Whether it is conditioning, better care in the earlier part of careers, or simply positional evolution, any fan can recognize the trend of older pitchers lasting longer than ever.
While we will likely never see a post-40-year-old run like Nolan Ryan's to close his career, the likelihood of being an effective pitcher, from the rotation or the pen, is higher than ever.
Who, however, are the best? In honor of Chris Carpenter's recent 35th birthday, I look to discuss the 10 best MLB pitchers aged 35 or older.
Despite a 19—12 record in Atlanta, his starting days should be behind him (a tough pill to swallow given the whopper of a contract he received).
It was arguable to put him in the top 10, as his K/BB has dropped all the way to a 1.24. Of course, Lowe immediately becomes valuable if his sinker is sinking right.
Are his days numbered? Well, he had a slow start to the season, and his ERA+ stands at a meager 67.
Still, since 2008, his ERA+ remains at 103, and his K/BB is above his career mark. He may still be a useful pitcher out of the pen and as a spot starter.
Also, in the age of inflated salaries, Tim Wakefield has never made over $4.67 million in a season, and he has been one of the best veteran-per-dollar values in baseball for years.
Kawakami is off to a brutal start, at least in the W-L column, with four straight losing decisions.
With an FIP of 3.88 so far in 2010, though, I'm reluctant to write him off from this list. His strikeout rate in 2010 is just 4.2, and while Kawakami is not a prolific K-pitcher, most people would agree he can strike out more men than this.
A quick look at his stats can be deceiving. One may see his 2.08 ERA, 1.010 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9 and assume he's an elite reliever.
But the fact remains that the Red Sox, and now the Braves, are not using Saito in high-leverage situations. In the past calendar year, the Red Sox and Braves have used Saito in mop-up duty, and his average leverage index (a measure of the importance of a situation) is a 0.61, with 1.00 being average (and most top relievers have a 2.00+).
Maybe I underrate Saito. Or maybe Terry Francona and Bobby Cox know something we don't.
It looked like he was fading away two years ago. Now? He has a 133 ERA+ after his first six starts with the Orioles.
While he likely does not expect a postseason venture with the Orioles in 2010, he is very likely to receive one more good payday, probably from a contending team in need of a 3/4 starter. Not too bad for a "terrible contract."
A tale of two careers can describe Darren Oliver's adventures.
1993-2004: When he was used mostly as a starter, he had a 1.43 K/BB, and a 95 ERA+. He was decisively mediocre and did not strike anyone as a person who would last until the age of 40.
2006-on: He has a 2.82 K/BB, 142 ERA+ used mostly from the pen. Also, while drawing conclusions from 13 innings is ridiculous, one cannot help but notice his 9.0 K/9 and otherwise fantastic start.
Good for Darren Oliver, finding a way to stick around in the league for longer than most people would have thought.
Okay, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Pettitte will not maintain a 2.12 ERA, or a 0.3 HR/9 (especially while pitching at Yankee Stadium).
That being said, Pettitte is still a very solid No. 3 starter and is still a durable innings eater, despite turning 38 in one month's time. A longtime starter who is approaching 3,000 career major league innings, he will make for an interesting Hall of Fame debate in the near future as well.
Who knew someone could play for one of baseball's most famous franchises, in the nation's second biggest city, and be so underrated?
Kuroda is. While his K/9 (6.1) and HR/9 (0.8) are not too impressive, he is a control master, throwing only two walks per nine innings (an anti-Dice K, if you will). While injured during 2009, Kuroda looks to be right back on track in 2010, starting the season with a 3.57 K/BB, and a 1.125 WHIP.
A lot of things are going poorly in Los Angeles, but fortunately for them, Kuroda is not one of them.
We have all heard it before. Heck, we have heard it from me. Rivera is an incredible pitcher.
When one can start off the season with a 4.50 K/BB and have it be unusually low compared to his previous three seasons (7.43 from 2007-09), you have an elite talent. Of course, Rivera has yet to give up a home run, and has only given up 15 since the beginning of 2007 (in 217.1 innings).
Oh, yeah. He also pitches in one of the toughest parks for pitchers. Rivera is probably one of the best pure pitchers in MLB history, so enjoy him while he lasts.
As much respect as I have for Rivera, there is no way I appreciate the ace who throws 75 innings more than the ace who throws 200+ in 2010.
While Carpenter's pace is not quite as torrid as it was in 2009, his 3.00 K/BB, 2.84 ERA, and 1.053 WHIP to start the season should diffuse any worries that he may slow down as quickly as he came back. And for a random trivia point, he has had just one losing decision since the 2009 All Star break. Not bad for a man who was supposed to be "done."