Every Major League Baseball season, or even grouping of seasons, has a theme. Some years are known as the year of the underdog, the year of the hitter, the year of the pitcher, the year of the closer, etc, etc. This season, almost from the word go, has been The Year of the Rookie. Or, at the very least, the Year of the Youngster. Or has it?
Of course, some of the MLB’s best are also the game’s youngest. Your National League MVP is going to be a 22-year-old with 40-45 home runs and an historically-high OPS. Your Rookies of the Year in both leagues are some of the best ever. In the American League specifically, Francisco Lindor, Miguel Sano, and Carlos Correa all deserve the award; two of the three will put up amongst the best non-award-winning rookie seasons ever. The game is trending younger, and it bodes well for the future of a league that was once proclaimed to be on its death bed.
But in this Year of the Youth, we can’t forget about those a little longer in the tooth. While everyone else focuses on the millennials making the leap into the game, their elders are proving they still deserve some respect.
At the plate, more than a few of baseball’s most senior members are producing at, or past, their former level of glory. Forty-year-old Alex Rodriguez, after missing all of 2014 and entering this season as public enemy number one, has been arguably the Yankees best overall offensive player (and, if you argue otherwise, you’d have to give such honors to 36-year-old Mark Teixeira).
Despite some ups and downs as the season has worn on, A-Rod is hitting .255/.359/.501 with 32 home runs (his best since 2006) and 83 RBI (best since 2010). His age and absent glove don’t allow him to crack the lineup every day, but for long stretches this year, he was New York’s best player when he did.
Staying in the same division, David Ortiz (at age 39) hasn’t lost a step, hitting 35 home runs for the second straight year – including the 500th of his career – and reaching 30 for the third straight year. His .270 batting average is up seven points from last season; his OBP is also up a tick, with his OPS up nearly 25 points. He ranks seventh in the AL in home runs (by the way, 35-year-old Nelson Cruz is second).
Adrian Beltre, at 36 years old, is posting a bWAR of 4.7, good for top-25 in all of baseball and sixth amongst qualified MLB third baseman. Rodriguez (3.1) and Ortiz (2.5) also have a bWAR over 2.0, and Marlon Byrd is posting a 1.5.
It’s not just with the bat that these senior-most players are thriving, either. With young pitching dominating the league right now, 36-year-old John Lackey has the tenth-best ERA in baseball (2.79). His 5.1 bWAR ranks eighth.
Mark Buehrle, also 36 years old, leads the American League with four complete games. His 3.69 ERA is good for 42nd amongst qualified pitchers. His teammate, 40-year-old R.A. Dickey, leads the league in starts and while his 4.05 ERA leaves something to be desired, it’s certainly serviceable when you play in front of the league’s best offense. Even Bartolo Colon, the ageless wonder, began the season as the best pitcher on a team known for its young talent at the position. While he’s fallen into line since, the 42-year-old (ok, so ageless isn’t technically correct) has won 14 games, is posting a 4.15 ERA and a positive bWAR, and even added a couple hits for good measure.
Youth is always going to be the aim in baseball, and any sport. Young teams can grow, learn, and improve on the fly. Get enough really good young players together, like the Astros, Cubs, Twins, and Mets have this season, and you can even compete on the fly while you do it.
But in a year that will, and should, be remembered for its youth movement, don’t forget about the old-timers putting in work and reminding baseball that while we may be in the midst of a changing of the guard, that old guard still has something left in the tank.