If you've read the site since I joined you know a few things about general baseball that I absolutely despise. Let me rephrase that, a few clichés thrown about in baseball that I despise. They don't keep me up at night, nor do I lose sleep other them, but the lines are etched in any casual fan's head and they seem to always pop up in an ignorant announcer's rant or a sportswriter's column. I fully intend on pursuing these before my time on this earth is over, and with that I begin my adventure with the most common of such: veteran presence.
Every Jonny Come Lately has seen the argument; if you have a young ball club someone will always mention how they need a veteran to step in and `teach' the players how to win. That's right, 20-something year old baseball players, kids who have likely played the game for more than a decade of their life have to be taught how to win otherwise they just assume that no score is kept. Playoffs? That's a members' only invite tourney. As you can tell the thought of a magical player taking reps because of his age disturbs me, especially with the so called `leadership' value, just because a player is 35 does not mean he's a better leader, either vocally or performance based than a 23 year old.
Dusty Baker won three National League manager of the year titles during his decade long tenure in San Francisco, he would jump to the Chicago Cubs in 2004, and brought along with him a slew of veterans who would provide stability to his bench and bullpen. Partaking nicknames like the Lemons and Lunch Pails, this group featured the likes of Jose Macias, Neifi Perez, Ramon Martinez, Tom Goodwin, and Todd Hollandsworth. As a unit they offered a total Wins Above Replacement Player of 4.6, Corey Patterson by himself had a WARP of 4.5, unfortunately he couldn't lead the league in leadership qualities like the others.
The Rays own Joe Maddon shares similar qualities to Baker, a players' manager, Maddon plays favorites in situations where it negatively effects his decision making; as a manager there are only so many events where you could make a difference. Lineup card making, bullpen moves, and pinch hitters are amongst these few decisions. Unfortunately for Baker and Maddon, they allow favoritism to play into sound choices, and it costs their teams games.
Maddon's downfall can be traced to using a situational reliever in a role not suited for his methods and talent level; the groundhog, or the Mike Marshall, the Scott Proctor for the new generation. Just as when the groundhog doesn't see his shadow it continues to be winter, the same goes for this role of reliever, if they don't see themselves warming up, then simply it's the off-season; winter.
Shawn Camp is the man of the hour when it comes to Maddon, along with backup catcher Josh Paul, infielder Tomas Perez, and designated hitter Greg Norton. None of whom are all that effective in their duties, Perez has since moved on, but the memories of his non-existent bat being ran out on the field 99 times in 2006 still lingers in Rays' fans' heads.
We'll focus on Camp, a throw away from Kansas City his slider and sinking fastball allowed for groundballs, casting him amongst the leaders in double plays and groundballs, the problem being most of his groundballs turned into base hits, and rather than using him only in situations with a runner on first and less than two outs, or runners on second and third with less than two outs and so on, he was used nearly everyday, and not just in low pressure situations, oh no. He would enter a game with an average leverage index of 1.59; to give you an idea Joe Nathan's gmLi was 1.64 during 2006. Brad Lidge's gmLi was identical to Shawn Camp's, again we're talking about a closer being equal to a player who had never posted an ERA below 3.9 and only struck out more than one batter per walk once in his entire big league career.
This is not to state that Baker's as well as Maddon's dependency on veterans would have been any different with a bunch of youngsters, but at least the younger players present signs of upside, rather than just being on a plateau of ineptitude. Managers are less likely to fall in love with marginal youth than veterans who were around the game when they last played, take for instance the 2003 Minnesota Twins and manager Rod Gardenhire. The team featured multiple young outfielders such as Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Bobby Kielty, but their starting lineup featured Jacque Jones, Torii Hunter, Dustan Mohr, and at designated hitter Matthew LeCroy; average age of 27.
Jones and Hunter would produce OPS over .750, meanwhile Mohr would total for .713. Shannon Stewart would be acquired later in the season, but this doesn't change Mohr getting more playing time than Cuddyer or Kielty, both would produce higher OPS and Cuddyer would be the full time right fielder years later, Kielty meanwhile would play for Oakland, Mohr in Tampa but for the large part an AAA body.
