Wait, he still plays?
Like many baseball fans, I am guilty of saying this expression from time to time. It seems like more than any other major sport, baseball players still tend to have the ability to produce in the later stages of their careers.
Every team seems to have that one old hitter that you thought retired five seasons ago. Oftentimes we poke fun at them, but it is not deserved.
Most championship-caliber teams are guilty of having these kinds of players. There is a lot of value in having a hitter that has aged like fine wine.
They can keep the clubhouse under control, they mentor young players and they have the “game-changer mentality” to come up with a big hit.
In this list I will rank the best hitters from each team over 35 years old (at the start of the 2011 season) based on current skill, not career statistics.
The only four MLB teams without a hitter over 35 years old are the Cleveland Indians, the Florida Marlins, the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Notice something similar? All four of these teams have poor to awful offensive teams.
The reason may be because they rely too much on young, developing hitters. Teams like that tend to have trouble with consistency. These four teams are in serious need of a consistent veteran hitter to lead their lineups.
If these four teams want to get out of the cellar and back in the pennant picture, they need to make some moves, or it is going to be a long time until they are relevant again.
Treanor is the best over-35 hitter on the Rangers because he is the only over-35 hitter on the Rangers. He is better known for marrying beach volleyball star Misty May-Treanor.
That being said, Treanor has had a solid seven-season career as a backup catcher. Last season he had a .211 batting average and hit five home runs.
Infielder Michael Young missed the cut by six months, or else he would easily be the Rangers' best hitter over 35 years old.
“Johnny Mac” is a masterful defender and does all the little things right. Unfortunately, his lack of hitting ability has cost him a starting job on numerous occasions in his 11-year career.
Last season he batted .251 with six homers and 23 RBI in only 68 games with the Toronto Blue Jays.
John McDonald has a lot of value to his baseball team, but most of that value has nothing to do with his bat.
Gregg Zaun is a true MLB journeyman. He has played for nine different MLB franchises, and he will make it 10 if he can make the San Diego Padres roster.
Zaun isn’t even an official member of the Padres as of now. He is just a non-roster invitee to spring training.
Last season Zaun batted .260 with 14 RBI in 28 games for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The truth is Zaun has been one of the most consistent backup catchers in Major League Baseball. He always seems to bat somewhere around .250 and will definitely end up with an MLB team by the end of spring training.
Like Treanor, Castillo finds himself on this list because he is the only player on his team older than 35. But unlike Treanor, Castillo has had a very successful and noteworthy career.
Last season Castillo had the second worst batting average of his career, .235. It’s possible that Castillo is just past his prime. He used to get a lot of hits using his speed, but as it has diminished, he now must look for other ways to get on base.
The three-time All-Star still has a little left in the tank, but unfortunately he is stuck with the notoriously underachieving Mets. His spot on this list might climb if he can step his game up and get his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Throughout his career Jason Kendall has been one of the most consistent catchers in all of baseball, and this still holds true today
Kendall is known for his toughness and skill as a pure contact hitter. In his 15-year career, Kendall has recorded 2,195 career hits, ranking him fifth all-time amongst catchers.
If this list was based on career stats, then Kendall’s spot would be a lot better on this list. But in recent years Kendall’s productivity has steadily declined. Though still productive, Kendall is not the hitter he once was.
Mark Kotsay used to be known as an athletic center fielder that would get single after single. But since then he has moved to first base and has focused a little more on power.
I put Kotsay this high on the list because he is still productive. Although last season his numbers dipped, he still was a valuable asset to the Chicago White Sox lineup.
Kotsay is still consistently playing 100 games per season. Durability is probably the toughest thing to deal with as you get older, and Kotsay has dealt with it very well.
Fourteen-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger, 13-time Gold Glover and the 1999 AL MVP. Ivan Rodriquez is one of the most decorated players in MLB history, and it is deserved.
I feel terrible having Rodriguez’s name show up so early on this list. But that sad truth is he is not the player he used to be. Injuries and wear have taken their toll on the once great player.
Now the future Hall of Famer is just a .266 hitter on the worst team in MLB, only good enough to be named No. 20 on this list.
The 43-year-old infielder has still got it. Vizquel is arguably the best fielding shortstop in the history of the game. Although he has gotten slower and lost some strength, Vizquel is still great with the glove.
