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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

La Russa-Duncan and 40-year-old hurlers

As much grief as St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa receives from some quarters about the use of old pitchers, it really gets down to how you define “old.”

Using the line of 40 years of age, the team actually went seven years – from 2004 through 2010 – having deployed just one such hurler during the regular season. And it was a most distinguished exception, though a brief stay. Future Hall of Famer John Smoltz concluded his playing career by making seven starts for the 2009 Cardinals.

The tide has turned in 2011, however. With the arrival earlier this month of left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes, two months short of his 42nd birthday, he became the second 40-year-old pitcher to appear for the 2011 Cardinals alone.

Rhodes was preceded by Miguel Batista, 40, who made the club out of spring training as a non-roster invitee. Batista posted a 3-2 mark with a 4.60 ERA in 26 games (29 1/3 IP) for the Cardinals until his June 23 release.

The 2011 duo are the sixth and seventh 40-year-old Cardinals pitchers during the La Russa-Dave Duncan era, which began in 1996. The seven pitched in parts of nine seasons.

The last 40-something Cardinals hurler prior to Smoltz was Jeff Fassero in 2003. The then-40-year-old lefty appeared in 62 games that season, posting a 5.68 ERA. He hung on for four more years in the majors, but posted an ERA over five in three of those campaigns.

When Jesse Orosco joined the 2000 Cardinals, he was most remembered as the shutdown lefty of the New York Mets clubs of the 1980’s. By the new century, Orosco was 43 years old and in his 22nd MLB season. He appeared in just six games for St. Louis that season due to injury and finally retired after the 2003 season.

The current pitching coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rick Honeycutt, came over to the Cardinals from the Oakland A’s, following La Russa and Duncan. Having been converted to relief with the A’s like Dennis Eckersley, the lefty had a nice 1996 season in a set-up role, with a 2.85 ERA in 61 games. He appeared in just two games the next year before calling it a career at the age of 43.

Eckersley was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career when also joining St. Louis to start the 1996 season at the age of 41. Eck served as closer during La Russa’s first two seasons with the Cards, saving 66 games, though he took 11 losses as well. Eckersley pitched one more year with Boston in 1998 before hanging up his cleats for the last time.

In my assessment of the previous eight 40-plus year old pitcher years, I score four as successful and four unsuccessful. However, three of the four deployed since the early days of Honeycutt and Eck, Smoltz having been the exception, did not make the grade, in my opinion.

St. Louis Cardinals 40-year-old pitchers, 1996-current

Pitcher Role Year Age Last MLB stop? StL success?
Arthur Rhodes LHR 2011 41 ? ?
Miguel Batista RHR 2011 40 ? no
John Smoltz RHS 2009 42 yes yes
Jeff Fassero LHR 2003 40 no no
Jesse Orosco LHR 2000 43 no no
Rick Honeycutt LHR 1996-97 42-43 yes yes-no
Dennis Eckersley RHR 1996-97 41-42 no yes-yes

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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56 Responses to “La Russa-Duncan and 40-year-old hurlers”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    There is sometimes a tendency to view topics through the prisim of the TLR years. Yet for decades, lots of teams have had veteran relievers, old in baseball years. I remember Moe Drabowsky. And we won a world series with aging Bobby Shantz as a closer. So having some grizzled vet relievers, who have seen it all before, is done by many teams. Arthur Rhodes was sought after last winter, landing with the WS runner up Rangers, even though he would be 41 this year.
    There is a typo in the table above. Fassero was a lefty. He was signed out of college by the Cards and got given away, was it Rule 5, and went on to have a long rubberarmed ML career, even though fans probably thought he was “too old” when still at AAA in his 20s.
    I am not sure there is a meaningful difference between a guy who is 37 versus one who is 41. In baseball years, they are both old. The older they get, the closer they get to retirement.
    Russ Springer was an interesting story among veteran relievers. He was a mediocre journeyman for 10+ years, with an ERA average over 5. It was disgusting when the Cards signed this hack and overpaid him to boot. But then it was astounding, presumably with help from Duncan, Springer became a pretty good reliever for circa 3 seasons, in St Louis, showing me yet again that it hard to foresee the future, at least until after it happens.
    The Rhodes pickup was a good one, despite serving up a fat slider to Jones in Pittsburg, which was disgusting. We could use a Loogy. Rhodes was once a dominant reliever, on the great Mariners team of 2001. He can still hit 91 on the occasional fastball and was effective last year for Uncle Walt, at the tender age of 40. Rhodes replaced Trever Miller, no kid, already let go by the Blue Jays.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Typo corrected. Thanks.

      Drabowsky was 35 and 36 when he pitched for the Cardinals with the latter year his final turn in MLB. Shantz was 36-38 in his time with St. Louis and the latter year was also his last shot. You also had a mistake as Shantz did not celebrate a championship with the Cards. He was dealt to Chicago in the Lou Brock trade in June 1964. Springer was 38 and 39 with the Cardinals with the latter year his last effective time as a major leaguer.

