Saturday, November 28, 2015

Through 74 games, old Phillies on record pace

No major-league team has ever produced four players age 34 or older with 600-plus plate appearances in a single season. The Phillies are on that pace.

Through 74 games, old Phillies on record pace

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. (Tom Mihalek/AP)
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. (Tom Mihalek/AP)

As the Phillies near the season's halfway point — Saturday's second game of a doubleheader is the 81st of 2014 — it is time to contextualize the production from their aged lineup. The Phillies' offense, which ranks ninth in the National League with 3.96 runs per game, is kept afloat by its veterans. 

The two glaring holes are in left field and center field, positions manned by two 26-year-old players. Third base was another weakness for a month while 23-year-old Cody Asche recovered from a hamstring injury. The rest of the lineup, still prone to prolonged slumps, is fueled by regulars 34 or older.

Remarkably, they have stayed on the field.

Ryan Howard, 34, is on pace for 676 plate appearances. Chase Utley, 35, is on pace for 679 plate appearances. Jimmy Rollins, 35, is on pace for 681 plate appearances. And Marlon Byrd, 36, is pacing toward 666 plate appearances.

That is significant. No major-league team has ever produced four players age 34 or older with 600-plus plate appearances in a single season. Seven teams have managed three such players in a season, and it should shock no one that four of those instances happened within the so-called "Steroid Era."

Rk Year Tm  
1 2008 New York Yankees Bobby Abreu / Johnny Damon / Derek Jeter
2 2004 Colorado Rockies Jeromy Burnitz / Vinny Castilla / Royce Clayton
3 2004 Houston Astros Jeff Bagwell / Craig Biggio / Jeff Kent
4 2003 Seattle Mariners Bret Boone / Edgar Martinez / John Olerud
5 1986 Boston Red Sox Don Baylor / Bill Buckner / Dwight Evans
6 1944 Detroit Tigers Doc Cramer / Pinky Higgins / Eddie Mayo
7 1922 Chicago White Sox Eddie Collins / Harry Hooper / Ernie Johnson

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There is more reachable history when catcher Carlos Ruiz, 35, is included. Ruiz is on pace for 558 plate appearances, which would far surpass his career high of 472 in 2011. Just one team, the 1985 California Angels, boasted five players 34 or older with at least 500 plate appearances each. That team finished 90-72 and missed the postseason by one game.

No team has ever had five players of that certain age reach 550 plate appearances, which is the Phillies' current pace. Heck, just one team — the 2008 Yankees — had four. That team finished 89-73 and third in the stacked American League East.

Warning signs are contained within the numbers. Howard's pace is his highest since 2009. Same with Utley's. Byrd has never logged more than 630 plate appearances in a season and netted at least 600 just once, in 2010. Ruiz has required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last five seasons.

When the Phillies consider how to approach July, this is one trend worth monitoring.

Have a question? Tweet @magelb with the hashtag #GelbBag for possible use.

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