|30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia|
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on May 26, 2009
Tom Verducci of Sport's Illustrated lists a number of older players (and Tom somehow manages to put Joe Mauer on this list, too) who are playing at unforeseen levels this year and are showing skills never displayed in years before.
2) Marco Scutaro, 33, Blue Jays: You come up with the list of all the players who learned plate discipline late in their careers and we'll fit it on a bottle cap. Yes, Sammy Sosa learned how to take a walk, primarily because he made himself into such a ferocious slugger that no one wanted to throw the ball near the plate to him. But where is Scutaro's patience coming from so suddenly? Only Luis Castillo has looked at a greater percentage of pitches without swinging than Scutaro, who suddenly is swinging at only 32 percent of pitches, way down from his career average of 41 percent. He has taken a league-leading 36 walks in 47 games (just 21 below his career high already) and posted a .395 OBP. He is a completely different hitter.
9) Joel Piniero, 30, Cardinals: Dave Stewart, Storm Davis, Mike Moore, Dennis Eckersley, Steve Ontiveros, Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan ... does anybody fix more veteran pitchers than Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan? Duncan turned Piniero from a strikeout pitcher with a big curveball into a groundball pitcher with pinpoint control. The result? Piniero is having an excellent season despite the lowest strikeout rate of his career.
10) Russell Branyan, 33, Mariners: Branyan has been a project his entire career, bouncing from team to team because he always showed crazy power -- just not often enough in between strikeouts. The Mariners, his eighth team, were so desperate for power that they handed Branyan, a career .230 hitter, the first base job. He has rewarded them by hitting .305, with 10 of the team's 39 home runs. The key for Branyan? He is no longer the extreme flyball hitter he has been throughout his career.
Assuming we are not looking at flukes here, I wonder what it is that makes players take the leap so late. Could they have been better players all along if only they had run into a better coach or had been more willing to learn early in their career? Or did they need to achieve the need the wisdom of age first?