Last season he was not only good in the field, but also at the dish. He hit .276 last season, which is slightly higher than his career average.
Even though he may not be the best shortstop in the league, Vizquel can still help a team in all aspects of the game. He is the ideal veteran to have on any ball club.
Now before we start getting into the big names, let's talk Jamey Carroll. He didn’t break into the big leagues until he was 27 years old in 2002. But since then Carroll has been incredibly consistent, with a career average of .276.
Last season Carroll had one of the best campaigns of his career, batting .291 in 133 games for the Dodgers.
Carroll is quietly one of the better role players in the MLB. He provides strong contact hitting and reliable fielding for the Dodgers at a reasonable price.
In my opinion, Berkman appears to be in as bad of shape as anyone in the league. I look at him and wonder how he could possibly be a professional athlete.
In the mid 2000s, Berkman was one of the best hitters in baseball. But lately his numbers have taken a noticeable dip.
However, Berkman can still knock in runs. His average may drop, but his ability to contribute to his team has not.
I expect Berkman to have a big year in 2011. Sluggers like Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols take a lot of pressure off Berkman to be the leading run producer.
Most fans thought that Chipper Jones was going to walk away from the game he loved last season along with legendary coach Bobby Cox. But it is only a few days before pitchers and catchers report to camp, and it looks like Jones is going to be back for 2011.
At one time Jones was one of the most consistent hitters in baseball, but he is definitely not the player he once was.
Two seasons ago he had a career-best average of .364, but that seems like ages ago after Chipper followed it up with two mediocre season with averages around .265.
When he was traded by the Yankees in 2003, Soriano was supposed to be the next big thing in Major League Baseball. Although his power numbers improved, his average, fielding and base stealing ability have been disappointing.
Last season Soriano hit .258 with 24 homers and 79 RBI. Sure, they were productive numbers, but they were not great.
The Cubs look for Soriano to be the guy that anchors their lineup. He is expected to lead their team in all major offensive categories and be the go-to guy in the clutch. Unfortunately for the Cubbies, Soriano has never been and will never be that guy.
Todd Helton has been a dominant hitter ever since the first time he stepped onto a big league diamond. I expect this season he will bounce back from what was the worst year of his career.
In 2009 Helton batted .325 in 151 games with the Colorado Rockies. That season was sandwiched between the only two sub-.300 batting average seasons of his career, both of which were plagued with injuries.
I do not think 2008 and 2010 really showed Helton’s true ability. Don’t be surprised if Helton comes back in 2011 and hits his way back to an All-Star-caliber season.
Mora is the first of the players on this list that might be deemed overrated. I would disagree with that.
Mora has been a consistent and versatile player all his career. Last season he boasted a solid .285 average and recorded 45 RBI in 113 games for the Colorado Rockies.
Another reason Melvin Mora is ranked so highly on this list is because of what he brings to the Diamondbacks. He will probably be the only starter on the team over the age of 30. The team will really look to him to be a key contributor and a leader to the “Baby Backs.”
The Giants could not be happier with their newest addition, Miguel Tejada. The accomplished slugger may have lost a step or two but can still play.
Last season Tejada experienced a down season, only batting .269. But in 2009 he had an average of .313 and earned his sixth All-Star appearance.
Tejada has lost a little speed and doesn’t have quite the power he did when he was younger. But he is still one of the better shortstops in the league.
I have always felt that Polanco is one of the most underrated players in all of Major League Baseball. He has had an average of at least .280 every season since 2000 and played at least 110 games in each of those seasons.
Last season Polanco hit .298 with 52 RBI for the Phillies, which was actually a down year from him.
In 2011 I don’t see anything other than a normal season for Polanco. His average will be around .300 all season, and he will not get the recognition he deserves throughout the league.
Since arriving in the States, Matsui seems to be one of the most consistent sluggers in all of baseball. Every season you can count on him hitting at least 20 bombs, knocking in about 80 runs and batting somewhere around .275. Those are some pretty productive numbers.
His age has not seemed to affect him thus far in his career, and I don’t see any reason to expect anything different in 2011.
Another great thing about Matsui’s game is his ability to come up with the big hit. He is one of the most clutch batters in the game.
Rolen has always been one of the best-fielding third basemen in the league, and lately he has returned to his slugging ways of the early 2000s. After a couple of down seasons in 2007 and 2008, Rolen has been brilliant ever since.
