Who is Winning with Old Guys?

Last week, we looked at the teams that were getting the most production from their young players, noting that the Atlanta Braves are blowing away the field in contributions from players under the age of 25. Today, we’re going to do the reverse, looking at teams that are relying heavily on older players, and might have to start making plans for replacements in the near future.

These teams have gotten the most production out of players in their age-32 season, which means that they were 32 or order on July 1st. For reference, all listed player ages are as of that date, so players who turned 32 after July 1st are not counted in these groupings.

1. Boston Red Sox, +21 WAR

The Red Sox rebirth has been well chronicled, as they remade their team last off-season through a series of smart free agent signings. However, the plan also called for the team to lean heavily on older players, and no team in baseball has gotten as much production from guys headed towards the end of their careers as the boys in beantown.

Koji Uehara is 38. David Ortiz is 37. Ryan Dempster is 36. John Lackey is 34. Shane Victorino and Jake Peavy are 32. There is a significant part of the team’s roster that shouldn’t be counted on for long term production, and with players on the wrong side of 30, the end can occasionally come quickly. While Ortiz is unlikely to forget how to hit any time soon and Uehara looks better than he ever has, the team won’t be able to keep getting this level of production from these guys forever. Eventually, Father Time will catch up.

Of course, part of the reason the Red Sox were willing to acquire so many long-in-the-tooth veterans is that they have spent the past few years stockpiling young talent, so help is on the way. With top prospect Xander Bogaerts and young arms like Brandon Workman already contributing to the big league team, the Sox future seems to be in pretty good hands. But make no mistake, there is a changing of the guard coming. The Red Sox of a few years from now likely won’t look anything like the team that is headed for the postseason now.

2. New York Yankees, +14 WAR

While the Yankees haven’t received the same level of production from older players as Boston has, this is probably the scariest number for any team, because the Yankees don’t have a Xander Bogaerts waiting in the wings. In fact, the +14 WAR they’ve gotten from older players represents more than half of their total team WAR on the year, so they’re actually getting carried by end-of-career players like Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera.

The changing of the guard that is going to happen in Boston is already happening in New York, but unfortunately for the Yankees, there doesn’t appear to be a new guard ready to replace the old ones. New York is going to have to keep pushing for production from the younger part of the old guy pool, hoping for more value next year from guys like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.

Given the dearth of under-25 production, the Yankees probably need something closer to +20 to +25 WAR from their older core in order to contend next year. The Red Sox managed to pull it off this year, but the fact that no other team in baseball is even close to getting that kind of production from aging players probably tells you all you need to know about the likelihood of repeating that trick. The Yankees are still the Yankees, and they still have a lot of money, but this roster has some serious problems.

3. Texas Rangers, +13 WAR

You might not think of the Rangers as an old team, since they’ve been infusing young players like Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus, and Leonys Martin into their core for the last few years. And they still have high hopes for Jurickson Profar, who spent a good chunk of the year in the big leagues at age 20. However, once you get past those few core players, it becomes pretty clear that the Rangers have been more reliant on aging players than you might first think.

Adrian Beltre is 34, and the team’s best player. His defense is showing some signs of erosion after 15 years of elite performance, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to keep up this level of performance forever. Joe Nathan, at age 38, had one of the best seasons of his career. A.J. Pierzynski and Nelson Cruz were both useful role players who are set for free agency, and Cruz’s absence was offset by the acquisition of the 32 year old Alex Rios.

The rotation is young, and Profar could be a big boost if they can find a spot for him, but this team is sneaky old, and is going to have to start replacing some productive players in the not too distant future.

4. Philadelphia Phillies, +11 WAR

Not a big surprise to see the Phillies here, as they have one of baseball’s oldest rosters after years of pushing for World Series titles. They’ve collected a large number of veterans over the years, many of them highly compensated, and that group simply wasn’t able to produce enough to offset the lack of young talent that has been flowing into the organization.

The Phillies still have some quality players, like Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, and kept star second baseman Chase Utley in the organization with a mid-season contract extension, but the Phillies veteran core is no longer good enough to carry the team to the postseason. This team needs some productive young players, and soon.

5. Toronto Blue Jays, +8 WAR

Jose Bautista, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle aren’t spring chickens any more, which is one of the reasons the Blue Jays didn’t trade away veterans for prospects at the trade deadline. While they fell flat in 2013, there are still pieces in place that make a 2014 run a real possibility, and they don’t have lot of time to waste while Bautista is still an impact hitter.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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