What's Left in the Tank?: Top 15 Pitchers 35 and Over

Nicholas Pugliese@_NickPugsContributor IIIApril 26, 2011

What's Left in the Tank?: Top 15 Pitchers 35 and Over

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    Just because a player is no longer 25 and out of his "prime" years does not mean his career is done, at least not anymore.

    Thanks to years of research and new strength and conditioning programs, players have been able to extend their careers, making them last longer and be more productive.

    I recently looked at the top 25 pitchers under 25, but since the talent pool is a little smaller, the list for the top pitchers 35 and older will only be the top 15. This list will not just focus on which pitchers have had the best career up until this point, but will point a lot of focus on which ones will be the best pitchers for this season and beyond.

Honorable Mentions

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    • Miguel Batista
    • Kyle Farnsworth
    • Jason Isringhausen
    • Darren Oliver
    • Arthur Rhodes
    • Takashi Saito
    • Hisanori Takahashi
    • Tim Wakefield

15. Brian Fuentes (35)

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    Brian Fuentes is a guy who I never understood how he was able to continue to be so successful.

    From that funky delivery, to the not that overpowering stuff, to being a flyball pitcher in Coors Field; none of it added up.

    Despite all the questions Fuentes has been able to have a very successful career that includes four All-Star appearances and 193 saves over 11 seasons.

    Fuentes is still getting some chances to close out ballgames while Andrew Bailey is on the DL, but as long as he remains a member of the Athletics once Bailey returns his days of getting saves are over. Even so Fuentes should continue to be one of the better relievers in baseball.

14. Jose Contreras (39)

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    This Cuban defector did not pitch in the MLB until 2003 when he was already 31-years-old, causing American baseball fans to miss out on almost all his prime seasons.

    He never really stuck during his time with the New York Yankees, but his career hit a high while pitching for the Chicago White Sox.  There he won his only World Series and earned his first All-Star selection.

    His career appeared to be coming to an end by 37-years-old, but after a late season trade to the Colorado Rockies and a move to the bullpen Contreras was able to reinvent himself.

    He has excelled ever since the move to the bullpen, striking out better than a batter per inning and posting a 3.34 ERA in 2010.  Despite the age increase he has been throwing as hard as ever averaging a 94 mph fastball with the Phillies, by far the hardest of his career.

    An early season injury has him on the DL in 2011, but he was playing some of the best baseball of his career going five-for-five in save chances in for the injured Brad Lidge.

13. Livan Hernandez (36)

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    Another Cuban defector makes the list, this one arguably the greatest junkball pitcher of all-time.

    Name anything and there is a good chance Livan Hernandez has achieved it in his career.

    He finished second only to Scott Rolen for the Rookie of the Year voting in 1997 and in the same year he led the Florida Marlins to a World Series victory earning the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in the process. 

    Hernandez made back to back All-Star appearances with the Expos/Nationals organization.  Not to mention over that time winning a Silver Slugger, leading the league in complete games twice, and leading the league in innings pitched once.

    His other "accomplishments" include leading the league in loses once and hits given up five times.

    In my opinion, Hernandez is the worst most-exciting pitcher to watch. Over his career Hernandez has lost 5-6 mph on his fastball so to counteract that he took 9-10 mph off his curveball, throwing an even slower "Bugs Bunny" curve at times.

    He is not a pretty pitcher to watch, but he consistently finds way to get outs, become one of the best fielding pitchers in baseball, and has managed to post a winning record for his career despite pitching on some of the worst teams.

    Don't look now, but Hernandez is having another good year in 2011.

12. Javier Vazquez (35)

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    For a pitcher who looked like he was not going to last very long in the majors after his first couple of years, Javier Vazquez has developed into a pretty good pitcher for his career.

    Vazquez was able to develop into a pitcher who settled down as a middle of the rotation starter for his career and at times could be flat out dominant pitching like a top of the rotation guy.

    He also served as a workhorse in the rotation exceeding 200 innings nine times during a 10-year span from 2000-2009.  The one year he missed the 200 mark he threw 198. Unacceptable.

