Baseball is a young man’s game. We’ve seen this in 2018, with guys like Gleyber Torres, Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto, and countless other young players (who you can read about here) making a big impact around MLB.
But while the youngsters are making it hard to ignore them, a slew of older players are doing the same thing.
We can only wonder what Detroit Tigers fans are thinking now when they see what former Detroit teammates Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are doing in their new homes. Entering the year, we wouldn’t have predicted that guys like Nick Markakis, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jed Lowrie would all make their first All-Star teams. But all three gentlemen have done just that.
These players represent only a small percentage of the veteran crowd making a big impact in MLB in 2018.
For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to say that players born on October 31, 1984 or earlier are eligible. That would make them at least 34 by the date that Game 7 of the World Series (if necessary) is scheduled to be played on.
With that understood, these are the old players that are consistently defying Father Time in the 2018 MLB season.
Note: Stats accurate through play on Wednesday, July 11.
Justin Verlander, starting pitcher, Houston Astros
When Verlander was traded from the Tigers in 2017, he had a 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and a 9.2 K/9 rate. While those weren’t bad numbers, they were all well down from what he did in 2016. It sure seemed as though he was on the decline. Things have changed since. Including the 2017 postseason, Verlander has made 31 appearances since getting dealt to the Astros. In those games, he’s gone 18-5 with a 1.91 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and a 9.9 K/9 inning rate. Verlander seems to have found the fountain of youth in Houston.
Matt Kemp, left fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp hit 35 home runs in 2016. He followed that up with 19 in 2017 and slashed at .276/.318/.463 with 19 home runs in 115 games for the Atlanta Braves. In 2018, Kemp is enjoying a resurgent season. He’s hitting .313/.355/.535 and already has 15 home runs for the Dodgers and will start for the National League in the All-Star Game. Much like with Verlander’s pre-trade 2017, it would be overdramatic to say that Kemp looked done in Atlanta a season ago, but he did appear on the decline. Clearly, that’s not the case.
CC Sabathia, starting pitcher, New York Yankees
In 2017, Sabathia enjoyed his best season in a while. He’s been even better in 2018. The New York lefty has posted a 3.34 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 94.1 innings. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Yankees win the AL Wild Card Game with Luis Severino on the hill. That would make Severino unavailable for Game 1 (and probably Game 5) of the ensuing ALDS. Barring a trade, Sabathia is likely the guy the Yankees and their fans would put into that spot. Not bad for a guy who’ll turn 38 later in July.
Ben Zobrist, left fielder, Chicago Cubs
Zobrist struggled in 2017. He hit .232/.318/.375 with 12 home runs. Quite frankly, it was fair to wonder how much playing time he’d even get on a deep Chicago team in 2018. He’s answered those questions. At 37, Zobrist is hitting .292/.387/.425. He doesn’t hit many home runs (he has only six) but in that lineup, getting on base is far more important. There’s plenty of power around him. Zobrist is also remaining versatile, playing 25 or more games at second base, right field, and left field. The Cubs can’t ask for much more.
J.A. Happ, starting pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
For the 34-year-old Happ, age is just a number. Over the last three seasons, the Toronto southpaw has posted a 3.59 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9 rate. His 4.44 ERA in 2018 might look a little high. But a 1.18 WHIP and 9.9 K/9 rate are both indicative of someone who’s pitching much better than that. It’s very possible that Happ will be dealt at the trade deadline. While he may not be the needle-mover that someone like Jacob deGrom would be, Happ can certainly strengthen the rotation of most contenders.
Nick Markakis, right fielder, Atlanta Braves
Markakis has been around the league for a long time. While he’s always been a nice player to have on the team, he’s never been a star. That’s changed this year. At 34, Markakis will join Bryce Harper and the aforementioned Kemp in the starting outfield for the National League at the All-Star Game. He’s hitting a cool .322/.388/.492 and has 10 home runs, already more than the eight that he hit in 2017. Markakis will be much older than most of his fellow first-time All-Stars. But his place in the Midsummer Classic is well deserved.
Joey Votto, first baseman, Cincinnati Reds
Here’s the bad news as it relates to Votto. His batting average and home run totals are both down from what he did in 2017 (.320 average, 36 home runs). Here’s the good news. He’s still hitting .292 with nine home runs. His .424 OBP leads the National League. How many players can get this deep into what’s objectively a down year, but still be leading the league in such a prominent category? Now, many can do it at 34? Votto might be in his mid-30s, but remains one of baseball’s best hitters.
