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The Diamondbacks and “Veteran Presence”, Part 1

How well have the age 35+ position players done for Arizona?

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Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The signing of the 37-year-old Evan Longoria has again ignited the discussion of “veteran presence”, a quality quite often mentioned as being something which Longoria brings to the team for which he is employed.

  • “Longoria still has value as a veteran presence in the clubhouse” — Andrew Baggerly, Dec 30
  • “Signing Longoria gives the D-Backs a much-needed veteran presence to go with their young, talented group.” — Lewis Masella, Dec 31
  • “He also is regarded as a strong veteran presence and positive influence for younger players, something the Diamondbacks are hoping to add to their clubhouse.” — Nick Piecoro, Nov 10

Though not everyone is as impressed... :)

This, and the related notion of “clubhouse chemistry”, is a tricky one. That they exist, seems logical. We have all had people we work with who make us better at our jobs, and we’ve also had people who drag us down with them. The problem is it’s almost impossible to quantify, not least because it’s not just about the player in question. Player A’s personality could be a positive influence on young Player B, but not on young Player C. Just as a certain character can be a good fit for a car saleman, but not as a teacher, so a player can be a good clubhouse presence for one team, but not for another. Trying to quantify that side of things is basically impossible, and I’m not even going to try.

All we can do is look at performance on the park of these players, to give us some idea of what their impact off the field needs to be. If they’re below replacement between the lines, they need to be all the move valuable in the clubhouse. So, I’ve looked at the 59 position player seasons in franchise history, where the player was age 35 or order. I didn’t include pitchers, partly because you don’t hear “veteran presence” as much for them, and partly because Randy Johnson, with his 10+ win seasons at age 37 and 38, skews the numbers to an insane degree. But they do seem to age better. We have had eight seasons of 4+ bWAR by age 35+ pitchers (Johnson, Schilling and Greinke); none by any position players.

More or less, the number of seasons half by age, for each additional year.

  • Age 35 seasons: 25 times
  • Age 36 seasons: 15 times
  • Age 37 seasons: 8 times
  • Age 38 seasons: 5 times
  • Age 39 seasons: 5 times
  • Age 40 seasons: 1 time

One thing which stands out is how few of these were what you’d call everyday players. Of the 59 seasons in total, the median was just 52 appearances per player, with over two-thirds (68%) appearing in fewer than half of the full schedule. The 24 full, 162-game campaigns have only seen ten veterans who appeared in 130 games or more, a list dominated by Steve Finley (four years) and Luis Gonzalez (three years). Mark Grace’s 2001 and Royce Clayton’s 2005 were the only infielders to reach that level, and all ten were in the first decade of the Diamondbacks. No player aged 35+ has played more than 90 games in a season for Arizona, since the Pope of Veteran Presence, Tony Clark, in 2007.

This may be related to the general move towards youth across baseball. Teams have realized that older players tend to be more expensive, and their reduced production can often be equaled, or even surpassed, by players with less than three years of service time, earning at or around league minimum. Last year, the D-backs did not have a single position player in this category, with the oldest being the 34-year-old David Peralta. That has been not uncommon recently: the same applied to the Diamondbacks in 2016, 2017 and 2019. However, I was also surprised to learn that the 1999 D-backs, who won a franchise record 100 games didn’t have anybody older than Steve Finley, then also 34 years old.

Below is a breakdown per year, listing the number of age 35+ players each season for Arizona, along with their names.

However, that doesn’t tell quite the entire story, because not all veteran players are created equal. So, there’s the table below, which gives you the total bWAR and number of games played across ALL players who were 35 years old or greater in that season.

D-backs aged 35+, bWAR and Games

Year bWAR Games
Year bWAR Games
1998 3.8 146
1999 0.0 0
2000 2.0 203
2001 4.8 520
2002 4.7 453
2003 5.2 431
2004 2.3 390
2005 2.7 357
2006 3.8 348
2007 0.0 141
2008 -0.3 38
2009 -0.4 36
2010 -0.4 59
2011 -0.1 164
2012 1.6 179
2013 1.1 251
2014 0.4 44
2015 -0.1 1
2016 0.0 0
2017 0.0 0
2018 0.6 72
2019 0.0 0
2020 -0.5 44
2021 1.2 142
2022 0.0 0

This shows you how reliant the team were, just in terms of appearances, on veteran presence beginning in 2001. That season, there were four such players - Jay Bell, Matt Williams, Finley and Grace - who could be considered everyday ones, all appearing in over a hundred games. But the number of games have generally trended down since, with a brief uptick from 2011-13, when Arizona had the likes of Melvin Mora, John McDonald and, god help us, Wil Nieves appearing quite frequently. But over the past nine years, the youth movement has been in full effect, with the Diamondbacks never reaching even 150 games by veterans (the peak coming in 2021, courtesy of Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Vogt).

Next year is unlikely to end that streak, with Longoria almost certainly going to be the old man on the roster, at least on the position player side (Mark Melancon has about six more months of “life experience”, if you will). Peralta won’t be around for his age 35 season, so the next-oldest is probably going to be Nick Ahmed, who turns 33 on the Ides of March. Christian Walker is only the other position player, currently on the 40-man roster for Arizona, who will be in his thirties for the 2023 campaign: he’ll be 32 in March.

I was going to go on to discuss the value these veterans produced for the team, in terms of bWAR, and also highlight the best and worst performances at each age from 35 through 40. However, I feel I’ve already gone deep enough down this rabbit hole for one day, so I’ll table things for now, and revisit those areas later in the week.