I host a podcast about the Royals so it shouldn’t be surprising that I love talking about the team to anyone who will listen. I’ve usually been the guy with the over-optimistic off-season win predictions and ridiculously high expectations for Minor League Prospects (Jeff Austin is going to be awesome, TRUST me!). Lately, I’ve been talking more and more people down from the ledge concerning the Royals. It’s a state of mind that I can sympathize with.* I try and tell them about the young players in the Minor Leagues and how much love they are getting from people in the know. Usually, I hear the same retorts. “I’ve heard that before and even if they are good the Royals will trade them away.” or “We’ve been hearing about a youth movement for 20 years.” I understand the sentiment and it’s not completely invalid. The difference, I believe, is that this time it’s for real, especially the youth movement part.
*I once nearly threw every Royal hat and shirt I owned into the yard and became a Yankee fan. I figured I should just save myself the anguish and succumb to the dark side. I didn’t do it.
The great thing about youth, is that it’s easy to measure. Player birth dates are readily available and so it’s easy to see how young or old a team is. The great site Baseball Reference has all of this data, and they conveniently use a weighted measure to determine team age. Basically they give more weight to the player who got the most playing time. So if a 42 year old got 3 plate appearances he isn’t skewing the age of the team. Below is a list of the Royals teams in decreasing age.
The Royals were extremely young in their first two years of existence. That’s pretty typical for expansion teams, especially in that era. The years 1999, 2000 and 2005 all make an appearance at the top of the chart as well.
The 1999 and 2000 teams were young and were billed to the public as a youth movement. It was an accurate description with guys like Carlos Beltran (22-23), Jermaine Dye (25-26), Mike Sweeney (25-26), Johnny Damon (25-26) and Carlos Febles (23-24).
The year 2005 had youngsters like Mark Teahen (23), John Buck (24), Angel Berroa (25), David Dejesus (25) and Zack Grienke (21). That year was kind of a mini youth movement. They were young, but not quite as deep and talented as the crop before. It’s not surprising that 2006 had one of the oldest teams in franchise history. The Royals had to try and upgrade the team and there wasn’t much youth to make that happen.
The last few years have been average to above average in age. There hasn’t been a whole lot of youth on the team and plenty of older free agents like Jason Kendall (36), Scott Podsednik (34), Jose Guillen (34) and Kyle Farnsworth (34). It’s one of the things that has made the last three years some of the least interesting Royals baseball I’ve ever watched.
It seems pretty clear, that while there was a couple of “youth movements” this team hasn’t been very young lately or for much of the last decade other than a couple of years. The decade of the 1970′s (including 1969) was the youngest average decade at 27.35, followed by the 2000′s (27.84), 1990′s (28.30) and then the 1980′s (29.18). There has been a slight trend towards younger teams as we get closer to the present. But the point stands, even though people believed there was a youth movement going on for the past 20 years, there haven’t been a whole lot of young teams in that time.
Let’s take a look at what this year’s roster might look like and the ages of those players.
Admittedly, I only have four starters on that list, but I don’t know who the fifth will be at this point. Even if it were someone older, it’s not going to skew the numbers all that much. As the roster is constructed today, this is one of the youngest teams in franchise history. Depending on how much time some of the younger players get and who the 5th pitcher is, it could be the youngest.
Now THIS is a youth movement. Not to mention the fact that there are other even younger players who are going to be pushing these players off of the roster in the near future. 2011 will be an audition year for most of the players on the roster. Watching which players take their opportunity and succeed will be one of the most interesting story lines of the season. So when I hear people tell me that they’ve seen this youth movement before, my answer is no, you haven’t. The Royals have never put out a team this young and with this much talent in the Minors waiting to burst onto the scene.