Outliers: Shopping for VMart at Walmart

walmartlogo One of the players my projection and my initial bid price deviated on most was Victor Martinez. VMart was one of the game’s best hitting catchers, but he missed all of 2012 (his age 34 season) with a torn ACL. After earning $26 and $21 the preceding two years before the injury, he would seem to be a $20+ player this year, even while aging. But a closer look made me wary.

Between 1947 and 2000, four players earned 10+ dollars in their 33rd year and then missed all of their 34th year. None of them played again.

In that same time frame, five players earned 10+ dollars in their 32nd year and then missed most of their 33th year. Only one, Danny Tartabull, came back, and he had one $10 season and then retired.

During that same period, four hitters earned $10+ dollars in their 31st year and then missed most of their 32nd year. None of them earned more than $6 the next year, though two did earn $17 in their 34th year.

Obviously these are small samples, but when we widen it to include even hitters who weren’t that good the year before they missed a season, the tendency is clear: Once you’re in your 30s it’s hard to come back.

None of which is to say that VMart can’t come back. He’s swinging a hot bat so far in camp, and is going to be hitting behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, which isn’t going to hurt. But while the projection, which doesn’t really figure in the injury, is strong, my sense of where the bargains lay makes me wary. History says he’s not likely to be nearly as good as he was before he missed the entire year, because of rustiness and conditioning and aging issues. I wouldn’t be unhappy with him for $10 at all, but he’s likely to go for more like $17-20. At that level I’ll pass.