    Even including his All-Star appearance in 2004, Vazquez had arguably his best season two years ago pitching with the Braves striking out 238 batters in 219.1 innings with a 2.87 ERA.  He followed that terrific year up with arguably his worst year in 2010 as a member of the Yankees throwing his lowest total number of innings and posting an ERA over 5.00 for the first time since 1999.

    After losing a tick or two on his fastball Vazquez is off to a slow start in 2011, but has gotten a little better with each start.

    He may never be the same pitcher again, but he should be able to hold down a back of the rotation spot on a good team for a few more years.

11. Bartolo Colon (37)

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    Before this season I would not have thought I would be putting Bartolo Colon anywhere near this kind of list despite his great career.

    Colon has won 20 games two times as well as 18 games twice, is a former Cy Young Award winner, and All-Star. Nevertheless he had not even pitched in 2010. He didn't just not pitch in the majors, he never even pitched in the minors.

    Colon, who had admittedly lost the motivation to pitch in the pas,t has come back with something to prove and by watching him pitch one can just tell.

    Since the beginning of spring training, Colon has looked completely rejuvenated, not resembling that pitcher at all who struggled on the field and with injuries on the Chicago White Sox back in 2009.

    Many people were upset that Colon didn't get a spot in the starting rotation out of Spring, but thanks to Phil Hughes' struggles Colon has gotten that chance and been excellent.

    Colon is on pace to be the Comeback Player of the Year without a doubt.

10. Carl Pavano (35)

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    The answer to who was the most shocking 17-game winner and who had one of the best mustaches in all of baseball last year? Yup, Carl 'frickin' Pavano.

    Pavano was a pretty decent pitcher for most of his career until he blew up in 2004 with the Florida Marlins going 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA. Pavano had been plagued with injuries early in his career, but this was the second consecutive season he was able to reach 200 innings, which got the Yankees to dig deep into their pockets for him. 

    Pavano had a series of strange (injured buttocks), unfortunate (broken ribs in car accident), and serious (Tommy John surgery) injuries with the Yankees and would wind up making just 26 starts over the course of the four-year contract never living up to it.

    Pavano was finally able to pitch a full season in 2009 with poor results. Last year he had possibly his finest season not only winning those 17 games, but leading the league in complete games and shutouts.

    Pavano hasn't been all that great this year, but as long as he can stay healthy he should be a good source of innings for any team for a few more years.

9. R.A. Dickey (36)

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    R.A. Dickey is a little different than every other pitcher on this list because his career is pretty much just getting started in his mid-30's.

    A whole article could be done on Dickey's journey to getting to where he is today between being born without a UCL to his decision of transforming from a traditional pitcher into a knuckleballer.

    After never amounting more than 15 starts in a single season, Dickey received a call up in May last season and never looked back making 26 great starts with the New York Mets.

    Dickey had by far the most surprising season of any baseball player and one of the best seasons of any pitcher going 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 174.1 innings.

    As a knuckleballer Dickey should easily be able to pitch into his early 40's, which is why he gets the nod over some pitchers who have had more previous success.

    I just love this guy. Being able to listen to his interviews and post game analysis is worth his spot on a roster.

8. Joe Nathan (36)

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    Without question, Joe Nathan will go down as one of the best closers of our generation and if this list were only about past success, he would be much higher on the list.

    Unfortunately for Nathan, he needed Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (the ligament R.A. Dickey does not even have) and has not been the same pitcher since. Due to poor performance to begin 2011 Nathan asked to be removed from closing duties and the position was given to Matt Capps.

    After a 1-2-3 appearance there were some rumblings the Twins would make Nathan the closer again, but manager Ron Gardenhire said Nathan needs a few more performances like that to get his job back.

    Nathan may not be completely done, but his stuff and overall command have lacked since the surgery and it does not appear he will ever get back to being the guy who was a four time All-Star. If I had the choice I would still take a Joe Nathan at 50 percent over most of the relievers in baseball.

7. Francisco Cordero (35)

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    Over the last seven years Francisco Cordero has been one of the most consistent closers in baseball, which is the reason he reason he received a four-year deal worth $46 million from the Reds in 2007—the largest deal ever signed by a reliever at the time.

