August 19, 2003
I found that there were only 9 seasons in baseball history when a hitter that old had at least 125 plate appearances, I ranked those 9 seasons, I took a guess at what type of season Rickey might have this year, and then I tried to figure out where that would rank. You'll have to go back and read the entry to find out my conclusions, which you can do by clicking here.
Thanks to some emails from readers though, I quickly found out that I had overlooked something that is very important to any discussion of 44 year old hitters. I'll let "D" - one of many readers to email me on this subject - explain:
"Has Rickey been an amazing player for two decades? Sure. Did he contribute the last few years even while his slugging and batting average plumetted? Yeah, somewhat.
But he isn't the best hitting 44 year old in baseball THIS SEASON, let alone ever. Julio Franco, of the Braves, is listed in most publications with a birthdate of August 23, 1958. In other words, he will shortly be turning 45!
The only question is Franco's true age. ESPN lists him with a 1961 birthdate rather than the 1958 one at baseball-reference, waymoresports, mlb.com and others. Franco was first signed by the Phillies (before becoming part of the famed Von Hayes deal) in June 1978. If his ESPN birthdate is correct, he was signed as a 16 year old rather than a 19 year old. Certainly either is possible. However, that the next year, he was already an all star in his league and the following year was the AA MVP lends credence to the multitude of sources listing his 1958 birthdate."
I don't have anything to say, other than I definitely dropped the ball on this one. The main sources I used for my little "study" on the best 44 and over hitters in baseball history were Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com. And, both of those places list Julio Franco as having been born on August 23, 1958. They also both list 2002 as Julio Franco's "age 43" season, which means he is officially playing 2003 at 44 years old - the same age as Rickey.
It's weird too, because I have had conversations with people in which I marvel at what Julio Franco is doing and I have certainly made my fair share of Julio Franco age jokes. I guess I just got caught up in the Rickey excitement and, in searching throughout baseball history, I forgot to think about other guys playing right now.
Anyway, here is how the two geezers compare so far this year:
PA AVG OBP SLG EqA RARP
Rickey Henderson 60 .235 .350 .373 .260 0.5
Julio Franco 187 .291 .369 .424 .277 4.8
It's not even that close, really. Julio Franco has more than 3 times as many plate appearances as Rickey (although that will change, now that Franco is on the DL) and he has a higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Rickey has been essentially a "replacement-level" left fielder thus far (+0.5 "Runs Above Replacement Position"), whereas Franco has been worth almost 5 runs more than a replacement-level first baseman this year.
So there you go - Rickey Henderson is in the middle of having one of the best seasons ever by a 44 year old hitter, but it isn't even the best year being had by a 44 year old hitter this season. Heck, it isn't even the best year by a 44 year old hitter in the National League!
At 44, Julio Franco has turned into the perfect platoon first baseman. He does his main job - mashing left-handed pitching - as well as anyone in baseball. Check out his numbers against lefties since he returned to the major leagues near the end of the 2001 season:
Year AVG OBP SLG
2001 .400 .464 .520
2002 .382 .442 .526
2003 .366 .451 .561
Now, he has no business hitting against righties (.217/.270/.289 against them this year), but he destroys lefties, which makes him an excellent guy to have in a platoon-role or as a pinch-hitter.
Since we're talking about old guys, I thought it might be fun to try to make an entire team of elderly gentlemen. At first, I thought it might be sort of tough to find old guys to play the premium defensive positions like shortstop, catcher and center field, but it is actually pretty easy. Making "40 and over" the cutoff for an "old guy" makes for a very small pool of players (only 4 hitters with 25+ at bats and only 8 pitchers with 20+ innings pitched), so I dropped the number to 38 years of age and older. And, so as to not get into any debates about birthdays and cutoff dates and all that, I simply used everyone's "seasonal age," according to Baseball-Reference.com.
So, put your dentures in, put your glasses on and crank up your hearing aids, because here they are...