Last season he complemented Joey Votto in a tough Reds lineup that surprised the league by winning the NL Central division. He hit .285 with 20 big flies and 83 RBI.
If Rolen can repeat his performance, there is a good chance he can help the Reds win the Central Division again.
Last season Jim Thome proved that he has still got it. Thome batted .283 with 25 homers in only 276 at-bats. I don’t think that anybody, including the Twins, expected this out of Thome.
I expect Thome to see more at-bats this season after being so efficient last year. If Thome can get to the dish 400 to 450 times next year, we may see a vintage 40-plus home run season from him. As a DH, Thome could do this and not expend any energy on defense.
Thome has never been known for flashing the leather, but that is fine. I’m sure he is totally content with having the greatest job in the world: professional hitter.
Hunter has always been a great center fielder, and those skills have not deteriorated one bit. But unlike the other players on this list, Hunter’s skills at the plate have improved as he has aged.
With Hunter, you can almost guarantee a .280 average, 20 homers and 80 RBI. It is nice for the Angels to know what they’re getting.
The most amazing thing of all is that it does not appear that Torii Hunter has aged at all physically. I don’t see any reason why Hunter can't produce like he is now over the next five seasons.
In 15 seasons, Magglio Ordonez has only failed to bat .300 twice. He is the definition of consistency. Last season he hit .303 with 59 RBI in only 84 games.
The only doubt about Ordonez one could have is his health. Last season Ordonez broke his right ankle and required foot surgery in order to be able to play this season. Hopefully he can recover and be as good as he has been his whole career.
But this is the age in which these types of injuries start to linger. Is this the one that slows down Ordonez? Hopefully not—watching Ordonez hit is a beautiful thing.
At the beginning of last season, people were saying that Big Papi was done. By the end of the season he was batting .270 with 32 home runs, 102 RBI and a slugging percentage of .529. I guess he proved the haters wrong this time.
Ortiz may not have as high of an average as he used to have, but the power is still there. The most important thing of all about Ortiz is that the attitude is still there. The attitude makes him one of the best clutch hitters to ever play the game.
Ortiz has 12 career walk-off home runs, only one behind Mickey Mantle for the most all-time.
It was a tough decision to leave A-Rod out of the top three of this list. Over the span of his whole career, A-Rod might be the greatest player to play the game when it is all said and done.
The reason I don’t have A-Rod in the top three is because he has steadily declined every season since 2007. Last season he averaged a career-low batting average of .270 (only counting seasons of 100 games or more), and in each of the past two seasons he only hit 30 home runs, which is his lowest total since the 1997 season.
If Rodriguez continues to slide, he may not have many years left ahead of him. The Yankees better hope he starts showing he is worth his $275 million contract.
Whether you love him or you hate him, nobody can deny that Ramirez is one of the best hitters of the generation. His antics are questionable, but his talent at the plate is not.
Critics say that Manny had a “down season” last year. He hit .298 with nine homers and 49 RBI in just 90 games. Bottom line—that is only considered a “down season” for a very select group of sluggers.
Now back in the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays, expect Manny to have a huge season. He is going to face pitchers he has seen before and play in ballparks he is very familiar with.
Guerrero can flat-out hit the ball. Last season he was the best designated hitter in all of baseball. Guerrero hit .300 last season with 29 homers and 115 RBI as a key player in the Texas Rangers' American League pennant campaign.
If the Orioles are going to be any good at all, they are going to need Guerrero to have a monster season. He is the only batter on the team with any proven offensive consistency. Guerrero might be somebody that is moved around the trade deadline.
Over the next few seasons, I can still see Guerrero playing at a high level. He is seldom injured and has never had a poor season his entire career.
The three biggest signs of whether or not an older player is fading are to look at their games played, athleticism and overall productivity. Ichiro played in all 162 games last season, stole 42 bases and hit .313.
Ichiro is simply amazing. He is 37 years old but still plays like a 23-year-old. I don’t think there is any doubt that Ichiro is the best leadoff hitter in baseball, and one could make an argument that he is the best leadoff hitter of all time.
He is unique. The way he hits resembles nobody else, and his consistency is unheard of. Last season Ichiro set an MLB record by being the first player to ever record 10 consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits. Ichiro is great, and I don’t seem him slowing down anytime soon.