When Players Become Hall of Famers

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Each player inducted into the Hall of Fame is different and each player charts their own path to Cooperstown. Whether they are a batter or a pitcher each player faces one opponent who remains undefeated: Father Time. To which we ask: when do players succumb to age, and when do most players produce most of the value which earns their ticket into the Hall of Fame? To study this I looked at nearly every Hall of Famer, sorted them by position, and then calculated what percentage of their bWAR was produced in a bucket of four decades: Teens, Twenties, Thirties and Forties. I also recorded when a players’ WAR7 seasons occurred by decade.

Here’s what I found. For full disclosure I cut off some particularly weak Hall of Famers from the data set, and I also included a handful of players who I felt will assuredly earn induction into Cooperstown who are either active or retired. I also included some players who I felt would likely earn induction had they not used PEDs. They are marked in the data set: bold players are active, underlined players used PEDs, and italicized players are not yet eligible, or eligible and not inducted. I also did not consider players who spent a majority of their careers before 1900.

You can find the data here.

The Data

First off, unsurprisingly, most players accumulated a majority of their value in their 20s at every single position, besides starting pitchers. However, there is a split by position on how heavily players relied on their 20s (and of course there are exceptions at every single position as well).

The position which leaned most heavily on the 20s decade is catcher with 61.5% of the total value in the Hall of Fame produced in the inductees 20s. Not only that only one player posted a majority of his WAR7 seasons in his 30s: Bill Dickey. This should be unsurprising given the huge toll the tools of ignorance place on catchers. Second place was centerfield, which just barely squeaked above the 60% mark as well.

Starting pitchers relied the least on their age 20 seasons, and also contained the most players who contributed WAR7 seasons in their 40s. Every position besides pitcher averaged around 1% of their value accumulated in a players 40s; starting pitchers posted above 5% of their value in their 40s. I do feel pitchers, perhaps, represents a ‘truer’ reality for players given the shear number of pitchers in the Hall of Fame compared to the other positions. I evaluated 51 pitchers, no other position had even half as many players to evaluate (including players who aren’t even in the Hall of Fame).


A few interesting notes which I found that were interesting:

  • Several pitchers posted seasons in their 40s in their WAR7 including notable old pitchers: Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro and Nolan Ryan.
  • Only one player had the most seasons in his 40s be part of his WAR7: Nolan Ryan (a tie between his 20s and his 40s)

  • Five players had no age 20 seasons in their WAR7: Randy Johnson, Phil Niekro, Honus Wagner, Lefty Grove and Dazzy Vance.

  • On the flip side of the age gap only one player posted a season in his teens in his WAR7: our hero Bob Feller’s age 19 season was his 5th best season by bWAR.

  • While a majority of a players’ value typically comes in his 20s, it’s rare for a Hall of Famer to post all of his best seasons in his 20s. However, a handful of players posted all of their WAR7 seasons in their 20s and they are: Albert Pujols, George Sisler, Ron Santo, Ken Griffey Jr, Mickey Mantle, Christy Mathewson, Hal Newhouser, and Dizzy Dean. Of course most of these players boasted extensive careers in their 30s as well (Dean being a notable exception).

  • On the flip side, a handful of players posted all of their best seasons in their 30s as well and they are: Honus Wagner, Lefty Grove, and Dazzy Vance. Honus Wagner owns the honor of being the only position player who posted all of his best seasons in his 30s (he was no slouch in his 20s to be fair).


The big takeaway from this analysis is, except for pitchers, it pays off being a good young player, and throughout baseball history the best players did most of their best work in their 20s. That being said the best players still frequently contributed significant value in their 30s, and it’s equally rare for a player to stop being valuable as they age (at least, when they’re the best of the best).

I want to thank madherb for inspiring me to investigate age and the Hall of Fame. I will be looking at several active players and how they compare to Hall of Famers in regards to age and induction into the Hall of Fame. The first two players I’ll consider are Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. Needless to say, their outlook is pretty good.

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