10 MLB Stars Officially Entering Their Decline Years
When players are young, they bounce back from injuries and slumps like nothing ever happened.
But there comes a point when those joints just don't heal like they used to. A point when the ball doesn't look as big or travel as far as in recent years.
Father Time is catching up with these aging veterans. Be sure to catch them at a ballpark near you before they're out of the league altogether.
*All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Thursday, May 9.
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2001-11): .325 AVG, 678 AB, 8.6 HR, 38.5 SB
Per Season Averages (2012-13): .276 AVG, 578 AB, 7.0 HR, 24.5 SB
The 10-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner and two-time AL batting champ was perhaps the best combination of "prolific hitter" and "outfield arm" that we'll ever see. Vladimir Guerrero is the only other person in the last 40 years to even belong in the same discussion.
However, he'll be turning 40 before the next World Series champion is crowned, and nearly two decades of 200 hits and 30 stolen bases per season is finally starting to take its toll on Ichiro.
In his "rookie" season in 2001, Ichiro batted .350 with 56 stolen bases in 692 at-bats. In 2013, he's on pace for 20 stolen bases and a .269 average in 520 at-bats.
But those are easily the worst numbers we've ever seen from Ichiro. Numbers that are only going to decrease when Curtis Granderson returns to action, more than likely relegating Ichiro to pinch-hitting and occasional spot-starting duties.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2002-11): 3.01 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 92.1 MPH fastball
Per Season Averages (2012-13): 6.57 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 90.1 MPH fastball
I know he's having shoulder surgery and that can account for his poor numbers this season.
However, the writing was already on the wall last season. After at least 10 consecutive seasons with a ground ball percentage of 50 percent or better, Halladay posted a 44.7 percent rate in 2012 and a 43.8 percent rate in his first seven starts of this season.
His ERA was higher in 2012 than it had ever been during any other full season in his career, and was a full two runs higher than in either of the previous two seasons.
The average velocity on his fastball has decreased in each of the past six seasons, bottoming out at an average speed of 89.7 MPH in 2013.
The one thing I can't wrap my head around in regard to his blatantly obvious decline is that—even though his walk and home run rates were absolutely through the roof and his velocity was down—he was striking out batters more frequently than in any other season in his career.
That stat is only made stranger by the fact that—in arguably his best outing of the season—he went eight innings against the Marlins and only struck out two batters.
Though he hopes to bounce back from this surgery stronger than ever, ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote that the success rate of guys having this type of surgery at his age is pretty darn minimal.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2001-11): .242 AVG, 33.2 HR, 5.4 SB, 164.4 K
Per Season Averages (2012-13): .175 AVG, 35.5 HR, 3.5 SB, 213.5 K
It has been well-documented that Adam Dunn is a modern day marvel when it comes to the "three true outcomes." For his entire 7,000-plus plate appearance career, Dunn has either walked, struck out or homered more than 50 percent of the time. That's the highest percentage of any player is baseball history not named Russell Branyan or Jack Cust.
It has also been recently documented that Adam Dunn thinks players would start batting .400 if no one actually told them how well they were batting. Leave it to the guy currently batting .145 to assert that the media affects batting average psyche.
What I feel hasn't been well-documented is that Adam Dunn used to be a legitimate stolen base threat. Did you know that Dunn once stole 19 bases in a season? Dunn averaged eight stolen bases per season for his first seven seasons, but has stolen a grand total of five bases in the past six years.
As far as commentary on his actual regression, those introductory stats kind of speak for themselves, don't they? His batting average is down nearly 70 points and he's striking out an additional 50 times per season. He has finished among the "top" seven in strikeouts per season in each of the past nine years, and will probably do it again this year if given enough at-bats, as he's on pace for 205 whiffs.
Sure, he's still hitting a ton of home runs, but what's the acceptable threshold for number of strikeouts per home run before you put a guy out to pasture?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (1999-2011): 29.9 HR, .283 AVG, 61.0 BB, 87.8 K
Per Season Averages (2012-2013): 23.0 HR, .261 AVG, 45.5 BB, 105.0 K
Did you know that Paul Konerko has more career home runs than David Ortiz or Adam Dunn? Or that he's most likely going to pass Mike Piazza, Cal Ripken Jr. and Jason Giambi on that all-time list this season?
