I heard another story about someone a bit older than me, someone in their sixties, who broke their hip while riding a bike. As I get older, I start noticing that stuff more and more. My running group consists of people of all ages, but there is a main core of older guys, guys in their sixties. I’m not quite in their group, but I feel closer to them then the younger guys. And, the older guys have recently started talking about taking vacations together when they retire. I’ve been included in that conversation. How does this relate to baseball?
Well, the age thing got me thinking about older players. I was doing some fiddling around with the play index on baseball reference for a podcast I am going to do with Marc and I stumbled upon Hoyt Wilhelm. It’s not like I didn’t know of Hoyt, it’s just that I didn’t focus on how his greatness came after he turned 40. Wilhelm pitched until he was 49. At 51, I can’t imagine anyone getting out on the mound against a major league lineup and getting guys out. From age 40-49 Wilhelm threw 881 innings of 2.18 ERA ball. That is mind boggling. His ERA+ looked like this (he tossed at least 78 innings each year through age 47). I will include the highest ERA+ pitcher for each age season as well in the list below:
- Age 40 – 132 (Mariano Rivera – 241 in 60 IP)
- Age 41 – 174 (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman – 226 in 61 and 54 IP respectively)
- Age 42 – 174 (Babe Adams – 341 in 39 IP)
- Age 43 – 192 (Don McMahon – 263 in 30 IP
- Age 44 – 230 (Hoyt leads)
- Age 45 – 185 (Hoyt leads)
- Age 46 – 160 (Hoyt leads)
- Age 47 – 126 (Jack Quinn 145 in 64 IP)
- Age 48 – 127 (Hoyt leads)
- Age 49 – 74
That is insane.
There have only been two guys in the history of baseball to pitch more than 25 innings in their age 49 season – Hoyt and Jamie Moyer. The amazing thing about Wilhelm was his late start in baseball. He broke into the big leagues at age 29. Despite the late start, he broke Cy Young’s record for games pitched, ending his career with 1070 games pitched. This record is now held by Jesse Orosco who finished his career in 2003 with 1252 games pitched. Hoyt is the only guy in the top fifteen of the games pitched list to have ended his career before 1989. Aside from Hoyt, Kent Tekulve, and Rich Gossage the rest pitched during an era of relief specialization – Orosco, Stanton, Franco, Rivera, The Eck, Plesac, Timlin, Hoffman, Mesa, Lee Smith, Roberto Hernandez, Mike Jackson and LaTroy Hawkins. Those last three names point out how the role of the relief pitcher prolonged careers. Heck, LaTroy Hawkins is signed through 2015 and only recently announced the he will retire after the 2015 season. In his career he’s made just over $45 million. Relief pitcher, a good gig if you can get it.
All this old age pitcher stuff made me wonder about Mariano Rivera. If he had not retired at age 43 how long he could have kept up his stellar relief pitching? He clocked out at age 43 and in that final season he threw 64 innings of 190 ERA+ ball. In his 19 year career, Rivera had an ERA+ below 190 only four times. No doubt a first ballot Hall of Famer.