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Don’t Worry, Phillies' Bats are Far from Too Old

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As the Phillies prepare to enter the most highly anticipated season in the history of the franchise, fans and analysts alike are mystified by the potential of their roster.

The pedigree of the pitching staff has been well-documented, and is the lead topic in every preview, team capsule, or prediction for 2011. But, after fawning over the team’s four aces, most of those same previews usually transition to questions about the team’s core offensive players and whether or not they will rebound from their disappointing 2010 seasons.

Those core players include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Chase Utley: AP Photo, H.Rumph JrCertainly, 2010 was a challenging campaign for each, due to injuries and statistical decline. Stints on the disabled list and/or disappointing numbers have raised concerns over the aging of these Phillies mainstays.

Well, the aging part is true, but the same can be said of every player in major league baseball (unless, of course, Peter Pan has found his way onto someone’s Spring Training roster).

It might even be fair to say that the Phillies roster has become old. After all, the Fightins field the oldest roster in Major League baseball, with an average age of 29.1 years. And, each of the offensive players mentioned above now finds himself north of the thirty year barrier.

The problem is, while everyone seems to worry about some of the Phillies’ key hitters reaching the age of 30, no one can present a compelling argument against a player’s ability to shine upon reaching his early thirties.

One of the most high profile rankings of Major League Baseball players is the list of the Top 50 Players in Baseball released each season by the Sporting News. The most recent version of this list includes 27 players over the age of thirty. When pitchers are removed from the list, half of the remaining offensive players are over 30 years old.

Further demonstrating that baseball life doesn’t end at the age of 29, are the statistical leaders from the 2010 season. Thirty-somethings comprised nearly half of the players in the top twenty for home runs (11 of top 20), RBI (11 of top 20), doubles (8 of top 20), and runs scored (9 of top 20).

So, it’s clear that the window of offensive opportunity is far from closed on Jimmy Rollins (age 32), Chase Utley (age 32), Ryan Howard (age 31), and Shane Victorino (age 30).

So, even though we all saw how their struggles affected the Phillies‘ offense in 2010, . one thing that all Phillies fans can agree on is that last season was unlike any other when it came to injuries and bad luck. The point is that we shouldn’t ignore signs of statistical decline, but we must recognize that the bad breaks suffered by those keys players are not necessarily signs that they are ready for baseball’s geriatric ward.

Remember the hot bat that Jimmy Rollins wielded throughout last spring and into the beginning of the 2010 season? Is it possible that his season would have turned out quite a bit different if not for a very unfortunate calf strain?

What about Ryan Howard? Should we be so consumed by his 31-homer campaign in 2010 (a year in which a badly sprained ankle derailed his final two months) that we forget his 47 home run average from the previous four seasons?

Is it possible that age had nothing to do with Chase Utley tearing a ligament in his thumb during an aggressive slide into second base during upon his thumb nearly left an imprint on the side of his forearm?

Perhaps all of our experience as football fans has taught us to think that the age of 30 is the point at which player performance goes over the proverbial cliff. Fortunately (for more reasons than one), this is not football season we are approaching, and baseball players can still deliver well into their fourth decade of life.

Two terrific examples are Carlos Ruiz and Jason Werth. During the best offensive seasons of their careers in 2010, was anyone referring to their respective ages of 32 and 31? How many people noticed that the Phillies oldest starting player (Raul Ibanez, 38) hit .309 with 44 RBI and a .869 slugging percentage after the 2010 All-Star Break.

So, as Spring Training begins, and we try to contain our excitement over the Phantastic Four, also try to contain the anxiety that will inevitably befall everyone as soon as one of the offensive veterans has a tough week at the plate.

There are scores of great players who posted their best statistics while in their (gasp!) early 30’s. So, enjoy the ride, and keep in mind that those Phillies bats just need to put up numbers in line with their career averages and this can be a championship season.

 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

 

Photos: Chase Utley: AP Photo, H.Rumph Jr