Konerko is definitely in the discussion for most underrated player of the past 15 seasons, but he's also definitely starting to taper off as he plays into his late-30s.
He's absolutely still serviceable. His 30 HR since the start of the 2012 season put him among the ranks of Carlos Gonzalez, Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. He's just no longer anywhere near the guy who could bat .300 and hit 35 or more home runs on a regular basis.
A lot of it can be attributed to his deteriorating plate discipline. His 56 walks in 2012 marked his lowest number in a season in nearly a decade, and he's on pace for just 35 free passes this season. While the walks have declined, the strikeouts are increasing. Konerko is on pace to whiff 127 times this season, even though his career high is 110.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2005-11): 3.49 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 90.8 MPH fastball
Per Season Averages (2012-13): 4.67 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 88.9 MPH fastball
As mentioned in this article and as evidenced by this game log (which doesn't even document his three hit batters and two wild pitches), there had to have been something horrifyingly wrong with Dan Haren in order for the Cubs to back out of trading Carlos Marmol to acquire him this past offseason.
When he went on the disabled list in July of last season, he admitted that his back pain had him pitching "at about 70 percent."
(If you've never had back problems, I can promise they don't just go away with rest. I'm writing this article with a heat pad on a portion of my back that I injured six years ago and already dreading next Monday's softball double-header. I couldn't imagine trying to fight through back and hip pains six times a month to perform at a big-league level.)
When asked about how Tuesday's rain-out would affect his routine in the rotation, Haren was quoted as saying, "I'll take extra days anytime I can get them. I've had plenty of years of throwing every five days. It stinks."
His velocity is up a bit from where it was last season, but he's still more than two MPH slower than he was in 2007. We can't blame everything on the speed, though. His fastball is coming in at 89.4 MPH on average this season, but his average speed was just 89.8 MPH in 2011 when he had a 3.17 ERA and three complete game shutouts.
There's something more sinister at work here. His strikeouts are down and his BABIP and HR/FB rate are at career worsts. If he didn't have a lower walk rate than just about every other season in his career, his ERA would be even higher than the 5.17 at which it's currently sitting.
At a certain point, those numbers go beyond simply being unlucky to simply being unable to get it done any longer. Although, I'm pretty sure the Nationals would rather take their chances with Haren every fifth day than watch Carlos Marmol implode on a regular basis.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2001-11): .270 AVG, 15.5 HR, 33.6 SB, 69.9 K
Per Season Averages (2012-13): .246 AVG, 14.0 HR, 22.5 SB, 113 K
Jimmy Rollins is the one guy on this list who I'd be willing to admit might just be in a terrible slump at the moment.
Rollins had himself an incredible 2012 season, belting 23 home runs and stealing 30 bases at the age of 33. Not many people can put together a 20-HR / 20-SB season at that age. Only Reggie Sanders ('04), Mike Cameron ('06), Gary Sheffield ('07) and Bobby Abreu ('08 and '10) have accomplished that feat in the past decade. None of them stole as many bases as Rollins.
He was off to a similarly hot start for the first week of the 2013 season. After six games, he was batting .308 with one homer and three steals, but he's batting just .226 with no home runs or stolen bases since then.
The month-long slump has decimated his projected totals for this season, and consequently his per season averages for 2012 and 2013. Will he eventually snap out of the slump, or is he starting to show his age?
The strikeouts are the biggest concern, in my opinion. He was a bit of a free-swinger in his first three full seasons in the majors, striking out about 15 percent of the time and racking up over 100 whiffs in each of those seasons. However, he had managed to drop his strikeout rate over the course of the next eight seasons before seeing it spike since the start of 2012.
Rollins is currently on pace to strike out 130 times this season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2001-11): .504 SLG, 30.6 HR, 23.8 SB, 127.7 K
Per Season Averages (2012-13): .453 SLG, 23.5 HR, 12.5 SB, 136.5 K
From 2002-2006, Alfonso Soriano had at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in four out of five seasons, including becoming the fourth member of the 40 HR / 40 SB club in 2006 while playing for a Washington Nationals team that won fewer than 44 percent of its games.
Aside from the potential ability to still hit 30 home runs, literally everything about that sentence has changed drastically in the past seven years.
Despite a somewhat surprising 32-HR season in 2012—coming on the heels of four consecutive seasons with HR totals in the 20s—Soriano's slugging percentage is down more than 50 points from where it was over the previous 11 seasons.
