Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon once said, “Baseball was made for kids. Grownups only screw it up.” With this in mind, here are 25 players that are an exception to Lemon’s statement. These players are already 35-years-old or older, but they’re still performing at a high level.
*To see my article of the 25 best players 25 years old or younger, click here.
After the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim released Bobby Abreu, he latched on with the Los Angeles Dodgers and he’s having a remarkable stretch filling in for injured left fielder Juan Rivera.
Abreu hit .208 with the Angels and he’s now at a .320 batting average and a .433 on-base percentage for the Dodgers. Abreu’s best quality will always be his remarkable ability to get on base, and he is 10th in the National League in pitches per plate appearance (4.24).
Darren Oliver is 41 years old and he’s in his 25th season of professional ball, but he’s still doing very well. Oliver has a 1.54 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays and a 9.6 strikeout rate that is the highest he’s ever had.
Oliver has fashioned a sub-3.00 ERA in each of his last four seasons and this should make five in a row.
There’s a lot not to like about Alfonso Soriano. He’s being paid a ridiculous $18 million per season for 2012, 2013 and 2014. He plays awful defense in left field. He has terrible plate discipline which has given him a .307 on-base percentage since 2009. And he struggles to hit .250 these days.
But he still has power, and his 13 home runs this year put him on pace for over 30. Soriano is seventh in the league in long balls and his 43 RBIs are eighth-best.
After a handful of mediocre seasons as a relief pitcher, Fernando Rodney is tearing it up in 2012. While his current stats are strictly unmaintainable, Rodney has a 1.14 ERA, 19 saves and he’s leading the American League with 29 games finished.
Rodney is allowing just 5.7 hits per nine innings, only 0.3 home runs and just 1.4 walks. His 6.00 strikeout to walk ratio is four times higher than the mark he’s put up each season since 2008.
Travis Hafner hasn’t been the same player since he crushed 42 home runs in an MVP caliber season back in 2006, but he’s a solid DH who reaches base a ton.
Hafner is batting only .242 this year but he has drawn enough walks to lead to a .380 on-base percentage, his highest single-season mark since ’07. Hafner’s 131 adjusted OPS is his best mark since he led the league with a 181 mark back in ’06.
Ted Lilly has won double-digit games every year since 2003, averaging 13 per season during that span. He is 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA this year for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lilly has current career bests in hit rate (6.7) and home runs allowed per nine innings (0.6). And he’s been durable enough that he has averaged 30 starts per season since ’03.
Alex Rodriguez is still a good baseball player but his skills are declining rapidly. His OPS has gone from 1.067 in 2007 to .965 in 2008 to .933 in 2009 to .847 in 2010 to .823 in 2011 to just .771 this year, a number on par with players like Angel Pagan and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Rodriguez still has good power—he has 10 home runs this year with 31 RBIs which should give him 25 homers and 80 RBIs for the year. And he is 6-for-6 on steals which should translate to 12-15 steals for the year. That’s a good year but not really deserving of much more than his spot on this list.
Torii Hunter certainly isn’t worth the $18 million he’s being paid this season, but he’s having a solid year at the plate. Hunter is hitting .271/.347/.448 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. And he’s likely going to put up his seventh straight 20-home run season.
Hunter is perennially one of the top defensive center fielders in the league, as he’s won nine Gold Gloves and led the American League with a 1.000 fielding percentage previously.
After posting an ERA slightly over 5.00 each of the past two seasons, A.J. Burnett is enjoying his finest year since 2005. He is 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA in 11 starts, and his 2.42 strikeout to walk ratio is his best mark since 2008.
Burnett has struggled recently with his control, and after leading the league with 25 wild pitches last year, he’s thrown just three in 2012. He is also walking just 3.1 batters per nine innings, his best single-season mark since ’06. Oh, and if you remove his miserable 12-run outing, he has an ERA of 2.04.
Andy Pettitte is a great story for all baseball fans. He is enjoying one of his finest seasons ever and he’s doing so at the age of 40.
Pettitte is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in seven starts and all of his peripheral numbers indicate that he’s still got it—a 1.048 WHIP, a 7.2 hit rate, a 3.83 strikeout to walk ratio, and his 153 adjusted OPS is his best since 2005.
Given that he’s already 36 years old, he’s just 175 pounds and he has struggled with back injuries recently, Tim Hudson may not have many years left.
Hudson is 4-3 with a 3.90 ERA in nine starts. He’s had some rough outings (seven earned runs allowed in one start and six in another), but he’s also had some gems—twice he hasn’t allowed a run and five times he has allowed two or fewer.
A.J. Pierzynski has had an extremely underrated career, probably because he doesn’t exactly have the best personality in the world.
Pierzynski has appeared in at least 128 games behind the plate for 10 straight seasons and he’s a .284 career hitter. This year, Pierzynski is at .287—right on track with his career numbers—and he already has 12 home runs in 58 games. Considering his single-season high is 18, he’s likely going to shatter that mark.
Scott Downs has been by far one of the more underrated relievers in the game over the past five seasons. Since 2007, he has a 2.05 ERA and a 2.59 strikeout to walk ratio.
This year, Downs is having by far his best season. He has an 0.42 ERA with six saves in 21.1 innings pitched and he hasn’t allowed a home run yet.
A no-doubt about it Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones is still a productive third baseman even at the age of 40.
Jones is hitting .278/.352/.421 with five home runs and 24 RBIs, and the fact that he draws enough walks to give him a .401 career on-base percentage is one of his best attributes.
Derek Jeter is going to be 38 years old within a week, and he’s hitting at a .313 clip while leading the American League with 89 hits. Jeter has rebounded from consecutive sub-.300 seasons and he still has decent power and speed.