      Maybe you see no difference between 37 and 41, but statistically, you are wrong. There is a huge difference. Most guys are done by the latter point as their physical skills decline.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Of course there has to be performance decline through the dimension of time, looking across the entire population of MLB players. But teams have more statisticans at their disposal than do bloggers and they make business decisions, based on the available evidence.
        The near champion Rangers, led by Nolan Ryan who threw BBs to a ripe old age, decided to invest good money in Arthur Rhodes, last winter. The Rangers certainly knew his age.
        When a pitcher gets smacked around, he becomes “too old.” But if he gets somebody out, he becomes a wily veteran. Baseball is an amusing game.
        Russ Springer was too old. But then he came to St Louis and pitched well and a lot of fans were disappointed when Russ left. Even though he was older!

      • JumboShrimp says:

        38 year old reliever Bobby Shantz, oops, I mixed him up with 37 year old reliever Barney Shultz on the same team. What different names these were.

        36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, there will be decline, when viewed over all players, and there will be some Ponce de Leons who enjoy extended success, like Arthur Rhodes at age 40, laughing at the grim reaper.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Clever caption on the Lance Albitz signing. Last call. Reminds of the famous, Cards pick Cotten.

  3. Kansasbirdman says:

    Been away from the tv/games for a couple days with a sick toddler, following the articlds/updates/posts here and watching the recaps proobably just as well, looks like the team,s had a little implosion. I think it was friendmouse that posted thhat a few players (inc Skip) seemed to be the only few still giving 100% I want to post my support for Skip as he has been pretty consistent with a good BA and makes the routine plays at d no matter his position and also makes some spectacular plays too. Plus he has a great arm on d. Heck he can pitch decent too (least as good as our relievers- 2 runs but 2 K’s too!) 🙂
    I think he gets maligned bc he is seen as tlr’s pet but he is a hard worker and hustles to every base. I can’t count the times I have seen him slide into first (and more often than not beat the throw) this year. That’s the kind of player to build a team around. Not a jogger/showoff

    • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

      Skips a good kid KB…………..look at the environment that he is comfortable in though……………. look at where he is hitting the ball and why…………….. if he did this from day one, this team is a winner right now…………… he took his shot at being the ” slugging outfielder turned 2nd baseman” with career considerations in mind…… everyone else on this team did…………with MM encouragement……….and we are now see the consequences……………

  4. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    It isn’t about age for me. I like Rhodes. He is giving a quality effort. But this is the issue. Suffering the prim donna starters to do the mop up for themselves, creates difficulties too numerous to mention here.
    Most often the adjustments that need to be made are then associated/connected with the uncomfortable experience of public humiliation. Hey, with your teammates and 200 people watching a minor league game, get to work……………….. make it forty thousand, and the very difficult public image that some players really struggle with, it all becomes the battleground, instead of the ball field. With Lynn, we had long man protection……………… with Rhodes, we are too fragile down there.

    I see where Tony is out working his “compassionate father figure” roll this morning……….. looks like he will make a fight of it…………..

    • crdswmn says:

      It isn’t about age for me either, if they’re good. Rhodes isn’t good; if he were he would still be with the Rangers. Batista wasn’t good. It’s the old and bad that gripes me no end. I’d take Mariano Rivera in a heartbeat.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        What you say might be true CRD………..but the Rangers priorities and staff abilities define the standards for usage………..each situation is different……….. the circumstances surrounding his hiring here are interesting………… September rules saves him from the “hook” when Lynn returns………..

      • blingboy says:

        I agree crdswmn. Jamie Moyer was a 20 game winner at 40.

        He pitched something like 1700 innings and won well over 100 games in his 40s.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          And Julio Franco batted until he was 48 or something, the Hoyt Wilhelm of hitters. He must have had a good doctor dishing out the HGH.

          • CariocaCardinal says:

            I realize this was a joke but do we really want to go around accusing players of using steroids with no evidence?

            • JumboShrimp says:

              If sportwriters can indulge in their speculations, why not we responsible fans?

              Julio Franco is from the Dominican, where PEDs are widely available. CC, do you mean to suggest it is impossible that Saint Julio could have popped a few muscle helpers, while Roger, A-Rod, and every other competitive athlete was getting a little extra help? You seem very trusting.

  5. Brian Walton says:

    Thursday lineup:

    1. Skip Schumaker (L) 2B
    2. Allen Craig (R) CF
    3. Albert Pujols (R) 1B
    4. Matt Holliday (R) LF
    5. Lance Berkman (S) RF
    6. David Freese (R) 3B
    7. Yadier Molina (R) C
    8. Rafael Furcal (S) SS
    9. Edwin Jackson (R) P

  6. blingboy says:

    I’m for including Fernando Valenzuela with an asterisk. No way he was 36 when he pitched here is final season. No way he was 19 when he broke in in 1980 with LA. What is 36 Mexican years in real years?

