- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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The Philadelphia Phillies will enter the 2014 season with the expectation that these five position players will be regulars in the starting lineup:
C Carlos Ruiz: 35 years old
1B Ryan Howard: 34 years old
2B Chase Utley: 35 years old
SS Jimmy Rollins: 35 years old
RF Marlon Byrd: 36 years old
That's five guys entering their age-34 season or beyond (a player's age is calculated as of June 30). If that feels like an old lineup, it is. If it seems unlikely all five will remain healthy and productive, that's a good guess as well.
Setting a bar of 400 plate appearances, only four teams have had five players age 34 or older reach that in the same season. Let's throw out the 1945 Chicago White Sox, since that happened during World War II, when many players hung on due to a depleted talent pool. The other three teams:
--1985 Angels -- Juan Beniquez, Bob Boone, Rod Carew, Doug DeCinces, Brian Downing, Bobby Grich, Reggie Jackson
--2007 Giants -- Barry Bonds, Ray Durham, Ryan Klesko, Dave Roberts, Omar Vizquel
-2002 Giants -- Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, Reggie Sanders, Benito Santiago, J.T. Snow
If you just look at these three teams, there is perhaps reason for optimism that Ruben Amaro's master plan will work. The '85 Angels won 90 games and actually won the AL West the following season with four of the players listed above batting 400 times again. The 2002 Giants reached the World Series. The 2007 Giants, however, went 71-91 in Bonds' final season (and ranked next-to-last in the NL in runs scored).
Of course, three teams isn't much of a comparison and doesn't tell the story of other teams that may have entered a season with the idea of playing a bunch of old guys and the whole thing collapsed.
A more telling list is that there aren't even that many teams with just four 34-and-older players batting 400 teams. Here are those teams:
2009 Yankees (103-59)
2008 Yankees (89-73)
2006 Giants (76-85)
2005 Giants (75-87)
2004 Astros (92-70)
2003 Astros (87-75)
2001 Diamondbacks (92-70)
2000 Orioles (74-88)
1993 Tigers (85-77)
1991 Brewers (83-79)
1989 Tigers (59-103)
1986 Angels (92-70)
1983 Angels (70-92)
1956 Dodgers (93-51)
Again, some reason for hope here. Several good teams, some playoff team, even two World Series champions in the 2009 Yankees and 2001 Diamondbacks. Let's zero in on those two teams.
Johnny Damon: 4.2 WAR
Derek Jeter: 6.6 WAR
Hideki Matsui: 2.7 WAR
Jorge Posada: 1.6 WAR
Jay Bell: 0.4 WAR
Steve Finley: 0.9 WAR
Mark Grace: 2.4 WAR
Matt Williams: 1.0 WAR
The Yankees received pretty good production from their old guys (Matsui was the DH, however, so isn't really applicable to the Phillies' situation), plus they had Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. The Diamondbacks' old guys weren't as good, but that was the year Luis Gonzalez hit 57 home runs and Reggie Sanders, with 33 home runs, was the team's second-best offensive player. Is Dom Brown going to hit 50 home runs and carry the offense? Probably not.
The Phillies scored 610 runs and allowed 749 in 2013. In order to turn into a 90-win team, they would have to score about 110 more runs and allow 110 fewer.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to that isn't even getting more offense from the old guys -- Byrd alone, if he hits like he did in 2013 (good luck, of course) is a big upgrade over Delmon Young in right field. Maybe Ruiz bounces back and Howard plays 150 games and hits 35 home runs and Rollins plays a little better. Again, good luck, but you can dream on those things happening.
No, the bigger problem is this is still likely to be a lousy defensive team. As the Utley/Rollins/Howard core has aged and Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth departed, look at the Phillies' Defensive Runs Saved through the years:
Wait ... an aging team gets worse on defense? The 2013 Phillies ranked last in Defensive Runs Saved, bottoming out in their downward trend on defense. To be fair, they've expunged Michael Young (-18 DRS) and Delmon Young (-10) from the roster, buy Cody Asche didn't rate well in his first action at third base (-7), Rollins (-15) clearly looked a step slow last year and Ben Revere (-5), while fast, doesn't take good routes and has a poor arm. Byrd was +12 a year ago and should be an upgrade in right field. But that's only one position; even if the Phillies' improve incrementally elsewhere they're going to be a below-average defensive team.
Old teams have won before. And while their offseason isn't done, this team still looks more 2000 Orioles than 2002 Giants to me.