Charlie Morton, starting pitcher, Houston Astros
As noteworthy as Verlander’s turnaround in Houston has been, we do have to point out that he’s been one of baseball’s best for the better part of a decade and is likely headed to the Hall of Fame. But Morton? He was a World Series hero in 2017, but still came into 2018 with a career 4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and a 6.9 K/9 rate. In 2018, Morton has a 2.83 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and an 11.8 K/9 rate. At 34, Morton has gone from journeyman to Cy Young contender. That’s certainly what we call defying Father Time.
Shin-Soo Choo, right fielder, Texas Rangers
Given that he struggled through an injury-plagued 2016 season, we were pretty impressed with what Choo did in 2017 (.261/.357/.423, 22 home runs). Apparently, he was only just getting warmed up. Choo, who will turn 36 on Friday, is hitting .290/.399/.500 with 17 home runs. Those numbers were easily good enough to earn Choo a trip to Washington D.C. for, somewhat surprisingly, the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. It’s hard to age much more gracefully than that.
Jon Lester, starting pitcher, Chicago Cubs
From 2014-2016, Lester posted a 2.74 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and struck out roughly a hitter an inning. In 2017, his K-rate remained consistent, but his ERA and WHIP ballooned to 4.38 and 1.32. We normally wouldn’t take one season more seriously than three. But given that Lester was 34 on Opening Day in 2018, it was hard to be dismissive of the most recent struggles. But while he’s not striking out as many hitters, Lester has put up a 2.85 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. That’s gone a long way towards putting any preseason concerns to bed.
Nelson Cruz, designated hitter, Seattle Mariners
Cruz became a full-time player in 2009. From that time, through 2017, he averaged 33 home runs a season and hit .279/.345/.530. In 2018, he already has 22 home runs and is hitting .265/.361/.541. Even if his average has dipped a little, his OBP and slugging tell us that Cruz is getting on base more, and doing more damage with the hits that he makes. For anyone who needs reminding, the 2009-2017 numbers were pretty good. For man who’s now 38 to be improving on that is quite impressive.
Zack Greinke, starting pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks
Greinke had one of the worst years of his career in 2016. He put up a 4.37 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and struck out only 7.6 hitters per nine innings. That’s certainly not what Arizona wanted to see from a then 32-year-old that it had just signed to a six-year, $206.5 million deal. The last two seasons have been a much different story. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Greinke has accrued a 3.27 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 9.4 K/9 rate. He’ll be 35 in October, but is looking like the ace that the D-Backs signed him to be.
Jed Lowrie, second baseman, Oakland Athletics
Oakland’s offense has been potent in 2018. Looking the team over, there are multiple catalysts we can point to. Khris Davis has a team-leading 21 home runs, but has a slash line (.250/.327/.513) that leaves a little to be desired. The same can be said for Matt Olson, who’s second on the team with 19 home runs, but is slashing .240/.327/.458. Lowrie is doing everything for the A’s. He’s hitting for power (16 home runs) and is hitting at .290/.362/.501. We’d certainly say the forthcoming trip to the All-Star Game (the first of his career, after an initial snub) is well deserved for the 34-year-old.
Yadier Molina, catcher, St. Louis Cardinals
We go from one player making his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, to one getting ready for his ninth. Molina’s defense can never be questioned. But over the last two years, Molina’s offense, specifically his power, has increased dramatically. Molina hit 18 home runs in 2017. In 2018, the soon-to-be 36-year-old has hit 13, despite missing a month of action. This is a guy who hit a total of 19 home runs from 2014-2016. Molina has said he plans to retire after 2020. But the way he’s swinging the bat, we’re not sure he should be even thinking about that.
Max Scherzer, starting pitcher, Washington Nationals
Most of these players seem to have rediscovered their youths after a period of struggling. Scherzer has had no such period. From 2013-2017, Scherzer posted a dominant 2.87 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9 rate. With a 2.33 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 12.5 K/9 rate, he’s only been better in 2018. Being that good at any age is exceptional. Being that good in your late-20s and early-30s is even better. But being as good as Scherzer already was and improving into your mid-30s? That’s essentially unheard of. But Scherzer, who will be 34 at the end of July, is making it happen.