Jeter has six home runs and five steals this year, and he’s going to have his 16th season with at least double-digit home runs and stolen bases. Jeter has seen some time at designated hitter this season but he’s still playing shortstop for the majority of innings, even at his age.
Lance Berkman has missed substantial time this season due to a knee injury but he is playing well when he has logged plate appearances. Berkman is hitting .333 with a .429 on-base percentage and a .571 slugging percentage, and he has a 1.000 OPS in 49 plate appearances.
Berkman would be higher if he could stay healthy more but he is still a top 10 player.
Ryan Dempster really wasn’t that good in 2011 (10-14, 4.80 ERA) but he is tearing it up in ’12 to the tune of a 2.12 ERA through 12 starts and 21 consecutive scoreless innings to date.
Dempster has a single-season best 3.00 strikeout to walk ratio and he’s going to be a hot commodity at the trade deadline.
Joe Nathan finally seems to be pitching like the Nathan of old again, and he’s dominating this year. Nathan is actually better in 2012 than he has ever been before in his life.
Nathan has a 1.63 ERA in 28 games, having struck out 33 batters to just two walks in 27.2 innings pitched. That gives Nathan a 16.50 strikeout to walk ratio, which is nearly three times better than his previous single-season best of 5.94 back in 2006.
Nathan is already 37 years old, but according to Fan Graphs, he is still averaging 93.9 miles per hour on his fastball, slightly above his career mark and his highest in a season since 2007.
For the last three seasons, Chris Carpenter has averaged a 15-7 season with a 3.02 ERA and a 3.29 strikeout to walk ratio. Carpenter hasn’t pitched yet this year because of a shoulder injury but he’s coming off one of his best seasons.
Last year, Carpenter fashioned league-high marks with 34 starts, 237.1 innings pitched and 996 batters faced. He was just 11-9 but with a solid 3.45 ERA and a 3.47 strikeout to walk ratio. When healthy—and he should be soon—he is still a top 15 pitcher in this game.
I absolutely can’t believe what has happened to R.A. Dickey this year but he’s scary good. Dickey is leading the league in so many categories—wins (11), winning percentage (.917), ERA (2.00), complete games (3), shutouts (2), strikeouts (103) and WHIP (0.889). He is the front-runner for the NL Cy Young award so far this season and he’s coming off two one-hit shutouts, the first pitcher to pull that off since Dave Steib in 1988.
Dickey is a phenomenal story—he was a wash-out with the Texas Rangers and re-invented himself as a knuckleballer with the New York Mets. The only pitchers with as many innings pitched (480) and a lower ERA (2.87) than Dickey since 2010 are Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Johnson, Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander. That’s pretty amazing company.
Carlos Beltran signed a two-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he’s having a terrific season at the plate. Beltran is tops in the National League in home runs (19) and his slash line of .305/.387/.588 is indicative of a player that could finish in the top five in the league in MVP voting.
Beltran’s .975 OPS is just seven points off his single-season best back from 2006 and his 164 adjusted OPS is his best mark ever. Beltran has seven steals and he could put up his eighth 20-20 season if he keeps up with the steals.
Like Carlos Beltran, Paul Konerko is an old man by baseball standards but he is still having a pretty terrific season at the plate. In fact, Konerko has been making a strong Hall of Fame case with the way he has been playing as of late.
Konerko is leading the American League in both batting average (.357) and on-base percentage (.431). And he has current career bests in slugging percentage (.594), OPS (1.025) and adjusted OPS (173). Konerko has 13 home runs and 38 RBIs, and he could finish with his eighth season of at least 30 home runs and seventh with at least 100 RBIs.
David Ortiz is still playing just as well in 2012 as he did back in his prime with the Boston Red Sox. He is hitting .314/.397/.608 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in 282 plate appearances. And his 1.005 OPS and 167 adjusted OPS are his highest single-season marks since 2007.
Ortiz is still one of the league’s most feared hitters, as he is tops in the American League with eight intentional walks.
Roy Halladay has been the game’s best pitcher since 2008 by pretty much all standards. His 31.0 WAR—per Fan Graphs—is the best of any starting pitcher in the game over that span. Halladay is 81-42 during that span with a 2.69 ERA, and both his win total and his ERA lead the major leagues.
Halladay has averaged 7.85 strikeouts per nine innings to just a league-best 1.32 walks, and his 5.93 strikeout to walk ratio is the best in the game as well. Halladay has made four straight All-Star teams and finished in the top five in CY Young award voting six straight seasons.
He’s thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter, and he has led the NL in strikeout to walk ratio for four straight years and complete games five straight years.
This year, Halladay has been uncharacteristically off, as he is just 4-5 with a 3.98 ERA in 11 starts, and now he is out for anywhere from six to eight weeks with a lat strain. Halladay’s velocity has been down this season and that was likely as a result of his injury, but I still think he’s the game’s best starting pitcher over the age of 35 (and second-best overall behind Justin Verlander).
This means the top two players on this list are both injured, and Mariano Rivera actually may have suffered a career-ending injury when he tore his ACL shagging fly balls in the outfield before a game.
Rivera is still as dominant of a closer as the game has ever seen though, and his numbers in 2012 were still terrific prior to his injury—2.16 ERA, 0.960 WHIP, 4.00 strikeout to walk ratio and a 203 adjusted OPS that is pretty much on par with his career total (206).
Rivera absolutely defies mathematics with how consistent and dominating he’s been—even at the age of 42 ½ years old. Rivera’s ERA since taking over as the Yankees’ closer back in 1996 is 2.02, his ERA since 2003 is 1.87, and his ERA since 2008 is 1.72. The fact that he’s been even better as he gets older is absolutely jaw-dropping, and that gives him the number one spot on this list.