Not only is the power depleting, but his speed is almost completely gone. He stole six bases last season, which was more than either of the previous two years. Thanks to four early swipes in 2013, his projected numbers have him stealing 19 bases this season, but I can't imagine anyone actually believes he'll reach double digits for the first time since 2008.
At the age of 37, it appears he's gradually devolving into a replacement-level player. Good thing the Cubs only have to pay him $18 million per year for another season beyond this one.
(If you click on that last link, be sure to check out some of the perks/incentives of Soriano's contract. He's already the highest-paid person in the entire NL Central, but it's also in his contract that he gets six premium tickets for every home game! He has a wife and six kids, so which one of those seven people doesn't get to go to the games?)
Harry How/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2002-11): 3.91 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 93.8 MPH fastball
Per Season Averages (2012-13): 4.89 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 91.4 MPH fastball
Compared to some of the names on this list, Josh Beckett is still a spring chicken. He turns 33 later this month, but he's nowhere near the pitcher he was in his 20s.
The average velocity on his fastball over the past two seasons is almost 2.5 MPH slower than it was from 2007-2011. Just from 2011 to 2012 alone, it dropped 1.8 MPH.
That's almost unheard of.
The other pitchers we looked at have had their speed drop over the years, yes, but it was a more gradual drop for them. Roy Halladay has a bone spur, a frayed labrum and a partially torn rotator cuff, and he was still throwing the ball within 1.5 MPH of where he was throwing it two seasons ago.
Beckett's HR/9 rate is higher than it's ever been and his ground ball rate is lower than its been in over a decade. His ERA and WHIP are higher than they have been in any season aside from 2010—a season in which he missed over two months with a lower back strain.
It's almost as if Beckett has a severe injury that he's not telling anyone about. Either that or he suddenly started aging in decades instead of years.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2002-11)*: 28.2 HR, 140.6 K, .238 BA, .247 ISO
Per Season Averages (2012-13): 16.5 HR, 174.5 K, .214 BA, .150 ISO
Maybe you don't consider Carlos Pena a star, but he did hit at least 28 home runs in each season from 2007-2011, so it's at least worth asking what has happened since then.
Clearly, Pena never hit for average. Save for the 2007 season in which he hit .282 with 46 home runs—reminiscent of Brady Anderson's "Where in the world did that come from?" 1996 season—Pena failed to bat .250 in any given season.
Much of his batting woes can be attributed to the fact that he's struck out in at least 27 percent of his at-bats in each season. He's been particularly "whiffy" over the past 14 months, though, striking out in just under 36 percent of his at-bats since the start of the 2012 season.
The power has all but vanished, as well. Pena hit just 19 home runs last season and is on pace for 14 this year with Houston—the seventh franchise he's played for in his career.
As long as he doesn't start striking out in 56 percent of his at-bats like Rick Ankiel was doing before his demotion, he'll almost assuredly continue receiving regular at-bats with the Astros. However, it's looking like his long balls will be fewer and farther between now that he's fully entrenched in his mid-30s.
*Excludes 2006, which was spent primarily in AAA
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Per Season Averages (2001-11): 3.83 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.04 K/9, 86.02 MPH fastball
Per Season Averages (2012-13): 5.38 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 5.52 K/9, 84.65 MPH fastball
We're really scraping the bottom of the barrel of stardom here, but Mark Buehrle does have a perfect game and a no-hitter on his resume. He's never been a Cy Young type of pitcher, but it's hard to argue with a career ERA of 3.87. That puts him within two-hundredths of a run of Andy Pettitte, James Shields and Jack McDowell.
However, if maintained for an entire career, his ERA over the past two seasons would put him in the discussion with Kyle Davies, Casey Fossum and Luke Hochevar for worst starting pitcher of the last 25 years.
Though technically a fastball based on the grip and the amount of break on the pitch, his heater has always been more of a lukewarmer, coming in at an average speed of 86 MPH from 2007-2011. Buehrle has somehow managed to throw it even slower over the past two seasons. His maximum velocity on any pitch this season was clocked at 87.8 MPH. That's almost five full MPH less than he was able to muster in 2007.
Who could have possibly guessed that turning 34 years old and moving to the AL East would be a disaster scenario for a soft-tossing left-hander?