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The year of the 35-year old hitter

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Chase Utley, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre are putting themselves in some historically elite company. Did you even notice?

Is Adrian Beltre HOF bound?
Is Adrian Beltre HOF bound?
Mike Ehrmann

Young players are my favorite. There's nothing like following a kid through the minors, seeing the progress, maybe catching him live in the Arizona Fall League, watching his debut, and seeing him take off in the majors. Think about it: a very large chunk of all internet baseball writing is done in this vein, focusing on the minors, scouting and/or the development of young major leaguers. I can only speak for myself, but the uncertainty of the unknown with young players is what piques my interest, resulting in me often neglecting the performances of veterans. This is a classic case of bias, and I acknowledge it. But let me make an attempt to right that wrong right here: there have been some outstanding performances by 35-year olds in 2014.

In the Expansion Era (1961-present), there have been 50 batters to amass more than 4.0 bWAR in a single season at the age of 35. Think about that, over 53 years, there are only 50 players to eclipse an only somewhat-high bar. 4.0 bWAR isn't a league MVP number, it's just a highly productive player number, and only 50 35-year-olds have pulled off the feat since '61.

But 2014 is special, as there are three players who already have, or should shortly, break into this category: Chase Utley, Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. Here's the entire list, with the three players mentioned above and their projected bWAR by season's end.

Rk Player WAR Year Age Tm G PA H HR BB K SB OPS
1 Willie Mays 9.0 1966 35 SFG 152 629 159 37 70 81 5 0.924
2 Hank Aaron 8.0 1969 35 ATL 147 639 164 44 87 47 9 1.003
3 Barry Bonds 7.7 2000 35 SFG 143 607 147 49 117 77 11 1.127
4 Chipper Jones 7.6 2007 35 ATL 134 600 173 29 82 75 5 1.029
5 *Adrian Beltre 7.0 2014 35 TEX 122 509 149 17 43 56 1 0.877
6 Pete Rose 6.9 1976 35 CIN 162 759 215 10 86 54 9 0.854
7 Derek Jeter 6.5 2009 35 NYY 153 716 212 18 72 90 30 0.871
8 Jose Cruz 6.2 1983 35 HOU 160 664 189 14 65 86 30 0.848
9 Larry Walker 6.1 2002 35 COL 136 553 161 26 65 73 6 1.023
10 Brady Anderson 5.9 1999 35 BAL 150 692 159 24 96 105 36 0.881
11 Paul O'Neill 5.8 1998 35 NYY 152 672 191 24 57 103 15 0.882
12 Edgar Martinez 5.6 1998 35 SEA 154 672 179 29 106 96 1 0.993
13 Roberto Clemente 5.5 1970 35 PIT 108 455 145 14 38 66 3 0.963
14 Elston Howard 5.5 1964 35 NYY 150 607 172 15 48 73 1 0.825
15 Jorge Posada 5.4 2007 35 NYY 144 589 171 20 74 98 2 0.970
16 Mark McGwire 5.2 1999 35 STL 153 661 145 65 133 141 1.120
17 George Brett 5.2 1988 35 KCR 157 681 180 24 82 51 14 0.898
18 Al Oliver 5.2 1982 35 MON 160 687 204 22 61 59 5 0.906
19 Marlon Byrd 5.1 2013 35 TOT 147 579 155 24 31 144 2 0.847
20 Barry Larkin 5.1 1999 35 CIN 161 687 171 12 93 57 30 0.810
21 Ellis Burks 5.0 2000 35 SFG 122 458 135 24 56 49 5 1.025
22 Mike Schmidt 5.0 1985 35 PHI 158 645 152 33 87 117 1 0.907
23 Jim Thome 4.9 2006 35 CHW 143 610 141 42 107 147 1.014
24 *Victor Martinez 4.9 2014 35 DET 125 535 154 27 56 39 3 0.950
25 Brett Butler 4.8 1992 35 LAD 157 676 171 3 95 67 41 0.803
Rk Player WAR/pos Year Age Tm G PA H HR BB K SB OPS
26 Dwight Evans 4.8 1987 35 BOS 154 657 165 34 106 98 4 0.986
27 Ichiro Suzuki 4.7 2009 35 SEA 146 678 225 11 32 71 26 0.851
28 Tony Phillips 4.7 1994 35 DET 114 538 123 19 95 105 13 0.877
29 Lou Whitaker 4.7 1992 35 DET 130 544 126 19 81 46 6 0.847
30 Paul Molitor 4.7 1992 35 MIL 158 701 195 12 73 66 31 0.851
31 Luis Aparicio 4.7 1969 35 CHW 156 681 168 5 66 29 24 0.714
32 Casey Blake 4.6 2009 35 LAD 139 565 136 18 63 116 3 0.832
33 Jim Edmonds 4.4 2005 35 STL 142 567 123 29 91 139 5 0.918
34 Brian Downing 4.3 1986 35 CAL 152 631 137 20 90 84 4 0.841
35 Carlton Fisk 4.3 1983 35 CHW 138 545 141 26 46 88 9 0.874
36 Reggie Smith 4.3 1980 35 LAD 92 362 100 15 41 63 5 0.900
37 Bert Campaneris 4.3 1977 35 TEX 150 648 140 5 47 86 27 0.655
38 *Chase Utley 4.3 2014 35 PHI 130 571 141 11 46 71 6 0.767
39 Johnny Damon 4.2 2009 35 NYY 143 626 155 24 71 98 12 0.854
40 Gary Sheffield 4.2 2004 35 NYY 154 684 166 36 92 83 5 0.927
41 Frank Thomas 4.2 2003 35 CHW 153 662 146 42 100 115 0.952
42 Andres Galarraga 4.2 1996 35 COL 159 691 190 47 40 157 18 0.958
43 Alan Trammell 4.2 1993 35 DET 112 447 132 12 38 38 12 0.885
44 Wade Boggs 4.2 1993 35 NYY 143 644 169 2 74 49 0.740
45 Ed Charles 4.2 1968 35 NYM 117 409 102 15 28 57 5 0.761
46 Scott Rolen 4.1 2010 35 CIN 133 537 134 20 50 82 1 0.854
47 Mark Grudzielanek 4.1 2005 35 STL 137 563 155 8 26 81 8 0.741
48 Jeff Bagwell 4.1 2003 35 HOU 160 702 168 39 88 119 11 0.897
49 Carlos Lee 4.0 2011 35 HOU 155 653 161 18 59 60 4 0.788
50 Fred McGriff 4.0 1999 35 TBD 144 620 164 32 86 107 1 0.957
51 Frank White 4.0 1986 35 KCR 151 620 154 22 43 88 4 0.787