  7. JumboShrimp says:

    Edwin Jackson has given up one earned run in 5 innings. We trail. Alas, Edwin must be too old.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Fans have a rough time with the age of baseball players. A 24 year old kid is in the NY Pa league, he is too old. An 18 year old in the Midwest League is going to land in the Hall of Fame, some think, but then a few years later, he is released.
      A funny thing in America is various kinds of discrimination are against the law. If some manager said we keep Chumley on the roster because Italian or Japanese or African or Hungarian or etc., peole would want the guy fired, for disciminating on the basis of race. But its fine to say a player is too old, even though age discrimination by a team would be a crime.

      • Nutlaw says:

        It isn’t discrimination if it directly relates to one’s ability to do one’s job. Older players aren’t looked down upon because MLB teams hate old people, as you well know. There are typical years for development and typical years for decline. Teams ignore these ages at their own risk.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          But tonight Rhodes allowed no runs, despite being older than when he last allowed runs. Maybe the issue is not his age, but as we may agree, his efficacy.

          Its good to focus on whether a guy is effective. Not dwell on his culture, religion, weight, height, or age.

          • Nutlaw says:

            Yes, even the worst of relievers typically don’t give up runs every time they step up to the mound. Sample size, Jumbo.

            Sure, Rhodes is a bad reliever because he can’t pitch well. However, he can’t pitch well because he is old. When younger, he was a better pitcher. Also because he is old, he is likely to decline at a faster rate than his teammates and opponents.

            If you would like to ignore the effects of a ball player’s physical characteristics such as weight, height, and age upon his performance, then that’s fine. You can believe whatever you want and by golly, no one can stop you. That doesn’t mean that your beliefs conform to reality.

            • JumboShrimp says:

              Nutlaw, nice try. Lets do some thinking together, shall we?


              Linked are Arthur’s career stats. You will notice that our Arthur did not enjoy a lot of success as a starting pitcher early in his career. He switched to relief and had a great season in 1997, with a K rate above 9. In 1999, he had a down year for the Orioles, after which he moved to the Mariners. Was he too old at the ripe old age of 29?
              In 2001, for a great Mariners team that won a vast number of games for Tony’s Tampa buddy Sweet Lou, he was brilliant, even though now an aged 31.
              In 2004, for the As, the ERA was up above 5. Too old, right? 34. Washed up.
              It turns out, no, our Arthur came charging back in 2005 doing a nifty job for the Tribe, though 35.
              But in 2006, oops, too old again, he sucked for the Phillies at age 36.
              2007 no stats, so I would speculate he had TJ surgery, age 37.
              During 2008-10, Rhodes was again excellent, ages 38, 39, and yes the dreaded age 40. Uncle Walter over Cinci knew what he was doing when he signed Arthur to a two year deal after 2008, outbidding Mo.
              Last winter, the near champion Rangers won the competition for Arthur. Old Nolan Ryan knows a thing or two about old pitchers. Artie has had a little bit of down year, as he has had sometimes, during his long career. Maybe he will hang it up after the season, right now we do not know. But TLR likes great pros and he knows players have ups and downs across long careers and during single seasons. And TLR was fed up with Trever Miller, so he wanted to finally get Rhodes in a Redbirds uni. I have no problem with that.

              • Nutlaw says:

                ERA? For a reliever? Tiny sample sizes lead to screwy results. However, just because things other than old age can lead to ineffectiveness does not mean that old age doesn’t lead to ineffectiveness. Maybe if players never retired would I not feel silly having to make this argument.

                If you want proof of his decline in numbers, check out the drop in his fastball velocity. He’s old. He can’t throw as hard as he used to. It happens to everyone sooner or later. No exceptions.


          • Nutlaw says:

            I wonder how effective Jumbo the politician would be as a GM? With wins and losses at stake, I wonder how long he could argue in the face of the failure of his team full of short, fat, old men…

            You don’t play any fantasy baseball, do you? I imagine that we could have some fun in that arena.

  8. T8Ball says:

    Brian, or anyone else:

    Any word on who may be put on Waivers?

    Strauss tweeted about it earlier.

    From Strauss tweet:JoeStrauss Joe Strauss
    Interesting waiver activity re: Cards star. Developing.

  9. JumboShrimp says:

    Great season by Jason Motte! Thanks Jason.

  10. JumboShrimp says:

    Its a little hard to believe, but we have an outside chance to win a home game.

  11. T8Ball says:

    I for sure thought a 1B pop up was coming from Matt. Like his result after the Albert pass. Maybe this will get Matt going again

  12. T8Ball says:

    Wainwright’s options picked up for 2012 and 2013. Well done, well done FO.

  13. blingboy says:

    Craig in CF again.

  14. blingboy says:

    Burried at the end of the Waino option story was the fact that Berkman has cleared waivers and can now be traded.

    Theriot too . . . . kkkkkkkk

  15. blingboy says:

    A few days ago I saw that Trever Miller was released. He had something like 3 innings with Toronto.

    And now it is thought that the Jays will make space on the 25 man for a new waiver acquisition by putting Colby on the DL. Sore wrist. OK, sure. I guess they figure they can live.

  16. Kansasbirdman says:

    I like the v neck unis, they look comfortable

  17. JumboShrimp says:

    Lets not trade Lance before this game is over, please, Mo?

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