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Older is not better for bench players

3/4/2010

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.

You can still argue for keeping a Garret Anderson over a Xavier Paul. Maybe the Dodgers will get more long-term value out of Paul if he plays every day in Albuquerque until he's needed. Maybe there's a matchup in a key September or October game that Anderson will use his experience to take advantage of. Maybe Anderson's numbers will improve if his at-bats are rationed.

On the other hand, Paul is 25 years old, entering his prime, superior on defense and already performing at a level on offense that projects better in 2010 than Anderson does. It's not clear at all that it benefits the Dodgers to hand Anderson a job that he would be earning solely through his resume.

Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS

Rick Monday 194 156 1981 35 11 .423 .608 1.031

Manny Mota 176 50 1977 39 1 .521 .500 1.021

Duke Snider 149 196 1962 35 5 .418 .481 .899

Rick Monday 140 254 1982 36 11 .372 .481 .852

Olmedo Saenz 132 204 2006 35 11 .363 .564 .927

Jose Morales 131 34 1982 37 1 .382 .433 .816

Rick Dempsey 129 198 1988 38 7 .338 .455 .793

Ken Boyer 123 243 1968 37 6 .317 .403 .720

Jose Morales 121 54 1983 38 3 .296 .509 .806

Chad Kreuter 116 271 2000 35 6 .416 .410 .827

Doug Mientkiewicz 115 20 2009 35 0 .400 .389 .789

Mitch Webster 114 93 1994 35 4 .344 .464 .808

Manny Mota 110 47 1979 41 0 .400 .357 .757

Rick Monday 109 208 1983 37 6 .351 .399 .750

Manny Mota 106 60 1976 38 0 .367 .346 .713

Jeff Reboulet 105 253 2001 37 3 .367 .397 .764

Kevin Elster 104 259 2000 35 14 .341 .455 .796

Trent Hubbard 102 120 1999 35 1 .387 .390 .777

Vic Davalillo 102 81 1978 41 1 .333 .390 .723

Robin Ventura 100 127 2003 35 5 .331 .422 .753

Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS

Gary Carter 98 280 1991 37 6 .323 .375 .698

Willie Randolph 98 113 1990 35 1 .364 .344 .707

Chad Kreuter 97 234 2001 36 6 .355 .377 .732

Enos Cabell 96 208 1985 35 0 .340 .349 .689

Jerry Grote 96 83 1978 35 0 .354 .343 .697

Manny Mota 96 37 1978 40 0 .361 .333 .694

Brett Butler 95 178 1995 38 0 .368 .336 .703

Bill Mueller 94 126 2006 35 3 .357 .402 .759

Chad Kreuter 94 108 2002 37 2 .333 .379 .712

Brad Ausmus 93 107 2009 40 1 .343 .368 .712

Pee Wee Reese 87 181 1958 39 4 .337 .381 .718

Robin Ventura 86 175 2004 36 5 .337 .362 .699

Bill Russell 85 298 1984 35 0 .329 .321 .649

Manny Mota 85 72 1974 36 0 .328 .316 .644

Sandy Alomar 84 62 2006 40 0 .323 .403 .726

Manny Mota 84 59 1975 37 0 .357 .286 .643

Bill Russell 83 192 1985 36 0 .333 .308 .641

Reggie Smith 83 44 1981 36 1 .318 .314 .632

Boog Powell 83 53 1977 35 0 .415 .244 .659

Otis Nixon 82 191 1997 38 1 .323 .349 .671

Rick Dempsey 81 183 1989 39 4 .319 .305 .623

Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS

Devon White 79 168 2000 37 4 .310 .386 .696

Vic Davalillo 79 48 1977 40 0 .313 .354 .667

Ron Coomer 78 137 2003 36 4 .299 .368 .667

Jay Johnstone 77 90 1981 35 3 .267 .349 .616

Juan Castro 76 121 2009 37 1 .311 .339 .650

Gil Hodges 76 245 1961 37 8 .313 .372 .685

Gil Hodges 76 231 1960 36 8 .291 .371 .661

Geronimo Berroa 74 35 2000 35 0 .343 .323 .665

Al Oliver 74 85 1985 38 0 .294 .316 .611

Carl Furillo 74 103 1959 37 0 .333 .333 .667

Bill Russell 73 242 1986 37 0 .302 .301 .603

Rick Monday 73 57 1984 38 1 .309 .298 .607

Steve Yeager 72 221 1984 35 4 .295 .310 .605

Jim Gilliam 71 273 1966 37 1 .315 .268 .583

Rickey Henderson 70 84 2003 44 2 .321 .306 .627

Wally Moon 69 104 1965 35 1 .304 .270 .574

Gary Bennett 68 23 2008 36 1 .261 .381 .642

Tim Wallach 68 175 1996 38 4 .286 .333 .619

Rick Dempsey 68 151 1990 40 2 .318 .281 .599

Vic Davalillo 68 29 1979 42 0 .310 .296 .607

Elmer Valo 68 115 1958 37 1 .322 .317 .639

Brett Butler 66 145 1996 39 0 .313 .290 .603

Davey Lopes 66 243 1981 36 5 .289 .285 .574

Olmedo Saenz 65 132 2007 36 4 .295 .345 .641

Cesar Cedeno 65 87 1986 35 0 .294 .282 .576

Mark Belanger 63 57 1982 38 0 .309 .260 .569

Bill Madlock 62 69 1987 36 3 .265 .344 .609

Mark Loretta 60 204 2009 37 0 .309 .276 .585

Jose Valentin 60 184 2005 35 2 .326 .265 .591

Player OPS+ PA Year Age HR OBP SLG OPS

Mark Sweeney 55 34 2007 37 0 .294 .303 .597

Jeff Reboulet 55 58 2002 38 0 .291 .271 .562

Chris Donnels 54 101 2001 35 3 .277 .295 .573

Phil Garner 54 151 1987 38 2 .299 .270 .569

Ken Boyer 49 36 1969 38 0 .250 .265 .515

Shawn Gilbert 47 23 2000 35 1 .227 .350 .577

Jim Leyritz 47 68 2000 36 1 .294 .267 .561

Mitch Webster 46 63 1995 36 1 .246 .286 .532

Irv Noren 46 26 1960 35 1 .231 .320 .551

Steve Yeager 43 131 1985 36 0 .246 .256 .502

Mike Lieberthal 41 82 2007 35 0 .280 .260 .540

Jim Eisenreich 39 140 1998 39 0 .266 .244 .510

Mickey Hatcher 39 141 1990 35 0 .248 .250 .498

Chris Cannizzaro 35 25 1973 35 0 .280 .190 .470

Brent Mayne 29 113 2004 36 0 .286 .188 .473

Mark Sweeney 13 108 2008 38 0 .250 .163 .413

Jose Morales 3 20 1984 39 0 .200 .158 .358

Maury Wills 3 152 1972 39 0 .190 .167 .357

Milt Thompson -3 57 1996 37 0 .211 .137 .348

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/4/2010.