The Elderly Gentlemen of Baseball
AVG OBP SLG EqA RARP Birthdate
C Benito Santiago .275 .324 .433 .267 13.9 3/9/1965
1B Rafael Palmeiro .261 .360 .517 .298 25.5 9/24/1964
2B Mike Bordick .282 .331 .394 .252 5.8 7/21/1965
SS Barry Larkin .284 .349 .384 .258 7.0 4/28/1964
3B Mark McLemore .225 .308 .316 .243 2.3 10/4/1964
LF Barry Bonds .341 .519 .751 .417 83.8 7/24/1964
CF Steve Finley .297 .370 .519 .287 22.4 3/12/1965
RF B.J. Surhoff .327 .370 .447 .297 11.7 8/4/1964
DH Edgar Martinez .305 .415 .524 .339 44.5 1/2/1963
That's a hell of a lineup. First of all, it includes the best hitter in baseball, Barry Bonds, who leads the world in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, Equivalent Average and Runs Above Replacement Position. It's far from a one-man show however. The DH, Edgar Martinez, is 4th in the American League in EqA, and Rafael Palmeiro and Steve Finley are both in the top 5 in RARP for their respective leagues and positions.
I think my batting order would probably look like this:
I would lead Barry Larkin off and bat Steve Finley second because they both have good OBPs and could set the table for the Bonds/Martinez/Palmeiro portion of the lineup, which is incredibly good. Then you still have Santiago and Surhoff batting 6-7, before you get to Bordick and McLemore. Other than Palmeiro, the infield is pretty weak offensively, but they all have positive RARP totals, which is more than can be said for a lot of starting infields around baseball. I would guess that lineup would be among the best in all of baseball.
Defensively, it is not a great group, but it's not horrible either. Steve Finley is still very solid in center field and Mike Bordick is great at whichever infield position you want to play him at. I'll stick him at second base instead of shortstop, because, while he is a better shortstop than Barry Larkin, Larkin has not played a position other than shortstop in his entire career. Overall, I'd say this is a slightly below-average defense.
AVG OBP SLG EqA RARP Birthdate
C Tom Prince .200 .319 .400 .260 1.6 8/13/1964
1B Julio Franco .291 .369 .424 .277 4.8 8/23/1958
IF Jeff Reboulet .263 .350 .347 .254 4.1 4/30/1964
1B Andres Galarraga .299 .358 .508 .293 9.7 6/18/1961
OF Rickey Henderson .235 .350 .373 .260 0.5 12/25/1958
That's a really nice bench. I had to cheat a little to find a catcher, because Tom Prince was actually released by the Twins a little while back and has since signed a minor league contract with the Royals. You've got Julio Franco and Andres Galarraga (.299/.358/.508 this year) to spell Palmeiro and Martinez at 1B and DH, and they both make awesome pinch-hitters too. Jeff Reboulet is the utility infielder and you've got Rickey to backup all the outfield spots (don't laugh, he started 3 games in CF last season).
Beyond those guys, there are plenty of other good options for the bench. Ellis Burks would be a great bench player and might even push Surhoff to the bench and start in RF, but he's on the disabled list with a pretty serious hand injury. Mark Grace stinks this year, but he wouldn't be a horrible guy to have on the bench. There's also Fred McGriff, who is hurt, but could certainly be a nice platoon first baseman and pinch-hitter. If you want another backup infielder, Keith Lockhart is old, available and actually hitting reasonably well this season (.253/.350/.437).
IP ERA W L Birthdate
SP Kevin Brown 158 2.28 12 6 3/14/1965
SP Roger Clemens 164 3.57 11 7 8/4/1962
SP Jamie Moyer 157 3.60 15 5 11/18/1962
SP David Wells 157 3.91 12 3 5/20/1963
SP Kenny Rogers 147 4.70 10 6 11/10/1964
Not a bad rotation, huh? Those 5 guys have a total of 1,030 major league wins between them, and they all have at least 150. Not only have they been great during their long careers, they have actually been very good this season too.
Brown, Clemens and Moyer all rank among the top 30 major league starters in ERA and also place among the top 30 MLB starters according to Baseball Prospectus' "Support-Neutral Win/Loss" stat. And Wells and Rogers are certainly a solid back-end of the rotation. Plus, like most veteran starters, all five of these guys can give you innings in bulk (they are all on pace for 190+ innings), which will help take a little pressure off of what is not a great bullpen...
