EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 27, 2013

BIG-LEAGUE Bonus babies?

Month they were born crucial for baseball players

By the Numbers
Pete Delani

---- — Baseball is a game of stats: ERA (earned run average), BA (batting average) and more recently OBPs (on-base percentage). Perhaps we should add BDY. What’s a BDY you ask? A player’s birthday.

What’s in a player’s birthday? More than you can imagine.

As the Red Sox begin their journey to build what GM Ben Cherington says is their next great team, we will feverishly dissect whether upcoming prospects are fast enough, hit well enough, throw hard enough and can handle the pressures of playing in Boston.

But perhaps what we should really be checking is when were they born?

A quick look at the Red Sox website shows that there are currently 233 players in spring training camp in Fort Myers from the Major League 40-man roster to their Dominican Rookie League team.

Of those, 116 were born in 1990 or later, and 117 were born in 1989 or earlier. One-hundred and fifty-six, or 66 percent, were born between April and October. Only 16, or less than seven percent were born in January and February combined, compared to 50, or 21 percent, who were born in the combined months of August and September.

A statistical quirk isolated only to the Red Sox, you ask? Nope.

That’s the case across the majors.

From the advent of Little League in the 1950s, up until 2006, youth baseball in America used a July 31 cutoff date in determining the playing level of a child.

So for instance in 1972, a child born on July 31, 1960 would be considered a 12-year-old in Little League play, while a child born on August 1, 1960 would be considered an 11-year-old.

Though only separated by one day, the “11-year-old” gains an entire year of physical maturity in youth play, one that statistics show will overwhelmingly enhance his chances of: being selected for Little League all-star teams, making the high school varsity team, being recruited by colleges, and ultimately getting drafted.

Beginning in 2006, USA Baseball and its youth sports moved the cutoff date from July 31 to April 30. Hence any child born before 1989 or before was essentially groomed during the original cutoff date and any child born 1990 or later developed under the April cutoff date.

As mentioned, the Red Sox currently have 117 players in their employ born in 1989 or earlier, and 116 born 1990 or later.

There is a distinct preponderance of players in the Sox system born prior to 1989, who were born from August-October. The same holds true for post-1990 births from May-July.

There is a decided advantage for a player born in the first three months following the cutoff date.

While the physical differences of a 25-year old born in September versus one born in May the following year is insignificant, the 9-12 month difference for children going through puberty can be astronomical.

Center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (September), third baseman Will Middlebrooks (September), second baseman Dustin Pedroia (August), catcher Ryan Lavarnway, and top prospects Deven Marrero and Xander Bogaerts were all born in October.

And oh yes, Mike Trout was born in August of 1991 and his National League counterpart Bryce Harper was born two months later in October.

Peter Delani is a long-time area high school baseball coach and former general manager of North Shore Navigators.