Revisited: Older is not better for bench players

Dodgers at Cubs, 11:20 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chad Billingsley, P

Back in March 2010, shortly after Garret Anderson became a Dodger, I posted the following:

We all know about the great, the wonderful, the tremendous Manny Mota. But generally, do aging reserves have a history of success with the Los Angeles Dodgers?

To try to answer the question, I decided to look at the batting numbers for Dodgers since 1958 who were at least 35 years old. (I chose players with between 20 and 400 plate appearances, then removed most of the players who were basically starters that got hurt or were part of a midseason acquisition.) At first I was only going to look at pinch-hitting numbers, but then I realized that except for someone like Mota, a key component of a good bench player includes how well they perform in spot starts.

Of the 89 players on this list, 20 of them (22.4 percent) had at least a league-average adjusted OPS of 100. Mota accounts for three of those 20 seasons, as does Rick Monday. (Sidebar: Is Monday, who OPSed .854 primarily as a reserve in 841 plate appearances from 1980-83, the greatest bench player in Los Angeles Dodger history?) Only 30 (33.7 percent) of the 89 even managed an OPS+ of 90.

Some of these older guys who didn’t produce are catchers or defensive specialists who never were expected to hit much in the first place. Nevertheless, the over-35 bench club is strewn with names of guys who had past hitting success (Jim Eisenreich, I’m looking at you) but were in such decline that not even their veteran moxie could save them.

Even Mota had some unimpressive 35-and-up seasons. Because many of these players don’t get a lot of at-bats, their performances can fluctuate quite a bit year to year. It’s not as if older players are doomed to failure, but there’s clearly nothing about being a veteran that guarantees bench success.

And that makes sense, despite the baseball cliches that would suggest otherwise. After all, there’s a reason these guys lose their starting jobs in the first place — and usually, that reason is related to offense more than defense.

There are some names in the below-average portion of this chart that are actually part of Dodger lore: Vic Davalillo in 1977, Jay Johnstone in 1981, Mark Loretta last October — players who by virtue of a single at-bat put a positive stamp on disappointing seasons. That doesn’t change the fact that overall, veteran benchmen have been more forgettable than memorable. …

Read the full post, which includes a lengthy chart, here.

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Should I start a Free Scott Van Slyke campaign like my Free Shawn Tolleson campaign? ;)

    I will say this, the bench could not be much worse than it has been (though I do worry about the defense a bit more now), so I don’t think Abreu will downgrade anything, but he might ultimately fail and at that point I hope they look at internal options. 

  • Anonymous

    Moxie.

  • Anonymous

    Boy does that Paul Konerko stat hurt :(

    • Adam Luther

      Which Konerko stat Artie?

      • Anonymous

        Only 4 out of 401 HR’s in Dodger blue :(

  • Adam Luther

    Here’s hoping Abreu gets his 2,500th hit and 300th HR as a member of the Dodgers – this season if he gets the playing time. That would be something! Another shrewd move by Ned.

  • Anonymous

    So Donnie moves Dre up!

  • KT

    Come on Matty

    • Anonymous

      The Bison was introduced by the Cubs announcers as the “Mighty Matt Kemp”.

      • KT

        ^_^

  • KT

    I guess they had a good scouting report on Matty…2nd baseman was playing behind the bag to field kemps grounder…normally a base hit turns into a DP

  • KT

    Campana is almost as fast as Dee

    • Anonymous

      Phillies radio announcers agreed Campana was faster. I’m merely reporting what they said.

  • KT

    good play by rivera

  • Anonymous

    Right now, Chadley’s falling behind in the count and throwing meatballs.

  • Jack Rosenberg

    With Abreu added, who is off the 40-man roster?

  • Anonymous

    I’m liking Hairston right now!

  • Anonymous

    Great AB, Hairston smoked that, but it barely got out against the wind.

  • Anonymous

    Happy, happy, happy!

  • Anonymous

    It was at 39 before Abreu was signed.

  • KT

    Nice Jerry

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    I wonder if the Yankees would like Juan to replace Mariano. One Rivera for another, right?

  • KT

    Billz breaking stuff looked good on that strike 3 slip

  • KT

    Nice defense Jerry

  • Anonymous

    Hairston made a good play there, but it would have been easier to tag out Soriano.

  • KT

    kemp’s slow treck to that ball lead to a double

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Single, double and triple for David De Jesus in the first four innings. 

  • KT

    Matt’s not having a good game defensively today

  • Anonymous

    Poor effort by Billingsley, far too many pitches and failing to put away hitters.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    This is starting to look like a Belisario debut game. 

    • Anonymous

      With Bills’s pitch count, and lack of command, that seems probable.

  • Anonymous

    I recall this fellow baffling us last year with the Pirates, until we finally got to him in the sixth.

