Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chin Music: Old Timers

On Thursday, 42 year-old John Smoltz makes his Boston Red Sox debut against the Washington Nationals, almost two years to the date where he helped tie a Major League record. That record? The number of starting pitcher in their 40s starting on the same day.

On June 22, 2007, Smoltz (40 at the time), the Rangers’ Kenny Rogers (42), Jamie Moyer (44), Greg Maddux (41), Woody Williams (40) and Tom Glavine (41) all started, setting the record.

That following Wednesday, June 27, the stars were aligned to break that record, with seven pitchers in their 40s scheduled to start, with 44 year-old Roger Clemens set to join in and break the record set only five days earlier. Instead, Rogers’ game was postponed and the record was only tied again at six.

Now, two years later, many of these pitchers still remain, among them, Smoltz, who spent the first two and a half months of the season on the disabled list, Jamie Moyer, who proves that you can throw 70 miles an hour and still be effective, and Tom Glavine, who is actively looking for work after being released. There’s also Randy Johnson, whose spot in the rotation didn’t align with the other quadragenarians (yes, I just made that up) in 2007, who it very well may have been eight starters over forty years old making starts all in one day.

The fascinating part is that it isn’t just power pitchers or the guys who can paint corners that are sticking around well into their forties, it’s both contrasting styles, whether it was from Clemens to Maddux or now, Smoltz to Moyer. These aged pitchers make it clear that sometimes pitching IQ is more important than overall skill. Many young pitchers with fantastic stuff come in and do well in their first few starts. And then batters, coaches, and advance scouts start to figure out their weaknesses and the only way for a pitcher to stay one step ahead of them is to adjust, or get shellacked. That’s what makes these elder statesmen of the game even more impressive, their ability to effectively adjust and attack the strike zone in different ways since before the likes of Clayton Kershaw or Clay Buccholz were even born.

With young pitching stars, like Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, and Yovani Gallardo ready to take the reigns, the old timer’s aren’t quite ready to hand them over. Teams keep giving them a chance, and it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to call it quits quite yet.

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