Ranking the Top 10 MLB Players Over Age 35

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2017

Ranking the Top 10 MLB Players Over Age 35

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Respect your elders.

    That's exactly what we set out to do here as we searched for the 10 best MLB players over the age of 35.

    Most players break into the league before their 25th birthday and peak in their late 20s/early 30s, so sticking around past the age of 35 and continuing to produce at a high level is an accomplishment.

    It's also a testament to that player's level of durability and conditioning as well as their adaptability. Advanced age often necessitates things like a position change for a hitter or a different approach with diminished velocity for a pitcher.

    One way or another, the following 10 guys have found a way to continue serving as key contributors longer than most.

    Players are ranked on their current level of productivity, so an impressive career resume doesn't necessarily guarantee a spot on this list (Sorry, Ichiro).

Honorable Mentions

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    Koji Uehara
    Koji UeharaDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Position Players

    • OF Rajai Davis, OAK (36)
    • C A.J. Ellis, MIA (36)
    • DH Matt Holliday, NYY (37)
    • DH Victor Martinez, DET (38)
    • C Carlos Ruiz, SEA (38)
    • OF Ichiro Suzuki, MIA (43)
    • 2B Chase Utley, LAD (38)
    • OF Jayson Werth, WAS (37)

    Starting Pitchers

    • RHP R.A. Dickey, ATL (42)
    • LHP CC Sabathia, NYY (36)

    Relief Pitchers

    • RHP Matt Belisle, MIN (36)
    • RHP Joaquin Benoit, PHI (39)
    • RHP Joe Blanton, WAS (36)
    • LHP Craig Breslow, MIN (36)
    • RHP Santiago Casilla, OAK (36)
    • LHP Jorge De La Rosa, ARI (36)
    • RHP Jason Grilli, TOR (40)
    • RHP Ryan Madson, OAK (36)
    • RHP Peter Moylan, KC (38)
    • RHP Pat Neshek, PHI (36)
    • RHP Fernando Rodney, ARI (36)
    • RHP Koji Uehara, CHC (42)

10. RHP Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins

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    Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

    Age: 37

    2016 Stats: 69 G, 22 SV, 8 HLD, 2.25 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.2 WAR

    Career Overview

    Brad Ziegler's advanced age didn't prevent him from landing a multiyear deal this winter.

    The 37-year-old signed a two-year, $16 million deal ahead of his 11th MLB season, and he'll be one of the key pieces of a Miami Marlins bullpen that will be asked to prop up a relatively weak starting rotation.

    At a time when triple-digit fastballs are becoming more and more common, Ziegler relies on a deceptive, sidewinding delivery and a nearly unmatched ability to keep the ball on the ground.

    His 63.3 percent groundball rate ranked fifth last season among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched and that was right in line with his 66.3 percent career mark.

    Since he doesn't rely on velocityhis sinking fastball clocked in at just 84.7 mph last season—he should age better than his flame-throwing counterparts, and it's not out of the question to think he could be pitching effectively into his 40s.

9. 1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Age: 37

    2016 Stats: .268 BA, .780 OPS, 159 H, 50 XBH (31 HR), 119 RBI, 1.4 WAR

    Career Overview

    Albert Pujols is no longer the offensive force he was during the prime of his career.

    "My first 11 years, I set the bar real high, I separated myself from everyone else, and they expect you to do that every year," Pujols told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. “Then, when you hit .280 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, it’s a bad year. It is what it is, but I don’t focus on that. It’s on what I can do to help the club and win a championship."

    He may no longer be the game's most feared hitter, but he can still crush a mistake, and his 99 home runs over the past three seasons are good for the tenth-highest total in the majors.

    He's also currently the active leader in slugging percentage (.572), OPS (.964), doubles (603), home runs (592), RBI (1,823), runs scored (1,672), total bases (5,242) and WAR (101.0).

    With four years and $104 million left on his contract after this season, "The Machine" figures to add plenty more to those counting numbers before he hangs it up.

8. DH/OF Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 39

    2016 Stats: .295 BA, .850 OPS, 163 H, 62 XBH (29 HR), 93 RBI, 2.0 WAR

    Career Overview

    Carlos Beltran is among the greatest power-speed threats the game has ever seen.

    He's one of just five players in MLB history with at least 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases—joining Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Andre Dawson.

    He's also one of the best postseason producers of all time with a .323/.432/.646 line over 235 plate appearances that include 13 doubles, 16 home runs and 41 RBI.

    While his 30/30 days are a thing of the past and he's no longer a standout defender in the outfield, he still has plenty of pop and is a capable run-producer.

    The 39-year-old joined the Houston Astros this offseason on a one-year, $16 million deal, and among other things, he'll serve as a valuable mentor to budding superstar and fellow Puerto Rico native Carlos Correa.

    "It's not about getting a chance to play with a future Hall of Famer,'' Correa told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. "It's getting a chance to learn from a future Hall of Famer. That's what's most important to me."

7. CF Curtis Granderson, New York Mets

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 36

    2016 Stats: .237 BA, .799 OPS, 129 H, 59 XBH (30 HR), 59 RBI, 2.5 WAR

    Career Overview

    Curtis Granderson is in the final season of a four-year, $60 million deal with the New York Mets.

    He posted a .778 OPS and averaged 28 doubles and 25 home runs per year over the first three seasons of that pact, racking up a solid 8.9 WAR in the process.

    He's miscast as a center fielder this season. The Mets have Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce manning the corner spots and Michael Conforto also vying for time there, so Granderson's defensive value will likely take a hit as a result.

    The 36-year-old has tallied 14 DRS in right field over the past two seasons.

    However, another 30-homer season is well within reach. He's proven that his back-to-back 40-homer campaigns during his time with the New York Yankees were by no means simply a result of that short porch in right field.

    As far as career milestones are concerned, he's seven home runs shy of 300 for his career.

6. RHP Bartolo Colon, Atlanta Braves

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Age: 43

    2016 Stats: 15-8, 3.43 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 128 K, 191.2 IP, 3.4 WAR

    Career Overview

    What would this list be without Bartolo Colon?

    The portly right-hander is the league's oldest player by nearly five months over Ichiro Suzuki, and he's still going strong in his age-44 season.

    He was an All-Star for the fourth time in his career last season, and he can still pile up the innings with at least 190 in each of the past four seasons.

    Few pitchers have managed to transform themselves the way Colon has.

    A flamethrower who could touch triple digits in the early stages of his career, he averaged just 87.8 mph with his sinking fastball last season, but that didn't stop him from throwing the pitch 62.2 percent of the time.

    With 233 career wins, Colon is closing in on Juan Marichal (243) for the top spot among Dominican-born pitchers, so that's a meaningful milestone worth keeping an eye on.

5. RHP John Lackey, Chicago Cubs

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Age: 38

    2016 Stats: 11-8, 3.35 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 180 K, 188.1 IP, 2.5 WAR

    Career Overview

    John Lackey brings a nearly unmatched level of fire and competitiveness to the mound.

    After enjoying a career renaissance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015, he joined the Chicago Cubs on a two-year, $32 million deal last season.

    On a staff that included Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and breakout star Kyle Hendrick, he was simply asked to be a steady inning-eater in the No. 4 starter role.

    He was more than up to the task, reaching 180 innings for the 10th time in his career and finishing among the NL leaders in ERA (3.35, 12th), WHIP (1.06, sixth) and strikeouts (180, 11th).

    Lackey has won a pair of World Series-clinching games in his career and all told has a 3.27 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 140.1 career postseason innings.

    He can still dial his fastball up to the mid-90s when needed, and his slider was plenty effective last season, holding opponents to a .137 average and .049 ISO while accounting for 91 strikeouts, per Brooks Baseball.

    There's no question he was a big part of the Cubs finally ending their title drought, and he'll be a big part of their push to repeat.

4. RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Age: 36

    2016 Stats: .234 BA, .817 OPS, 99 H, 47 XBH (22 HR), 69 RBI, 1.0 WAR

    Career Overview

    The free-agent market didn't quite unfold as hoped for Jose Bautista.

    After an injury-plagued 2016 season and with power clearly being devalued this winter, he wound up back with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year, $18 million deal that includes a $17 million mutual option for 2018 and a $20 million vesting option for 2019.

    There might not be another 40-homer season in the tank.

    However, he's still a dangerous hitter capable of going on an offensive tear, and his plate discipline will continue to offset his low batting average.

    Despite playing in just 116 games last season, he still finished sixth in the AL with 86 walks, and his on-base percentage (.366) was ninth in the league.

    He'll go down as one of the greatest players in Toronto Blue Jays history and perhaps the most dramatic example of a "late bloomer" the game has ever seen.

3. LHP Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Age: 37

    2016 Stats: 12-5, 2.12 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 129 K, 110.1 IP, 4.1 WAR

    Career Overview

    Longtime MLB journeyman Rich Hill finally cashing in with a three-year, $48 million contract this offseason and the emotional press conference that followed was no doubt one of the highlights of the MLB offseason.

    "It's been an incredible journey, but I never felt like packing it all in," Hill told reporters after signing the first big-money deal of his career.

    He went on: "You fail, you learn. When you fail, you learn. I don't think you really know what failure is -- or I didn't know what failure was until I got older and understood that that was experience. Baseball teaches us to deal with things off the field that are far greater than what you deal with on the field."

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have enough pitching depth that even if Hill can give them 120 strong innings this season, he'll be worth his salary.

    He's already on the shelf with a blister problem once again, but when he's been healthy over the past year, he's been as unhittable as any pitcher in baseball.

2. DH Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Age: 36

    2016 Stats: .287 BA, .915 OPS, 169 H, 71 XBH (43 HR), 105 RBI, 4.7 WAR

    Career Overview

    Nelson Cruz is another prime example of a late bloomer.

    He was traded three times before finally establishing himself as an everyday player during his age-28 season with the Texas Rangers.

    From there, he quickly became one of the league's most feared sluggers, and he's shown no signs of slowing down.

    The 36-year-old became just the 24th player in MLB history to string together three consecutive 40-homer seasons when he slugged 43 last season while hitting alongside Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in a dangerous Seattle Mariners lineup.

    His value comes exclusively from his bat at this point in his career, and he's best suited as a full-time DH, but so far, he's been worth every penny of the four-year, $57 million deal he signed prior to the 2015 season.

1. 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Age: 38

    2016 Stats: .300 BA, .879 OPS, 175 H, 64 XBH (32 HR), 104 RBI, 6.5 WAR

    Career Overview

    Adrian Beltre has cemented his place as a future Hall of Famer and one of the best all-around third basemen in MLB history since joining the Texas Rangers.

    And he's still on top of his game.

    The 38-year-old recorded the fourth 30-homer, 100-RBI season of his career last year while also remaining an elite defender with 15 DRS and a 13.2 UZR/150 for a 6.5 WAR that ranked ninth among AL position players.

    That was enough for him to finish seventh in AL MVP voting, the sixth time in his career that he's finished in the top 10 in the balloting. 

    Looking at the bigger picture, his 90.2 career WAR trails only Mike Schmidt (106.6), Eddie Mathews (96.2) and Wade Boggs (91.1) among third basemen, and the way he's going, there's a very real possibility he'll retire atop that list.

    Simply put, it's tough to make a case for anyone else here in the top spot.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball unless otherwise noted.

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