  • Anonymous

    Who was the pitcher wearing 44 on that last Dodger history commercial?

  • KT

    Nice play Dee

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    That double-play should do it for Chad. Five innings, 10 baserunners, three runs, three walks, three strikeouts, 94 pitches.  He’s due to lead off the sixth, but can’t imagine he will.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      I sit corrected. I guess they love his bat.

  • KT

    Well that a way to get the pitcher out of the game…took his knee out from under him

  • KT

    good throw had him

  • KT

    Come on Matty bring him home

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Chad was one out from a quality start, however ugly, before that home run. 

    • Anonymous

      In my stylebook, the term “quality start” always has quotation marks.

      • Anonymous

        In other words, it’s only a quality start, if it fits your preconceived notion of how baseball was played in the 1960s.

        • Anonymous

          No, it’s simply a vague term with a pseudo-quantitative basis.

          • Anonymous

            It has a very real quantitative basis. You just don’t like the description. You can either set up a definition that is entirely subjective or entirely objective. It’s really hard to set up one that is half subjective and half objective. 

            That only exists in “Dancing With the Stars.”

          • Anonymous

            We’ll have to disagree on this. I think it’s a fabricated stat for use by agents at contract time.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    DeJesus going for the cycle now. 

    • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

      Jerry only needs a double now himself.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the mather wih Billz?

    • Anonymous

      The usual. Lack of character. There are no other reasons.

  • Anonymous

    Another meatball. No command today. Very disappointing after the fine start v. Strasburg.

  • Anonymous

    Orange Alert!

    • Anonymous

      Raise another orange flag!

  • Anonymous

    WJG pulled for a guy with a bum wrist.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm. Another Jekyll/Hyde outing by Billingsley.  I was pulling for consistency between starts this year.

    • Anonymous

      It was a poor outing against a weak-hitting team.

      • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

        to be fair, and I am trying to be, while he did leave some pitches up and wasn’t at his best early, he also got boned a few times by this inconsistent ump and had a windblown HR that would’ve been an easy can of corn flyout in LA. Dodgers didn’t take advantage at the plate nearly as well though, and yeah, wasn’t Bills best day, clearly.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, certainly not at his best against a weak hitting club.  But it kinda had a “gutty” feel to it, if not for that last dinger.

    • Anonymous

      Really, only one of Chad’s previous five starts this year might be considered to have been poorly pitched.

  • Anonymous

    Orange Alert, Part II!

    • KT

      What is an Orange alert? Does it have anything to do with the guidelines?

      • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

        Has to do with how close to getting the cycle a batter is. Hairston only needs a double to match his brother last week and hit for the cycle!

        • KT

          Thanks UD

  • Anonymous

    I am excited!

  • Anonymous

    Looks as if the strike zone has dropped to the ankles.

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      The Bobby Abreu era starts with him getting boned by the ump on two pitches. Was he bribed during the mound meeting? Ay caramba, just because a pitcher is struggling doesn’t mean umpire is obligated to help him out. Oh well, welcome to the NL Bobby!

  • Anonymous

    Soto appears to be nursing a serious hangover.

    • Anonymous

      He’s btimmer’s guy.

  • Anonymous

    Monday part of three-man team in Cubs booth.

  • KT

    Nice throw AJ

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    First time he’s been CS all year. Nicely done, AJ! 

  • KT

    Didn’t even think Dee was going to get to that ball

  • KT

    This coffey is burnt…we need to throw it out

  • Anonymous

    Scotty is just not responding this year.  Is there a lefty in the wings?

  • Anonymous

    It looks as if Coffey’s knee is still bothering him.

  • Anonymous

    Cubs announcer with a Steiner-like call on that flyball. (though he could blame the wind I guess)

  • Anonymous

    Collins just announced that Jeffrey Osborne will be singing the national anthem as well as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at home against the Giants.  Does that mean that ownership has ALREADY banished “God Bless America” to its rightful place???

    • KT

      I really hope so

  • KT

    Nice Matty…missed by 2-4 ft from a HR

  • KT

    Come on Dre

  • KT

    gywnn, hariston, Aj…sounds like some runs…Come on guys

  • Anonymous

    I was hoping we’d see Mármol in the ninth.

  • Anonymous

    One way or another, AJ gets on base.

  • Anonymous

    Cubs announcer advocating for instant reply.  Geez.

  • Anonymous

    AJ followed by Bobby is OBP heaven.

  • Anonymous

    HR for the lead ;) (here’s hoping)

  • Anonymous

    He could have made himself very welcome!!

    • Anonymous

      Smacked it pretty good.

      • Anonymous

        I think he is a good addition

  • Anonymous

    Well, has Bobby Abreu worn out his welcome yet?

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT