Older and Better
Earlier this evening, Bradley Ankrom and I were talking about how well Barry Bonds would hit if he came back now, at age 47. I said he’d be better than Juan Pierre. And Bradley brought up a truly fascinating question:
@atomicruckus geez, how many legitimate starting players could Philly add that would actually cause their roster’s average age to go up?
— Bradley Ankrom (@BradleyAnkrom) April 18, 2012
Challenge accepted! I’ve decided to answer that question. Obviously, this is not a question that has a definitive answer, so here’s what I’ve done: I’ve taken seven starting position players (Ruiz, Wigginton, Rollins, Polanco, Pierre, Victorino, and Pence) and looked up players who are 1) older than the incumbent starter at the same position and 2) put up more WAR in 2011 than the Phillies’ starter is likely to put up in 2012, subtracting half a win as a penalty for aging. I omitted Utley and Howard because it’s more fun if you get more answers, and I’ve omitted Galvis because he is neither very old, nor very good right now, so pretty much every second baseman in the league would be both older and better. And I reserve the right to make some subjective adjustments to meet Bradley’s requirement of “legitimate starting players.”
The baseline numbers for WAR are completely arbitrary, because this is just for fun. So here they are, based on last year’s numbers, with some adjustment for aging and regression:
- Chooch: 3 WAR (3.0 WAR in 2011)
- Ty Fighter: -1 WAR (-1.1 WAR in 2011)
- J-Roll: 3 WAR (3.7 WAR in 2011)
- Polly: 1 WAR (1.8 WAR in 2011)
- John Stone: 0 WAR (0.0 WAR in 2011)
- Pineapple Express: 3.5 WAR (5.1 WAR in 2011, 3.8 WAR career average)
- Thunderpants: 3 WAR (5.2 WAR in 2011, 2.5 WAR career average)
Here are our results:
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Age 33, 3 WAR
Today, from the Department of Things Everyone Already Knew: Chooch is really good. No one doubts this. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Chooch is 33. Though he has been up since 2006, and the Phillies have this habit of not calling up position players until age 26 or so unless they absolutely have to (for instance: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown). You know what? Chooch isn’t getting old. I am. Moving on.
First Base: Ty Wigginton, Age 34, -1 WAR
Helton and Konerko are no surprises. Konerko, even in his dotage, is still putting up fantastic numbers. Helton’s power has dropped off some since time let him play and be golden in the mercy of his means–and Helton ripped off five straight 1.000 OPS seasons from 2000-2004. But he’s maintained his ability to hit for average and get on base, and a .385 OBP plays, no matter where you play your home games, if the alternative is Ty Wigginton.
The Lees of Old Virginia, on the other hand…Carlos put up 4.6 WAR last year thanks to a fluky defensive season where common wisdom is that he somehow gamed both UZR and Total Zone. He hit okay, but I’d bet…well, not my immortal soul, but certainly someone else’s immortal soul that he never approaches those numbers again. Derrek was barely better than replacement level in 2011, but he’s still better than Wigginton.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Age 33, 3 WAR
Rollins is still good. Next.
Third Base: Placido Polanco, Age 36, 1 WAR
Here we have two of the five best third basemen ever to play the game, just sort of playing out the injury-plagued string. Either Jones or Rodriguez would do far better than Polanco at the plate, but Baby Beluga is good enough with the glove, even at his advanced age, to provide some value no matter how poorly he hits. In the 2007 offseason, when it looked like A-Rod was going to opt out of his contract, I was of the opinion that the Phillies should make some sort of Godfather offer to him and get him to fill in at third and hit between Utley and Howard. Looking at that contract now, I can safely say I was a moron when I was younger.
Left Field: Juan Pierre, Age 34, 0 WAR
- Torii Hunter, Age 36
- Lance Berkman, Age 36
- Alfonso Soriano, Age 36
- Carlos Lee, Age 36
- Andruw Jones, Age 35
- Reed Johnson, Age 35
- Carlos Beltran, Age 35
- Kosuke Fukudome, Age 35
To be fair, this includes all outfielders, because anyone who can play center or right can play left…but Lord Child, Juan Pierre blows. I don’t want to talk about that anymore.
Center Field: Shane Victorino, Age 31, 3.5 WAR
The only center fielder who comes close to Victorino in age and quality is Curtis Granderson, who is a few months younger. But if this exercise tells us anything, it’s that good thirtysomething center fielders are very rare, as evidenced by Carlos Beltran and Torii Hunter, who have both been forced by age (and, in one case, Bourjos and Trout) to move to a corner. The Phillies would be wise to take note. Of course, it also tells us that Victorino is still pretty good.
Right Field: Hunter Pence, Age 29, 2.5 WAR
- Carlos Beltran, Age 35
- Jose Bautista, Age 31
- Nick Swisher, Age 31
- Curtis Granderson, Age 31
- Corey Hart, Age 30
Pence is a little younger than most of the Phillies’ regulars, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his list is a little longer than most, even though he’s one of the better hitters on the team. Omitted from this list are Lance Berkman who 1) had a flukily good 2011 and 2) is only a right fielder by the same logic that he’d be a bookshelf if you made him stand in a corner and hold a few paperbacks and Shane Victorino, who already plays for the Phillies. Also, Jose Bautista is really good. You should check him out if you haven’t already.
Anyway, leaving out second base and the pitching staff, and not accounting for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming back, I have your answer, Bradley. There are seventeen discrete active players at four positions who can make the Phillies get older and legitimately better. Just thought you might like to know.