFA’d come May. Opening Day is but an arbitrary landmark in a season filled with turnover and uncertainty.

Yet still, my curiosity was not satiated, so I looked into the breakdown of players going pro after high school or college (or signing internationally as was often the case) and how long it took players to get their first taste of the Show. The latter variable was a restructuring of a “years spent in the minors” venture that led to nothing but heartache, rehab assignments, and journeymen who somehow spent more time on the farm than years they had been alive.*

*Only a slight exaggeration.

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College: # of players who spent some time playing at the college level    Years before Debut: average # of years between signing and debut

On average, half of a National League roster is composed of players who spent sometime playing college ball, with the other half being high school draftees or international signees. The Reds carry 11 college players, 11 high schoolers, and 3 international signees, not distinguishing themselves in any way from the average. Shockingly considering their age composition, the Braves carry the fewest college players with eight. Despite the easy logical jump, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the amount of college players on the 25-man and relative age of the roster.

As for years before debut, since most of the players on each team’s roster were not developed by that team, the variable means next to nothing. With that being said, the Reds do have the second highest value with a 4.48 average (boosted in no small part by Jumbo Diaz), so kudos (bollocks?) to the hometown team.

Going forward, the world will continue to spin, and these numbers will become obsolete as you read them (they are based on Tuesday’s calendar after all). There’s nothing more disheartening than spending hours creating a dataset that’s useless not but one day later.

For the Reds, the numbers are still promising as they give credibility to the push the front office is making. Gone are the days of management talking of a youth movement but never acting on it. This year, the kids have arrived.

All data and information taken from Baseball-Reference or Baseball Prospectus. 

11 thoughts on “A Weird Data Investigation into the Reds ‘Youth Movement’

  1. Interesting article. I agree with your premise that the optimal roster for this era is one of younger guys with a couple years of experience. It’s what I think will make the Cubs very dangerous this season—all their youngsters have experienced a pennant race and playoff baseball.

  2. Good stuff, Wes. Love those charts, BTW.

    Did you happen to come across the average time-to-debut for college vs high school during your research? Just curious! Would be interesting if the gap was around 3.5 years…

    • So I didn’t actually think to check that, but I just ran the data and the average for 178 college players was 3.32 years and the average for 191 HS players was 4.73 years

      • Interesting. Only 1.4 years longer on average. Lower than I might have thought!

  3. This team has the potential to dramatically exceed expectations this year but needs to make a few tweets right now.

    First, Suarez doesn’t have the glove to play third base. I’d put Suarez in right, put Holt in CF and put Julio Iglesias at third base. Bruce has to be traded immediately. His energy simply isn’t to the level of Shebler and Holt, his approach at the dish is awful and his vertical leap is so south below replacement he makes Woody Harrelson look like Woody Guthrie. The HR on Opening Day that alluded his glove was hysterical. It was as though his cleats were the new Nike Velcro-to-field turf model. I feel bad for the guy but he has to go … now.

  4. I love statistical analysis of almost any type and I think this was an interesting academic exercise, but it tells us almost nothing of value. Age is, in and off itself, not a terribly useful stat. We can guess that the reds & phillies will be bad with a young, inexperienced roster and the braves will be bad with an older, more experienced roster.

    I would think something along the lines of a salary breakdown vs service time or WAR vs service time. Basically getting the most WAR from the cheapest players would be good.

  5. And one additional thought. I love how all the editors on this blog say wins and losses don’t matter, this year is just a developmental year, and Robert Stephenson should rot in the minors for team control purposes.

    There’s a cold-blooded, bare-knuckled, Billy Beane-ness to you guys that feels tremendously foreign to me.

    All the charts, graphs, stats, OPS, OBP, BiPip wizardry is the new normal, but for true died-in-the-wool fans, w’s and l’s do matter, and the speed with which all you guys are willing to write off 2016 really makes me sad and suggests you don’t truly understand life-long Reds’ fans and how much we care about the success of this club.

    Today, Robert Stephenson debuts and Bryan Price stacks the lineup with the B players, including, most notably, a backup catcher who probably wouldn’t make the 25-man on any other team in the NL and the kid still kills it.

    There’s no reason Stephenson shouldn’t be starting every fifth day but for the club’s desire to save money.

    But I digress.

    • Bobby…..

      The Reds have 6 winning seasons over the past 21 years. In the 40 seasons, since the last out of the 1976 World Series, they are a .500 organization that has won a total of 3 playoff series…..the same number the SF Giants won in 2014 alone.

      Despite a 50% increase in local population, they still haven’t drawn more fans than they did in 1976. This maybe a “Great Baseball Town”….but, over the past 10 years, the Reds have been routinely outdrawn by the Milwaukee Brewers……a franchise that has had a losing record in 30 of their 46 years and a smaller metro area. So, it would be difficult to argue that there isn’t some room for improvement.

      I mean no disrespect, but what you may see as foreign, others see as logical and rationale. To suggest that you or other “died in the wool”….whatever that actually means…. fans some how “care” more or want the Reds to win more is simply not true. Do you expect these results to change if they continue to operate the same way?

      I can only write for myself….I certainly don’t speak for all….but I believe without a doubt that wins and losses in 2016 DO NOT MATTER. Making moves to squeeze out a few extra wins make no sense…..does it really matter if they win 74 games vs 70? Has there ever been a 74 win playoff team? Stick to the plan….take the lumps.

      The Reds can spend “X”…..they aren’t the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or Dodgers….they need to excel at player development…..they need to have an abundance of young players on their roster at any given time and be able to have players outperform in their first 6 or 7 years when they are cheap in order to have sustained success…..they need to operate in in rationale manner and have an organization that values logic not emotion. They have a limited margin for error….one bad contract can dramatically impact them. I would prefer that they have greater resources…would prefer that they can outspend the Cubs or Cardinals if needed..but, they can’t.

      As for Stephenson, you do understand that in delaying his ascent…..in a year in which they have perhaps a 5% chance to make the playoffs…. by a couple of MONTHS….. they gain a FULL YEAR of additional control. Do you not want the team you care about to be smart? Do you not want them to act in their best long term interest? Do you want another 20 years of mostly bad baseball?

  6. Jumbo who stuck around 13 years before his opportunity sorta ruins a curve.

    Anyone know the record for length of time in the minors before a call up? Not a publicity stunt, but a genuine call up like Diaz

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