How Good Will Christian Yelich Be in His Thirties?

It’s pretty easy to see the Brewers locking up Christian Yelich through the 2028 season as a win-win. (Indeed, we might even be able to add an extra win for Brewers fans.) Christian Yelich gets a high salary for a long period of time and the Brewers retain one of the best players in baseball for nearly a decade. Jay Jaffe went through the contract yesterday, noting the very good ZiPS projections for Yelich as well as the lack of spending on players in their 30s in free agency over the last few seasons. The three seasons Yelich had remaining on his previous deal meant he wasn’t going to get the $300 million contract he would have if he had been a free agent now, but the Brewers’ $215 million commitment (roughly $175 million beyond his previous deal) represented a good compromise. Just how well the contract plays out depends on how Yelich plays in his 30s. So let’s see how players like Yelich have fared in the past.

To find players like Yelich, I looked at outfielders going back to 1969 with between 20 and 30 WAR between the ages of 24 and 27 years old, with Yelich’s 25.4 in the middle. I took out the players who weren’t within 25 runs of Yelich’s -5.4 defensive runs. Then, I removed players with fewer than six wins in their age-27 season to keep them in range of Yelich’s 7.8 WAR season last year. Here’s how those players compare to Yelich, from 24 to 27:

Christian Yelich Comps: Age 24 to Age 27
Name PA HR wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Rickey Henderson 2574 77 143 42 173 18 28.7
Andrew McCutchen 2673 100 153 13 176 7 28.2
Tim Raines 2674 46 146 39 183 -14 26.6
Dave Parker 2523 89 149 -2 140 12 24.6
Tony Gwynn 2727 32 139 7 132 15 24.2
Bobby Bonds 2871 124 136 17 135 -8 23.9
Vladimir Guerrero 2695 159 146 -2 160 -14 22.7
Lance Berkman 2455 122 148 2 153 -16 21.3
Reggie Jackson 2357 112 147 -1 120 -1 20.8
Dave Winfield 2580 96 139 4 119 -7 20.6
Dale Murphy 2435 118 135 5 102 13 20.3
AVERAGE 2597 98 143 11 145 1 23.8
Christian Yelich 2585 119 147 23 176 -5 25.4

Overall, we have a group that’s pretty close to Yelich. While Yelich gains a win on baserunning, he also gets the benefit of UBR, which wasn’t around before 2002 and would make the BsR score about equal between Yelich and his comps. Yelich is still a bit better with the bat and slightly worse with the glove, but isn’t too far off in either direction. The group should immediately stand out for its greatness, as six of the 11 players are Hall of Famers with the rest having enjoyed very impressive careers. All these players were coming off very good seasons just like Yelich. With Yelich’s age-28 season less than a month away, it might be helpful to see how the group performed at that age:

Christian Yelich Comps at 28 Years Old
Name PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Lance Berkman 687 161 51 -11 6.2
Andrew McCutchen 685 144 34 1 6.0
Dave Parker 707 142 37 -6 5.7
Reggie Jackson 604 160 43 -10 5.7
Dale Murphy 691 147 38 -8 5.6
Rickey Henderson 440 149 32 4 5.0
Bobby Bonds 670 121 20 0 4.4
Dave Winfield 643 133 26 -12 3.6
Tim Raines 488 120 14 2 3.3
Tony Gwynn 578 127 18 -8 3.0
Vladimir Guerrero 467 152 27 -12 3.0
AVERAGE 605 141 31 -5 4.7

That 4.7 WAR is a touch under our projected 5.6 figure, but add in the 50 more plate appearances Yelich is projected for and three extra runs on the bases compared to the group above, and we are basically there. In any event, these are some very good seasons. Now, let’s look at ages 28-30 as a whole, covering the rest of Yelich’s seasons controlled under the previous contract:

Christian Yelich Comps: Age 28 to Age 30
Name PA HR wRC+ Off Def WAR
Rickey Henderson 1761 35 137 104 19 18.9
Reggie Jackson 1831 92 151 108 -12 16.6
Lance Berkman 1898 99 155 123 -32 15
Vladimir Guerrero 1741 96 152 108 -24 14.1
Dale Murphy 2095 102 139 94 -46 12.4
Bobby Bonds 1723 63 131 63 -10 11.5
Andrew McCutchen 2010 75 124 56 -16 10.7
Dave Winfield 1680 70 137 74 -35 9.8
Tim Raines 1644 30 123 53 -17 9.6
Tony Gwynn 1886 15 122 48 -33 8.2
Dave Parker 1511 51 125 46 -29 6.9
AVERAGE 1798 66 136 80 -21 12.2

For the most part we get some really good results, with the players averaging more than four wins per season. The group hit at a very high level, with the average 136 wRC+. It’s interesting to note that this group stayed mostly healthy and that there aren’t any real outliers, particularly on offense, pushing the average up or down. It’s a fairly consistent group.

