Going Deep: Fighting Father Time
We are in the last days of the year and there will be images all over the internet of the Baby New Year representing the fresh, new 2019 taking a handoff from Father Time, the face of the old, fading 2018. Baseball has been undergoing its own passing of the torch from old to young recently, as older players are having a harder time staying in the game, giving up their roster spots to younger, more reasonably priced options (that’s a story for another article…). There are some older players who refuse to go quietly and continue to play the game at the major league level. But should they? Let’s take a look at 4 players I believe should continue to be successful in 2019 and 4 whose time may have passed them by.
*Ages listed below are the players’ 2019 season ages
Edwin Encarnacion (Age 36)
Edwin Encarnacion has been extremely consistent over the past three seasons, posting 42, 38, and 32 home runs from 2016 to 2018, with an OPS of at least .810 each season. Digging deeper, the Dominican slugger has maintained a very similar level of performance over the last three years:
Encarnacion continues to display a typical power hitter batted ball profile: high fly ball rate coupled with an excellent HR/FB rate. While his K rate has increased and walk rate decreased last season, there is no reason to believe Encarnacion could not produce another year or two of similar statistics. One factor that could play into his success in 2019 is where he plays his home games. Currently, Encarnacion is a member of the Seattle Mariners after a three-way Winter Meetings trade, however, rumors continue to swirl that he may get traded again before Spring Training. Regardless of his uniform, Encarnacion should remain a solid middle of the order bat for at least 2019.
Ben Zobrist (Age 38)
Ben Zobrist signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 to be used in the same super utility role manager Joe Maddon used him in with the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist’s reunion with Maddon has been solid if not spectacular:
Zobrist had a relatively down 2017 but rebounded nicely in 2018, hitting for a solid average, getting on base at a good pace, and providing versatility, playing four different positions for the Cubs. While Zobrist isn’t a power hitter (his career high of 27 HRs was back in 2009), he does provide a solid OBP and multi-position usage for at least another season with Chicago.
Shin-Soo Choo (Age 36)
Choo has hit 21 and 22 home runs the past two seasons even though his fly ball percentage was below average and his groundball percentage was well above average. He has been able to maintain a high walk rate that drives his above average on-base percentage. Choo is signed with Texas for two more seasons and should be able to maintain his current level for at least one of those years.
J.A. Happ (Age 36)
Happ transformed himself from an effective extreme groundball pitcher, he won 20 games with a 3.18 ERA with the Blue Jays in 2016, into a flyball pitcher in 2018 but what he also did was dramatically increase his ability to get strikeouts:
Happ was traded to the Yankees at the trade deadline and continued to excel:
Based on that performance, the Yankees resigned Happ for 2 more seasons, with an option for a third. The one concern the Yankees and their fans should have is the huge difference between his ERA and FIP while with the team last season. If Happ is going to continue to hunt for strikeouts and become more of a fly ball pitcher, Yankee Stadium could hurt him, but I believe he should at least return SP2 or SP3 level value to the Yankees in 2019.
Ian Kinsler (Age 37)
Kinsler signed a new two-year contract with the San Diego Padres to become their starting second baseman and add veteran leadership to an otherwise young team. Will he be able to provide much else? Let’s check his numbers:
Kinsler is an extreme flyball hitter whose power is diminishing every year. He is now moving to one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in baseball. The Padres should expect much of the same from Kinsler in 2019, below average offensive output with average fielding at second. The hope is his presence does not completely block either Luis Urias or Fernando Tatis, Jr. from regular at-bats either next year or in 2020.
Alex Gordon (Age 35)
Gordon enters 2019 in the final year of the 4-year contract he signed in the afterglow of the Kansas City Royals 2015 World Series victory. To say that contact did not age well would be kind:
Gordon has become an extreme groundball hitter who offers little in the way of speed to back that up (27 stolen bases combined over the past three seasons). He is also rarely on base, causing the Royals to drop him down in the order to make room for other, also OBP-challenged but younger players such as Adalberto Mondesi. Gordon and Salvador Perez were the only players from the Royals championship core that were retained (no I don’t count Alcides Escobar) but it looks like 2019 will be his last season in KC and possibly his career.
Adam Wainwright (Age 37)
Adam Wainwright replaced Chris Carpenter as the veteran workhorse for the St. Louis Cardinals, winning 19 games twice and 20 games twice between 2009 and 2014, but injuries have derailed his once-promising career.
Wainwright pitched sparingly in 2018, starting only 8 games and tallying just 40.1 innings pitched, due to two separate DL trips because of right elbow injuries. His 2017 season was also abbreviated because of a right elbow issue, that resulted in surgery after the season. 2016 was Wainwright’s last full season and even then, he was showing signs of decline:
Wainwright maintained his quality sinker in both seasons but did allow hard contact, resulting in more hits than innings pitched. He was also unable to strike guys out as he did in the past, posting 7.29 and 7.01 K/9 those two seasons.
The Cardinals resigned Wainwright to a one-year contract after the 2018 season, ensuring the right-hander will be in Cardinal red for what most believe will be one last season.
Bartolo Colon (Age 46)
Bartolo Colon is amazing. Most baseball fans I know are Big Bart fans. He goes out there, looking like he should be playing in the local slow-pitch beer softball league, and competes at the highest level of baseball. The results the last two years, however, have not been good:
Colon still refuses to beat himself with walks, pounding the strike zone with his 90 mph fastball, but he could not miss bats. He amassed a mediocre K rate and batters hit just about .300 against him over the past two seasons. Based on these numbers, the end of the road may finally be here for Big Sexy but I am rooting for a National League team to sign him for 2019 so we can see a few more of these:
(Graphic by Justin Paradis)