Older Players Find a Rest Home With the Dodgers

You’ve always thought Ned Colletti had an unnatural predilection for older players, right? Whether it’s been trying to stick Luis Gonzalez in front of Andre Ethier or Garret Anderson in front of absolutely anyone who wasn’t Garret Anderson, the Dodgers in the Colletti era (2006-11) have always been seen as choosing experience over talent, even when the experienced player is well past their sell-by date. We’ve always joked about it, but we’ve never had a really great way to confirm it.

Until now, that is. Today, FanGraphs (who, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve recently begun writing for) has unveiled “age filtering” on their leaderboards, which can show you all kinds of fun things. (Examples they give include seeing all qualified batters in their age 18-24 seasons since 2005 and seeing which teams have benefited the most from pitchers age 30 and up since 2000.)

Well, if we have that kind of information at our fingertips, how could I not go see how much playing time has been handed over to the elderly since Colletti arrived 2006? Let’s start with hitters, throw all the proper inputs into the blender, and we’ll come out with…

2006-2011, Most PA by Players 35+
1. 8587 Giants
2. 8580 Dodgers
3. 8098 Yankees

…and, of course they are. But okay, in and of itself having older players isn’t necessarily bad. Barry Bonds stayed productive for the Giants well into his 30s, and the Yankees are always carrying expensive, older superstars into the playoffs. Manny Ramirez was no spring chicken when he arrived in LA, and it can’t have been all Mark Sweeney and Juan Castro and Mark Loretta since, right?

2006-2011, wOBA of Players 35+
10t. .328 Reds
10t. .328 Rays
12t. .327 Dodgers

Not awful, if likely Manny-fueled. However, also likely fueled by Manny is the defensive performance of this group of players…

2006-11, Fielding Runs of Players 35+
28. -41.0 Red Sox
29. -62.9 Yankees
30. -66.0 Dodgers

Yikes. (While we’re here, I can’t help but share the numbers for +WPA and -WPA. They aren’t great stats for evaluating long-term performance, because they’re so dependent on the context of an individual game, but over this span this group of Dodgers provided a Win Percentage Added of 0.02… and a -WPA of 147.37. That’s just fantastic.)

Okay, how about the pitchers?

2006-2011, Most IP by Pitchers 35+
1. 2496.1 Yankees
2. 2038.1 Mets
3. 1904.0 Red Sox
4. 1766.2 Braves
5. 1678.1 Dodgers

Top five, again. And as to their performance…

2006-2011, FIP by Pitchers 35+
1. Braves 3.70
2. Cardinals 3.78
3. Yankees 3.79
4t. Marlins 3.86
4t. Dodgers 3.86

This actually comes out pretty well, mostly considering that Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda (2), and Ted Lilly each had solid seasons of 190 innings or more after turning 35 – plus several excellent Takashi Saito years in relief. The most amazing thing about this is that they’ve managed to commit so much time to older players despite having such an impressive pipeline of young prospects coming up in this time, guys like Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, etc. It’s like they’ll only play guys who are under 27 or over 35.

Still, I’ll have to admit the results of this didn’t come out exactly as I thought they would. The Dodgers under Colletti have actually done a decent job out of getting production from the higher-tier older players like Manny, Lowe, Kuroda, Lilly and a year or two each out of Jeff Kent, Jamey Carroll, and Casey Blake. That’s great, and credit is due there. If anything, the problem is in choosing poorly on the mid- to lower-range guys and then either delaying in or outright refusing to cut the cord when it’s clear that the veteran is absolutely cooked. That’d be Anderson in 2010, Brad Ausmus in 2009-10, Loretta in 2009, Sweeney in 2008, Olmedo Saenz in 2007, any mention of the Flying Ortizii Brothers, etc.

Of course considering this doesn’t include 2012 – you know, low-upside guys like Matt Treanor, Jerry Hairston, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy etc. – the trend isn’t likely to turn this year. Or next year either, since they’re mostly all signed to two-year deals.