But none of the years we’ve talked about cover the seasons that Yelich’s extension covers. Because Andrew McCutchen has only played though his age-32 season, we’ll take the next set in two parts. First, here’s ages-31 and 32:

Christian Yelich Comps: Age 31 to Age 32
Name PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Rickey Henderson 1172 163 99 -3 14
Lance Berkman 1333 143 77 -15 10.5
Dale Murphy 1364 126 44 9 9.7
Bobby Bonds 1336 134 53 -6 9.5
Tony Gwynn 1138 119 21 35 9.5
Tim Raines 1353 112 29 7 8.2
Reggie Jackson 1187 146 64 -26 8.2
Dave Winfield 1290 144 67 -35 7.9
Vladimir Guerrero 1325 138 54 -30 6.7
Andrew McCutchen 944 121 20 -8 4.2
Dave Parker 856 101 -1 -21 0.7
AVERAGE 1209 132 48 -9 8.1

More good news for Yelich, as this group maintained its production into their early 30s, again averaging four wins per season. Only two players, Andrew McCutchen and Dave Parker, didn’t produce in those seasons and Parker’s issues are well known. While McCutchen’s production the last few seasons doesn’t bode well for the next four years, we have to take him out of the next group. Here’s the same set of players from age-31 through age-36, the years of Yelich’s contract that weren’t covered by the previous deal:

Christian Yelich Comps: Age 31 to Age 36
Name PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
Rickey Henderson 3145 150 214 -28 29.7
Tony Gwynn 3222 134 135 -19 22
Reggie Jackson 3328 148 184 -92 21.2
Dave Winfield 3917 133 150 -83 20.6
Lance Berkman 3061 141 153 -56 19.6
Tim Raines 3113 116 81 -30 15.6
Bobby Bonds 2427 122 61 -17 12.8
Dale Murphy 3302 106 25 -6 12.7
Vladimir Guerrero 3565 123 62 -87 9.6
Dave Parker 3552 109 27 -78 7
AVERAGE 3263 128 109 -50 17.1

The results are consistent with a four-win player who declines by half a win per season. When Dan Szymborski ran his long-term ZiPS for Yelich for Jaffe’s piece, those same seasons were worth 18.8 WAR. This group of players in pretty consistent with that figure. If we assume a nine million dollars per win at present in free agency, and a five percent inflation rate, those 17 wins will be worth around $190 million. The Brewers are paying just $174 million for that potential production (and maybe less when deferrals are factored in); that’s just an 8% discount of the projected value three years in advance. Given the uncertainty in player performance, and that the Brewers were not under any pressure to sign Yelich, that discount is not significant. The Brewers are likely to get exactly what they pay for and Yelich gets long term security. Everybody wins.

We hoped you liked reading How Good Will Christian Yelich Be in His Thirties? by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Do we really have to go over this yet again?

Philip Christy
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Philip Christy

I think we would all be cool if you didn’t.

Jim
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Jim

Some of us are not as smart as you are.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

If you think this adds something useful or clarifying to what Jay wrote literally yesterday, please let me know.

Phil
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Phil

For one, it reminds us how awesome Rickey Henderson was! (Not that anyone needed reminding, but wow – a 150wRC+ in ages 31 to 36!)

CousinNicky
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CousinNicky

His age 40 and 41 seasons he stole over 35 bases while only playing in about 120 games which is just insane

Leinhorn
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Leinhorn

Dovetails nicely with Pos’s new Top 100 piece on Rickey that just came out (he really might be the most underrated modern player)

D-Wiz
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D-Wiz

Lol dude not everyone reads every article on the site. And, as with most things, it is interesting and useful to be exposed to different points of view on the same subject, even something as trivial as a professional baseball player’s possible career trajectory!

RoyalsFan#14321
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RoyalsFan#14321

Historical reference? Jay’s article provided none, really.