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"I'm 37. I'm not old."
2003-12-06 00:38
by Mike Carminati

King Arthur: Old woman!

Peasant: "Man".

King Arthur: "Man", sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?

Peasant: I'm 37.

King Arthur: What?

Peasant: I'm 37. I'm not old.

King Arthur: Well I can't just call you "man".

Peasant: Well you could say "Dennis".

King Arthur: I didn't know you were called Dennis.

Peasant: Well you didn't bother to find out did you?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Baseball is a young man's game. Ballplayers are winding down or retired at the age that most individuals are just getting started in their careers.

Look at Theo Epstein, who was viewed as perhaps too young to be the general manager of the Red Sox when he took over last year at the age of 28. But imagine if he were a 28-year-old rookie. He'd be Chico Walker for goodness sake.

Young Theo threw down the gauntlet this offseason by acquiring Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks for whatever stray pitchers he had lying around the office. Schilling is "Dennis", i.e., he's 37. In typical fashion, Schilling opened his mouth and inserted his size twelves by calling himself a "near Hall of Famer". Schilling was only 8-9 last year, albeit it with a sub-3.00 ERA, in two-thirds of a season and has just 163 wins all-time. The Hall is not beckoning any time soon.

Perhaps Epstein has yet to experience the grunts and groans associated with exerting oneself at the age of 37, but the sabermetric lad is certainly aware of what the aging process can do to ballplayers' performance.

Meanwhile, the other contestant in the "I can hold my breath the longest" contest, George Steinbrenner and the Yankees, "signed" right fielder Gary Sheffield. I put signed in quotes since Sheffield and the Yankees came to an agreement, they just have yet to affix the John Hancocks so that the Yankees won't owe his old team, the Braves, a draft choice. If he signs after December 20, the Yanks don't owe Atlanta a plug nickel.

Anyway, Sheffield is also ancient in baseball year. He's 35. And I got to thinking how secure was acquiring a Dennis-esque player anyway. Sheffield was probably the third best player in the NL last year and shows very little signs of slowly down, but Schilling has had quite a few injuries of late, including last year.

So I ran a study of 37-year-old pitchers who switched teams in the offseason before turning 37. There were 28 in total (as of 2002), and I found that they, on average, had a very better winning percentage, a better strikeout-to-walk ratio, slightly more games pitched, and almost the same ERA, but they also pitched fewer innings and had fewer wins.

Here's a tables of all the players I found:

Bill Dietrich1947Phil (AL)521160.740183.121946Chi (AL)331162.024202.61
Bill Lee1947Chi (NL)021424.01494.501946Bos (NL)10925140.045324.18
Bob Ewing1910PHI161434255.3861023.001909CIN111231218.363862.43
Bob Purkey1966PIT011019.7451.371965StL (NL)10932124.333395.79
Chuck Finley2000CLE161134218.01011894.171999ANA121133213.3942004.43
Clarence Mitchell1928StL (NL)8919150.038313.301927PHI631394.728174.09
Curt Simmons1966Chi (NL)471977.321244.071965StL (NL)91534203.054964.08
Earl Whitehill1937CLE8833147.080536.491936Wash141128212.389634.87
Fred Norman1980MON444898.040584.131979CIN111334195.357953.64
George McConnell1915Chi (FL)251044303.0891512.201914Chi (NL)0117.0331.29
George Mogridge1926Bos (NL)61039142.036464.501925StL (AL)11215.3585.87
Jack Morris1992TOR21634240.7801324.041991MIN181235246.7921633.43
Jeff Fassero2000BOS8838130.050974.781999SEA41430139.0731017.38
Jim Bunning1969LA31956.310333.361968PIT41427160.048953.88
Jim Kaat1976PHI121438227.732833.481975Chi (AL)201443303.7771423.11
Jim Perry1973DET141335203.055664.031972MIN131635217.760853.35
Joe Dobson1954BOS0022.7116.751953Chi (AL)5523100.737503.67
John Burkett2002BOS13829173.0501244.532001ATL121234219.3701873.04
Juan Marichal1975LA 0126.05113.501974BOS511157.314214.87
Mark Langston1998SD 462281.341565.861997ANA24947.729305.85
Murry Dickson1954PHI102040226.373643.781953PIT101945200.758884.53
Nels Potter1949Bos (NL)6114196.730574.191948StL (AL)11210.3445.23
Scott Sanderson1993CAL71121135.327664.461992NY (AL)121133193.3641044.93
Scott Sanderson1993SF421148.77363.51
Sonny Siebert1974StL8828133.751683.841973TEX71125119.737763.99
Tim Belcher1999ANA6824132.346526.731998KC141434234.0731304.27
Whit Wyatt1945PHI071051.314105.261944BRO26937.71647.17
Woodie Fryman1977CIN551775.345575.381976MON131334216.3761233.37

So what does this tell me? Pitchers who stay in the majors until 37 are pretty good overall. And if they switch teams at 37, the change of scenery does have a positive effect overall. However, it seems that that they also may be losing innings and strikeouts as they age. It seems a prime age to induce analysts to use the term "crafty".

Of course, this is a general trend among pitchers in similar situations, and may not have anything to do with Schilling. But, I wouldn't be surprised if he comes nowhere near the 250 innings and 10 strikeouts per nine innings that he amassed each of the first two full seasons in Arizona. It's a fair bet that he'll outperform Casey Fossum next year though.

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