Five older players on contending teams have defied the aging curve by having unexpected success this year. How have they done it, and can it continue?
Most players tend to peak in their mid-to-late 20s before declining after age 30. But not every player adheres to the typical trajectory. Several contending teams have benefited from unlikely resurgences or career years by players who’ve struggled in recent seasons and have already reached the point on the aging curve at which we would have expected their declines to continue. Who are they? How have they turned back the clock? And most importantly, can their surprising success continue?
Ryan Ludwick, Reds, 34
What he’s done: The Reds are 65-38 since their .500 April and 25-10 since losing Joey Votto to knee surgery in mid-July. No player has been more responsible for that run than Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick was a below-average batter with the Padres over the past two seasons even after adjusting for Petco Park’s pitcher friendliness, and when he hit .207/.289/.405 through June 6th of this season, Reds fans called for his playing time to be curtailed. Then he got hot. Ludwick’s .340 TAv since the start of June ranks 13th among all hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, and his .356 TAv since the start of July ranks eighth (min. 150 PA), behind only Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. How he’s done it: Ludwick hit much better before and after his stint with San Diego, so it’s possible that Petco hurt him even more than it hurts the average hitter. Great American Ball Park, however, is a haven for right-handed hitters and the perfect place to restore his power. This is also the first season in which Ludwick has avoided the disabled list since his career year of 2008, so good health is also a factor. Can he keep doing it: Ludwick can’t keep producing like a perennial MVP candidate, so some regression is in store, but little about his line looks fluky. Any decline in his production should be more than offset for Cincinnati by Votto’s impending return.
Plenty of well-documented rumors came to nothing last week, and Derek looks at what the lack of activity means for your team.
I’ve spent the last week and a half breaking down thefantasyramifications of every deal that was made at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline, but lost in this shuffle were the players who figured to benefit from (or be hurt by) a trade that never happened. Today, I’m going to shine some light on a few of these guys.
The Reds might be making a mistake by not starting Chris Heisey.
When the Reds let Jonny Gomes walk in free agency this past winter, it seemed Chris Heisey might finally get a chance to show that he could stick as the team’s everyday left fielder. The 27-year-old Heisey hit .254/.309/.487 last season, with an impressive 18 home runs in 308 plate appearances. His plate discipline left much to be desired, but his minor-league track record suggested that an uptick in walks and a decrease in strikeouts could be forthcoming.
On January 17, though, the Reds inked Ryan Ludwick to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, threatening the expected increase in Heisey’s playing time. The fit was odd, to say the least. Ludwick—coming off a .237/.310/.363 campaign split between the Padres and Pirates—did not offer much that Heisey wasn’t already providing. Both are right-handed hitters. Both have reverse platoon splits (although Heisey’s may be the product of a small sample size). Both produce the bulk of their value in the batter’s box.
Several overqualified players might be riding the pine while a pricier, less productive veteran hogs their position on Opening Day, but they deserve to be starting.
Every year, major-league teams spend millions on evaluating and acquiring players from outside their organizations, whether they’re amateurs eligible for the draft, professionals in another system, or foreign or domestic free agents available to the highest bidder. Sometimes, though, a potential source of improvement is already in house and in uniform, overlooked in favor of a more experienced or higher-paid player who’s no longer the best man for the job.
Sixteen years ago, Brian Giles was one such player. Giles was blocked by Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez at the outfield corners in Cleveland, but at designated hitter, only an aging Eddie Murray barred his way. The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer had been productive a season before, but by ’96 he was a year away from retirement and had little left. Giles was ready to replace him. At age 25, he was beyond the age at which most promising players get a long major-league look, but he had only a September cup of coffee to show for his two successful seasons in Triple-A.
Where did he come from, and can the Cardinals count on him in the games and years to come?
When you hear Ryan Ludwick's name nowadays, you think about a player who skipped from organization to organization and came seemingly out of nowhere to earn an All-Star appearance this season with the St. Louis Cardinals. What many people forget is that during the early part of the decade, Ludwick was a highly-touted prospect as a center fielder in the Athletics organization, but between a hip injury that threw his minor league career off track and his moving from team to team, he got a bit lost in the mix. Now the question on everyone's mind is whether or not the Ludwick we see today—the one hitting .303/.379/.599 on the season through Tuesday—is something we can expect to see in the future, or if this production is a mirage.