IP ERA W L Birthdate
CL Randy Johnson 62 5.08 3 5 9/10/1963
LH Dan Plesac 27 1.35 2 0 2/4/1962
LH Terry Mulholland 71 4.29 3 3 3/9/1963
LH Buddy Groom 34 6.29 1 3 7/10/1965
RH Steve Sparks 89 4.63 0 6 7/2/1965
RH Rick Reed 125 5.10 5 12 8/16/1965
The good news is that, as long as all the batters they have to face are left-handed, the bullpen should be in good shape. The bad news is that there is only one guy with an ERA below 4.00 in the whole bullpen and he has only pitched 27 innings all year.
I made Randy Johnson the closer on this team, mostly because there were plenty of good candidates for the rotation without him, but also because he doesn't seem to be completely recovered from his knee injury. Maybe a lighter workload will be better for him. Plus, if you think Eric Gagne and John Smoltz are intimidating to face coming out of the bullpen in the 9th inning, how scary would The Big Unit be?
Dan Plesac is the main setup man and, despite being used sparingly by the Phillies (45 games and only 26.2 IP), he is doing a very good job against both righties (.176/.256/.206) and lefties (.203/.235/.328). Buddy Groom has really struggled this year, but he used to be good (1.60 ERA in 62 IP last season), so he can handle the tough left-handed hitters, along with Terry Mulholland, who is holding lefties to just .237/.318/.330 this year.
From the right side, you've got a guy who throws complete junk that is lucky if it gets above 85 miles per hour...and then you've got Steve Sparks too. Actually, Rick Reed has done a much better job against lefties this year than he has against righties, but he's right-handed and he was good against righties last season, so that'll be his job. Reed can also spot-start when one of the old starters sleeps wrong on his back or breaks his hip or whatever it is that old people do. Sparks will be the "super utility" guy in the pen, just like how the Tigers have used him this season. Whether you need someone to mop-up a blowout or pitch long-relief when a starter leaves early or get a key out late in a game - he can fill the role.
The bullpen is definitely the biggest weakness on the team, which surprises me quite a bit. I mean, when you think of what roles old players are able to remain effective in, don't you always think of relievers first? Well, I do. Although maybe that is because of Jesse Orosco, who, sadly, did not make the cut for this team, even with the weak bullpen (get the ERA below 8.00 Jesse, and then we can talk).
The 38 and over boys could definitely do some serious damage and I think they'd probably be one of the best teams in baseball. Plus, if they got to the post-season, they'd have more "Veteran Leadership" and "Experience" than any team in the history of baseball, and I think I heard Joe Morgan say that stuff is the key to winning.
Okay, I'm sick of talking about old guys, let's talk about a young guy. Here is a quick Johan Santana-update, just because he is pitching extremely well and I feel like gloating...
Johan started against the Indians last night, his 4th start so far this month. He pitched 8 innings, allowing 2 runs, while striking out 10 and walking 1.
Here are his combined numbers in August:
GS IP ERA W L SO BB H HR
4 30 1.20 3 0 30 8 19 2
Not only does he have a 1.20 ERA and a 30/8 strikeout/walk ratio in 4 starts, he's going extremely deep into games, having thrown 8 innings in each of his last 3 starts.
Overall as a starter, Santana is now 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 11 starts. He has a sparkling 69/15 strikeout/walk ratio in those games and has held opponents to an amazingly low .186 batting average.
For the season - starting and relieving - he has the following line:
G GS IP ERA W L SO BB OAVG
38 11 120.1 2.92 7 3 129 35 .207
Welcome back Superman.
Link of the Day:
Redbird Nation - "A St. Louis Cardinals Obsession Site"
Chicago (Prior) -150 over Houston (Fernandez)
Cincinnati (Harang) +205 over Arizona (Johnson)
Texas (Dickey) -140 over Detroit (Cornejo)
Total to date: + 1,640
W/L record: 208-211 (1-2 yesterday for -10)
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****