The Cincinnati Reds have agreed to a 6-year, $72.5M contract with second baseman Brandon Phillips, who is in his age 31 season. Middle infielders, second baseman in particular, really tend to fall off in their mid to late thirties, so I decided I would take a look at how this latest contract could affect the Reds - since they are primary division rivals with the St. Louis Cardinals - and are also in Flyover Country.
The current rate for 1 unit of WAR is approximately $4.5M. That means that Brandon Phillips will have to be worth approximately 16 WAR over the next 6 years. That is only 2.6-2.7 WAR a season. You might think that is a given, given the fact that Phillips has been worth 23.0 WAR over his first 4,366 plate appearances as a MLB second baseman (approximately 7 full seasons - just over). That comes out to just over 3 WAR per full season for Phillips thus far. So, basically, Phillips needs to average about 90% of his average production over the last 7 years in each of the next 6 years.
But is the aging curve for second basemen greater than 10% off?
That is the question. Since 1920 - baseball post-dead ball era - 12 second basemen's production has been similar to Brandon Phillips' through their age 30 seasons. I am going to take a look at their age 30 and earlier production vs. their age 31 and later production.
Through age 30 seasons, Brandon Phillips has this line:4,366 plate appearances
.162 ISO, 0.42 BB/K, 139 steals and 57 caught
567 runs, 524 RBI, 202 doubles, 28 triples, 130 homers
Through age 30 seasons, the 12 comps had this line:
4,831 plate appearances
.111 ISO, 0.95 BB/K, 129 steals and 56 caught
624 runs, 450 RBI, 214 doubles, 40 triples, 60 homers
Brandon Phillips has less of a batting eye, less triples, but more home run power than his comps. Other than that, they are very similar players. VERY similar. Phillips has had about 11% less plate appearances, however. So, either Phillips got a late start compared to those players or has been less durable. That, combined with his power hitter stature provides me with a little skepticism - since players with poor batting eyes and a lot of power tend to age slightly worse. Granted, Phillips also has speed and athleticism, so possibly not.
Out of those same comps, only 8 of them have played an age 31 or older season. One of the comps is Robinson Cano. Cano put up similar stats through last year's age 28 season - so he's 2 years behind Phillips with the same stats. Whoa! The other three retired after their age 30 season, never taking another plate appearance at the MLB level. That does not help Phillips' argument. One more of those players was Julio Franco, who played until he was 48 years old. That will not happen, so I'm going to go ahead and take him out as well. That leaves us 7 men.
Those 7 men, after the age 30 season, put up the following average statistics:
1,900 plate appearances
.100 ISO, 1.22 BB/K, 45 steals and 17 caught
237 runs, 152 RBI, 84 doubles, 9 triples, 19 homers
The 8.8 WAR averaged by those 7 men is just over half of what Brandon Phillips needs to accumulate over the rest of his career - in order to justify his 6-year, $72.5M contract that he signed with the Cincinnati Reds earlier today. This deal, to me, looks like it is a very player-centric contract that could (especially playing in a small market) come back to bite the Reds in the butt in quite a hurry. This deal would not excite me as a Reds fan. I would be terrified of it.