Last week, we looked at the numbers of veteran position players (defined as 35+) on the various D-backs teams in franchise history. The numbers showed that they’ve been responsible for a considerably smaller percentage of playing time over recent seasons, compared to the peak in 2001-03. There’s likely just to be Evan Longoria in this category for the Diamondbacks in 2023, but I thought it might be interesting to review the performance of these veterans and see what the highs and lows have been over the past 25 years of Arizona history. So, going from age 35 through to age 40, here’s how things have broken down.
- Number of players: 25
- Average number of games: 74
- Average bWAR: 0.6
- Most games: 156 - Luis Gonzalez, 2003
- Highest bWAR: 3.8 - Devon White, 1998
- Worst bWAR: -1.0 - Lenny Harris, 2000
For obvious reasons, this is the area with the largest sample, and the broadest spectrum of results. We have to go back to Arizona’s inaugural year to find the best season, though Steve Finley - a name we’ll be hearing much more of! - and Luis Gonzalez were also worth more than three wins in their age 35 seasons. Less impressively, Royce Clayton played 143 times in 2005, but produced only 0.1 bWAR. Still he wasn’t Lenny Harris. From 1992-2005, Harris was significantly below replacement level (-2.7 bWAR), and never reached even one win for a single year. But he still managed to average 106 games a season over that fourteen-year period, played until he was 40 and earned over $11 million for his career
- Number of players: 15
- Average number of games: 52
- Average bWAR: 0.2
- Most games: 140 - Steve Finley, 2001
- Highest bWAR: 1.5 - Luis Gonzalez, 2004
- Worst bWAR: -0.3 - Alan Zinter, 2004; Tony Clark, 2008; Brent Mayne, 2004; Jay Bell, 2002
Things drop off considerably here, both in numbers and production. Even Finley had a disappointing year in 2001, managing just 0.9 bWAR: the only season between 1999 and 2003 inclusive where he was worth less than three wins. Veteran presence didn’t do a lot for the team in general, at least not on their way to the playoffs. The quartet of Finley, Mark Grace, Bell and Matt Williams earned $25.4 million - the equivalent of $52.3 million in 2022 money - and were worth a total of 4.8 bWAR, half of that coming from Grace. In comparison, the then “youngsters” of Gonzalez and Reggie Sanders - at least relatively, both being 33 in 2001 - combined for 11.2 bWAR that season.
- Number of players: 8
- Average number of games: 80
- Average bWAR: 1.1
- Most games: 155 - Luis Gonzales, 2005
- Highest bWAR: 3.8 - Steve Finley, 2002
- Worst bWAR: -0.5 - Matt Williams, 2003
With Longoria in his age 37 season next year, this is the most relevant category. I think the average - 80 games, 1.1 bWAR - would be a solid return from Evan. However, worth noting that only one of the eight players actually came within a win of the average (The Prime Minister of Defense, John McDonald nailing it on the nose in 2012). We had a broad spread of possible outcomes. Finley was insanely good: no center fielder aged 37 or older has put up that much bWAR since Willie Mays was worth 6.8 bWAR in 1971. And Willie Mays was forty. However, Williams managed to be terrible in just 44 games before being released, as discussed elsewhere; the second coming of Tony Clark (-0.4 bWAR in 2009) was also bad,
- Number of players: 5
- Average number of games: 93
- Average bWAR: 1.1
- Most games: 153 - Luis Gonzales, 2006
- Highest bWAR: 3.2 - Steve Finley, 2003
- Worst bWAR: 0.2 - Geoff Blum, 2011 and Félix José, 2003
With just a handful of players at this age, please take a small sample-size caveat as read for the rest of this article. In particular, the numbers here are heavily skewed by the presence of Finley, with nobody else being worth more than one win. Put another way, Steve is responsible for 59% of all the bWAR produced by these five players, despite appearing in less than one-third of the total games in which they appeared. Still, I’m quite impressed that all of them were better than replacement level, albeit only marginally in the cases of Blum and Jose. However, they only made 23 and 18 appearances respectively, so there’s only so much they could do.
- Number of players: 5
- Average number of games: 53
- Average bWAR: 0.1
- Most games: 104 - Steve Finley, 2004
- Highest bWAR: 1.7 - Steve Finley, 2004
- Worst bWAR: -1.1 - Melvin Mora, 2011
HA HA HA HA MELVIN MORA. YOU ARE DEAD. Right, with that out of the way, let’s talk more about how incredibly good and reliable Finley was. The above figure does not take into account that he was dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline: he played 58 games there and put up an additional 1.4 bWAR, giving him 162 games and 3.2 bWAR for the year. The only other player that age to appear in as many games as Finley was Pete Rose, who did so twice, the last time as a 41-year-old in 1982. By coincidence, both men batted .271 for those seasons. However, Pete Rose hit three home-runs and played first-base. Steve Finley hit thirty-six. and started 157 times that season in center-field.
- Number of players: 1
- Average number of games: 21
- Average bWAR: -0.2
- Most games: 21 - Henry Blanco, 2012
- Highest bWAR: -0.2 - Henry Blanco, 2012
- Worst bWAR: -0.2 - Henry Blanco, 2012
All hail catcher Blanco, the oldest position player to appear in a game for us, being 40 years and 342 days old when he made his final start for Arizona, against Philadelphia on August 5th, 2012. He’s also numbers #2-58 on the list, with Melvin Mora (39 years, 147 days) the next oldest. [For what it’s worth, the June 18, 2011 game had both of them starting] Considering how much of a strain catching puts on the body, the mere fact Blanco was still playing in MLB is impressive. Equally as remarkable, he played on after leaving the Diamondbacks, making his final appearance 25 days into his forty-third year, as a Mariner in September 2013. Since 1993, Pat Borders is the only other person to catch in the majors at age 42.
You will not be surprised to learn that Finley is the most productive veteran D-back position player, having put up 13.1 bWAR at age 35+. Luis Gonzalez (8.2) is the only other to have even reached four. Admittedly, these two also have far more games than any other veterans: 693 and 569 respectively, with third-place belonging to Mark Grace, a long way back on 335 appearances. At the other end, Melvin Mora’s -1.1 is the worst, all the more (un)impressive, since it was piled up in just 42 games. That’ll happen when you bat .228 with no homers and a K:BB ratio of 24:2, while playing poor defense. Bit of a shame he waited until December that year before announcing his decision to retire from baseball!