Although the Twins would win the AL Central you have to question whether margin of victory would've been larger than four games had they played the youth over Mohr, it became a moot point when they would add Shannon Stewart, but for the first half of the season the Twins fumbled their personnel decision in left; all in the name of veteran presence.
Do I believe there are some positives from having an older player at certain positions? Of course, but not for the prehistoric thinking that magically the team has become a contender because this quite average position player is taking bats away from a potentially better, younger player. Nor do I think a player coming from a `winning culture' means much, are some players who have nearly a handful of rings good, sure. Derek Jeter? Yes. Luis Sojo? No.
Let's use the 2003 Florida Marlins and the acquisitions of pitchers Ugueth Urbina and Chad Fox as well as position players Lenny Harris and potentially the poster man (not a child, mind you) Jeff Conine.
Urbina cost them Adrian Gonzalez, but he along with the free agent signing of Fox played big roles in their bullpen. Harris didn't do much, I guess you could say he improved the bench, but even that isn't provable. Conine meanwhile hit .238/.337/.452 moving Miguel Cabrera to right field in place of Juan Encarncion who was hitting .270/.313/.446 and was a better fielder than Conine.
The point is irrelevant as we know the Marlins won the World Series, and I'd be pretty confident in assuming Jeff Conine not being on the Marlins would've lead to the same results. The difference between Urbina and Conine is pretty clear, and it leads to something that I've began categorizing as PRO, a play off of the old "He's a pro." Saying, only my `PRO' stands for Pretty Reliable even as an Oldie.
What does that encompass? A few things, first and foremost he's older, meaning past his prime to me, meaning 28 and older as a hitter and 30 and older as a pitcher. Pretty Reliable, well that explains itself really, but what's the point of the whole thing? Basically it identifies the players who are good because they're good, not good because they're old. You see the 2006 Detroit Tigers have that same `veteran presence' associated with them because of Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers, and even Todd Jones.
Of those four, let's look at the first three as examples of PRO; Rodriguez was a perennial all-star, one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game, naturally people assume he helps the pitching staff and calls better games than nearly any other catcher, fact? Possibly, there's no sure way of judging his game calling ability without it being skewed due to the pitcher's talent. Look at 2004, the Tigers didn't have a single pitcher with more than 10 starts that didn't have an ERA higher than 4.3, that didn't magically change the next season, 2006 arrives and now they suddenly don't have one, but four starters with ERAs below 4.3, is that Pudge's doing? Or was the breakout just a manifestation of young pitching reaching its peak?
Most of those same ideas can be attributed to Kenny Rogers, he shows up and boom! Now the rest of the pitching staff is better. Unless Kenny learned some tricks, or rather held back something from the Texas Rangers' staffs over the years, and maybe he did -- or he just taught the Tigers' pitchers how to use a substance on the palm of your hand for leverage -- then paint me skeptical that Rogers had any effect on his fellow rotation mates.
People forgot how good Magglio Ordonez was thanks to his injury plagued 2004 and 2005 seasons, he's finally healthy in 2006 and the team lives off of his energy, his passion, his leadership, his .827 OPS, you see my point here. So what does PRO do for these situations? Well simply the PRO tag means, yes a player is good, yes he's a little older than the average statistical peak, but guess what? He's good for a young team, for any team; because he's a good player, not because he's close to reaping social security benefits.
I've never played organized ball in my life, and therefore people will say I'm dead wrong here, that an older player, a veteran will teach the kids the ways of the game. Wait, an older companion who teaches youth the right way to play the game? Coaches fit that bill, and if it's a good one then the stuff they teach should go unnoticed for the most part.
How do we figure out who a PRO is? Well it's easier to figure out who isn't one, any time an announcer or writer uses non-playing related reasons for having a guy around then he likely isn't a PRO, and really it's that simple. If Greg Maddux is cited for being a funny guy who pisses on his teammates in the shower that's one thing since Maddux is still one of the greatest pitchers ever and produces above league average, but under no circumstances should Neifi Perez be kept around for lack of aim.