In 1971, the average age of MLB non-DH starting position players was 28.9. This began rising steadily year-by-year to a peak of 30.1 years of age in 1996. One could assume this was due largely to players’ careers being extended artificially by PEDs – or one could possibly assume teams were selecting older players in the amateur draft or perhaps being more deliberate with their prospects. Based on how the trend changes following a senate hearing, a BALCO bust and a couple of Jose Canseco tell-all books, however, I mostly assume the former.
And here’s how the trend changed. The average age of starting MLB position players has dropped by 3 years! (To 26.9.) This reverting-to-youth trend is observed at every position.
Pitchers -who have been hovering around the same average age of 29 for the last 35 years - were younger in comparison to hitters through the 70s, 80s, and 90s but are now older in comparison – even though their trend has been moving slightly downward since 2004. (Dotted black line - based on the top-10 innings-pitched pitchers on each team each season)
A three-year shift in the age of hitters means teams are increasingly built around the earlier contracts of players. A larger number of players at low-end salaries means even more money thrown into the fewer top-end salaries - meaning the pay gap gets bigger and bigger and the already-dwindling MLB middle class gets even smaller. (Basically one Donald Trump on the payroll and 24 fast-food drive-through employees)
To me, these changes represent a major philosophical shift in the way baseball teams now make decisions but no one seems to be talking about it. A three-year shift in the average age of players is huge.