    Cordero appears to have lost a little bit this year and his time could be running out. With Aroldis Chapman waiting in the wings for the Reds and Cordero's contract coming to an end this year his time in Cincinnati is likely up, but wherever he goes he should continue to be a model of consistency out of the pen.

    Cordero will likely reach the 300 career saves milestone later this year.

6. Hiroki Kuroda (36)

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    The Japanese import, Hiroki Kuroda, has been everything the Dodgers could have hoped for when they signed him from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

    Kuroda has not been able to reach the All-Star level of performance, but he has been as good of a No. 3 starter one would find on a National League team (if you don't count the Phillies).

    Kuroda has shown both good stuff and command even while being in the later stages of his career, making statistical improvements each year he's been in the MLB leading me to believe he still has a few good years left in him.

5. Ted Lilly (35)

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    In my opinion Ted Lilly is one of the most unheralded starters in baseball.

    He is not going to become the ace of the ball club, but he will give you 30 starts, win you 10 games, get 150 strikeouts, come close to 200 innings, and post an ERA around 3.50-4.00.

    No star, but that is the type of pitcher every winning team needs on their staff. A guy who you can throw out there every five days and know he is going to keep you in the ball game and give you a chance to win.

    Some guys don't peak until age 30 and Lilly seems to be that type of guy having his best seasons after hitting the big 3-0 and looks like a good bet to continue his success in the future.

4. Derek Lowe (37)

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    How many pitchers in MLB history can say they have both saved 40 games in a season and won over 20 games in a season, making the All-Star team both as a starter and closer? The number can be counted on one hand.  One of them is a Hall of Famer (Dennis Eckersley), one should make the Hall of Fame (John Smoltz), and then there is Derek Lowe.

    I don't think some people have realized just how good of a career Lowe has had. 

    Lowe was able to go from being the Red Sox's closer in 2001 to making over 32 starts in every single season from then till now.  You can count on Lowe to be there for you, eat innings like a workhorse, and give you the quality of starts of a mid of the rotation to top of the rotation kind of guy.

    Lowe is pushing 40 and has yet to lose a step.  He looks like he could pitch at a high level until he is ready to retire.

3. Tim Hudson (35)

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    Obviously the reigning National League Comeback Player of the Year was going to have a spot reserved on this list.

    After undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2008 Hudson was forced to miss most of 2009 and wound up making just seven starts. He came back in 2010 and at age 34 had one of his top three seasons going 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA.

    Through April 2011 Hudson has a career record 168-89, good for a .654 winning percentage.  He has also amassed a 3.42 ERA and over 1500 strikeouts.

    The three time All-Star and four time Cy Young award finalist has the career success to earn a spot on this list and showed last year he has enough left in the tank to be a good starting pitcher for a few more years.

2. Chris Carpenter (36)

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    To be honest when putting this list together I was a little shocked to see that Chris Carpenter was over 35 because it has not felt like he has been around that long.

    Like Hudson, Carpenter is a recent NL Comeback Player of the Year taking the honors in 2009 after missing almost all of 2007 and 2008 because of Tommy John surgery.

    Even after missing two full seasons and being 34-years-old Carpenter had one of the best years of his career finishing second in the Cy Young voting with a 17 wins and a 2.24 ERA.

    Carpenter followed up his near Cy Young performance with an All-Star year in 2010.

    Carpenter has only gotten better with age and he will still be effective if his arm remains healthy because he still has some more good years left in it.

1. Marinao Rivera (41)

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    Can anyone else top any type of list of the best active pitchers other than Mariano Rivera?

    Seriously the guy has done nothing been close out ball games at an elite level for the last 15 years on the biggest stage in baseball.

    He is hands down the best closer in MLB history and is showing enough at age 41 to believe he has what it takes to eclipse Trevor Hoffman's 601 career saves record should he choose to want to go after it.

    Mariano is signed for the rest of this year and next year and will continue to be the best closer in baseball over that time.

    After 15 years if baseball hasn't figured out how to hit his cutter there is no reason to believe they will now or in the future.

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