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Don't overrate breakout potential based solely on player age

Ender Inciarte is breaking out in his age-27 season, but fantasy managers shouldn't rely on a player's birthday to make lineup decisions. Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

For as long as I've been playing fantasy baseball -- and believe me, it's been quite some time as my first season took place well before Bartolo Colon's MLB debut -- I've heard the same theory being put forward as a rock-solid truism. It comes in many similar forms, but the upshot is this: for hitters, the age-27 season is when they'll peak.

Now, there are a lot of problems with this over-simplified catch-all statement, not the least of which is that even if it were universally true, a player could peak and still not be very valuable for fantasy. Yet, nevertheless, when draft day comes around each year, I still often hear fantasy managers using "age-27 season" as some sort of argument in favor of their selections.

If you're wondering why I bring this up in mid-May, you can place the blame on Ender Inciarte. Through just 41 games this season, Inciarte already has 18 SB, just four steals off his previous best. He's also well on pace for career-high in both HR and RBI and sits as the No. 5 OF on the ESPN Player Rater -- ahead of both Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper. And yes, this is his age-27 season, so he's becoming a sort of "poster boy" for age-27 believers.

As it turns out, there are 61 hitters currently in their age-27 season -- including the injured Avisail Garcia and Wil Myers -- but only 23 who have had at least 95 plate appearances in 2018. Opportunity is far more important than age. Here's a quick look at what your "starting nine" hitters might look like with an "All Age-27" team:

Neither Ozuna nor Puig is having a good season thus far, and given their combined 65 HR last season, one could potentially argue that they both likely peaked in 2017. Villar, on the other hand, appears to be two years removed from what might ultimately end up as his best year ever. Arenado has been a fantasy mainstay since he turned 24, and after three consecutive top-10 MVP finishes he's long-since past being a "breakout."

As it turns out, an "All Age-28" team appears to be stacked with "name" players:

There are slightly more 2018 options with at least 95 plate appearances -- 29, to be exact. Not included in this lineup are the likes of Eric Hosmer, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jason Heyward, as well as the injured Kevin Kiermaier, who failed to reach the minimum requirement.

What I found more interesting, though was the "All Age-29" team. The potential group to pull from (min. 95 PA) has just 15 players -- including DJ LeMahieu (just placed on the DL this week with a fractured finger). Elvis Andrus and Travis d'Arnaud also might have been in consideration, were it not for their respective injuries, which have kept them below the minimum threshold for inclusion. Here's Team 29:

This is certainly something to track going forward, but given that the fantasy point "standings" (ESPN default scoring) for these three teams through play on Wednesday is Team 29 - 985 points, Team 28 - 877 and Team 27 - 742, perhaps we should all reconsider that theory about exactly what age, given opportunity, we need to be targeting going forward.