To quote George Bernard Shaw, "Youth is wasted on the young."
In cultures around the globe, age is a virtuous trait, one whose attributes include wisdom and experience. Yet, with the proliferation of plastic surgery, hair plugs, male enhancement pills and Botox, it's clear not everyone is on board with such a sentiment. Generally speaking, we live in a youth-obsessed society, perhaps to an unhealthy degree. The world of fantasy baseball is hardly an exception.
In 2009, the average age of a Major League baseball player was 26.9 years. The Philadelphia Phillies had the oldest roster in the game with an average age of 28.8. There is an entire generation of ballplayers that would be hard pressed to recall a time in our collective past when they actually played music videos on MTV. The times, they are a changin' ...
While the game itself clearly favors the young, it's also clear that fantasy baseball owners are too rash in their judgment of baseball's more experienced players. Of the top 100 fantasy contributors in 2009, 33 percent were born before 1980. This indicates that the perceived value of veteran players, those in their 30s, is lower than their actual value. Knowing how to exploit this divergence in value can be a fundamental element in building a competitive team. Along these lines, it's important to remember that younger isn't always better.
Todd Helton, 1B, Colorado Rockies: At age 36, it's clear that the Helton who averaged 37 HR and 126 RBI from 1999-2003 no longer exists. In fact, by the end of an injury-plagued 2008 season that included a .264 AVG and just seven HR, many believed Helton's career may have reached an end. A .325 avg. in 151 games in 2010 let everyone know that rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated. Helton's 15 HR and 86 RBI aren't the type of numbers fantasy owners have come to expect from their first basemen, but his Average Draft Position (ADP) of 197.80 is more perception than reality. There's value in batting average and stability.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Atlanta Braves: He'll turn 38 just weeks after Opening Day, and coming off his worst season as a major leaguer, it's easy to see why fantasy owners are less than "chipper" about Jones' 2010 prospects. Despite playing in his highest number of games (142) since 2003, Jones posted career lows in home runs (18) and runs batted in (71), numbers that were hardly bolstered by a meager .264 avg. It's almost easy to forget that this is the same player that hit 100 points higher in 2008 and .307 for his career. However, that batting average was due in part to a BABIP that was 30 points below his career mark as well as a number of physical ailments. While health issues are always a concern, Jones should have at least one more season in the sun for fantasy owners. If so, he should bring a return on his 136.09 ADP.
Derek Lowe, SP, Atlanta Braves: Never a legitimate source of strikeouts, the Lowe of old (no pun intended) relied on a heavy sinker that induced groundballs at an astounding rate. In 2009 his sinker failed him and success proved elusive. While he managed to eek out 15 wins, his 4.67 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and 1.76 K/BB were easily his worst since 2004 with the Red Sox. The underlying numbers, specifically a .330 BABIP suggest Lowe actually pitched slightly better than most would assume. While he's probably not the 3.24 ERA pitcher he was in 2008, his current ADP (82 among starters and 317.13 overall) suggests he's not even draft-worthy, which is absurd.
James Loney, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers: Seasoned fantasy owners still remember when Loney hit .331 in his 2007 rookie season (344 AB) with the Dodgers. The promise of that success led many to draft him in the two years since, yet with little reward. He's since produced batting averages of .289 and .281, and in both seasons he managed just 13 home runs. His current ADP of 174.52 suggests owners are still holding on to hope that he'll outperform Todd Helton by nearly two full rounds in value. Youth is on his side but the numbers are not.
Ian Stewart, 3B, Colorado Rockies: Following the merciful departure of Garrett Atkins, Stewart looks to be the full-time starter at the hot corner for the Rockies in 2010. His 2009 home run total (25 in 425 at bats) excited fantasy owners -- so much so that he's currently being drafted 11th among third basemen, just ahead of Chipper Jones -- this, despite a career 33.9 K% and .238 batting average (.228 in 2009). Be mindful, the Rockies have questioned Stewart's viability enough to sign veteran Melvin Mora to an offseason contract as 3B insurance.
Aroldis Chapman, SP, Cincinnati Reds: Left-handed pitchers that throw 100 MPH aren't exactly a dime a dozen, one of the many reasons the mid-market Reds felt compelled to spend millions of dollars on an unknown commodity. For them, the promise of future success was just too much to pass up. However, at just 22 years old, that success is probably still a few years away. Nevertheless, fantasy owners are paying for his services as though he's at least close to ready. His current ADP (256.36) is 60 spots higher than that of Derek Lowe, a pitcher that will actually be on a Major League roster in 2010.