This is obviously some pretty elite company, and quietly, Chase Utley has found his way on to the list. His biggest issue over the last few years has been his health. His fragility over that time is well known, but he's still always hit, albeit not quite to the same tune as he did in his five peak seasons (2005-2009). He's on pace to have his best season since 2010 and with 25 more games played, should have an age 35 season equivalent to that of Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs. That's not bad for an oft-injured second baseman who many had written off as too old and too fragile to be a productive player. At least Utley is trying to make Ruben Amaro look good (what's your excuse, Dom Brown?).

The original inspiration for this article, Victor Martinez, is having a career year at 35, as I pointed out to our very own Neil Weinberg who covers the Tigers exclusively at New English D.

Martinez has massed his bWAR in an interesting fashion, however. He's only played in the field 27 times this year, meaning all of his value has come from the bat, as he's lost a slight margin from defense and base running. His .327/.396/.554 line is the best of his career, resulting in a wRC+ of 157, essentially swapping places with Miguel Cabrera and picking up Detroit's offensive slack single-handedly. He's been durable this season, too, and should play 150 games before the end of the regular season. Like Utley, injuries have kept him from down in recent years, but he's avoided missing significant time in 2014, much to the Tigers' benefit. He'll likely crack the top-25 before the season is over, putting him in Mike Schmidt and Jim Thome territory. Should the Tigers take the AL Central from the Royals, every Tigers fan should heartily thank Victor Martinez.

Adrian Beltre is getting ripped off. He's having an amazing year, both at the plate and in the field, and no one has noticed. This is for two reasons: a) the Rangers are terrible this season and, b) Beltre usually mashes and plays tremendous defense at third, so it's not like this was unexpected. Still, Beltre is on pace for 7.0 bWAR, putting him in elite company. His 139 wRC+ and .877 OPS have helped project him into the top five age 35 seasons in the Expansion Era. That's simply incredible, and the fact that no one seems to be noticing is an outrage. Any time a player is finishing with numbers similar to Pete Rose, he's doing something remarkable, and for Beltre in particular, it's more of the same.

As these players continue to age, they'll likely continue to regress. Utley has somehow managed to play an entire season so far, something he's been struggling with in recent years. It'd be foolish to think he'll keep this up in coming years, but when healthy, he's proven to be a productive player. Similarly, Martinez has finally stayed healthy, but he's also conjoined his health with his best season at the plate. Age 35 is a strange time to do this, but I don't think anyone's complaining about his renaissance, although it'll probably be a somewhat short-lived one. Beltre doesn't quite fit the above narrative, as he's simply shown no signs of slowing down in his 30's, and while it might be hard to think he'll just keep on being a 7-win player, he looks like the kind of guy that could remain productive for several more years provided he avoids any kind of severe injury.

This has been quite a year for 35-year old baseball players, and while we all like to talk about Mike Trout, Javier Baez and Byron Buxton, the players above are playing historically well. Let's all take a minute and tip our caps to the veterans who are still grinding it out and exceeding expectations. Congratulations Chase, Victor and Adrian on some historically good age 35 seasons and outstanding baseball careers. Well done, fellas.

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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Jeff Wiser is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, an analytical look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can find his work on craft beer at BeerGraphs and follow him on Twitter @OutfieldGrass24.