With Phillies, talent more important than age

Posted: December 31, 2011

It's a new year, which means we have all moved a step closer to our final destination.

Nothing we can do about aging except raise a toast, make some resolutions we probably will not keep, and continue moving forward until our time expires.

Age, of course, has become a hot topic concerning the local baseball team.

How much older can the Phillies get before they become too old to win that elusive second World Series title the current core group will be chasing for the fourth straight year?

Let's first clarify all of this by pointing out that age is not nearly as important as talent, and the Phillies still have an abundance of the latter.

The best proof we can offer that talent is more important than age is by looking at the New York Yankees since the turn of the century. During that span, the Yankees have won nine division titles, two wild-card playoff berths, four American League pennants, and two World Series titles. They also missed the playoffs one time.

If somebody told you that is what is in store for the Phillies over the next dozen years, you'd take it right now.

Examine those Yankees teams and you'll find that they were filled with aging players.

The average age of the Yankees' position players and starting rotation during all four of their World Series seasons was over 30.

Start with the 2000 team, which won a third straight World Series. Among the nine regulars, counting the DH, six of them were 31 or older and the bench was filled with thirtysomethings. The rotation that year consisted of Roger Clemens, 37, David Cone, 37, Orlando Hernandez, 34, Denny Neagle, 31, and Andy Pettitte, 28.

The average age of the Yankees' position players in 2000 was just over 30, and the next year, when they returned to the World Series, it was just under 32. The Yankees lost that 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that did not have a single regular below the age of 30. The average age of the Diamondbacks' starting eight that season was 33.8.

In 2003, when the Yankees lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins, the average age of their position players was 30.3 and the average age of the starting rotation was 34.2, thanks to the presence of David Wells and Roger Clemens, both of whom were 40.

When the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, the average age of their position players was 31.3 and the rotation was 30.

The 2012 Phillies will go into the season with a starting eight that averages 31.9 years. That figure includes Ryan Howard, even though he is not expected to be ready at the start of the season. The Phillies' average age for their regulars is actually down from last season because John Mayberry Jr. is replacing Raul Ibanez in left field.

The lineup should decrease in age again next season when a new third baseman replaces Placido Polanco, who, at 36, is now the team's oldest regular. The Yankees, even with all their veterans, have inserted some youth while also adding free agents, and that's something the Phillies do need to do in the coming years.

The average age of the Phillies rotation in 2012 is going to be 30, and there is no reason to have any concern about that being a factor at this point. The Phillies have actually had a significant youth movement in the bullpen with the emergence of Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes last season.

There are, of course, also examples of younger teams winning the World Series since the turn of the century. The 2003 Marlins had just a few players in their thirties and the 2008 Phillies were a pretty young squad if you removed 45-year-old Jamie Moyer from the equation.

The 2012 Phillies are without question the oldest team in the National League East, and if you look at the other teams it's difficult not to be impressed by their young talent.

Everybody loves the Atlanta Braves' young pitchers, but it's fair to wonder if their mixture among the position players is too old and too young. Chipper Jones will turn 40 in April and has played more than 140 games once in the last eight years. With rookie Tyler Pastornicky taking over at shortstop, the Braves will have three regulars who are 22 years old.

It's great that the Washington Nationals have a cast of exciting young arms and legs and they're coming off a fine season for them that would have been a failed season for the Phillies. One of these years, they are likely to compete for the National League East title, and it could be this one. But it's still impossible to look at the young Nats and say they're better than the Phillies.

There are plenty of reasons to like the Marlins' young talent, too, but even with the additions of Heath Bell and Mark Buerhle, their pitching cannot match up with the Phillies'.

No need to mention the Mets. What's happening up in Queens just keeps getting older every year.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

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