Over the Hill and Coals
On the rare occasion when I order a steak in a restaurant, I always ask for it to be "medium well." I like my meat cooked. Not burnt, mind you. But no steak tartare for me.
Based on age and performance in the early going, there are several players who look like they are as "well done" as some of my steaks. I'm talking about ballplayers you can stick your fork in. As in meat that has been overcooked, these guys appear to have very little springyness in their games.
Older players with subpar rate stats such as AVG/OBP/SLG or K/BB are one of the best ways to identify seasoned veterans on the decline. I also like to check base on balls to strikeout ratios for batters, the number of triples and stolen bases, and the ratio of runs scored to runs batted in. For pitchers, I think strikeouts to walks, strikeouts to innings or, better yet, strikeouts/batters faced are the best measures in deciphering trends in effectiveness.
After stir frying around ESPN's stat pages, I came up with three categories of players who have little or no juice left in them.
Medium Well Done
Rich Aurilia: SS, 33, CIN, .211/.253.352. Aurilia had a nice run with San Francisco from 1999-2003 and the Giants let him go at just the right time. Never one to draw many base on balls, Rich is walking at the lowest rate of his career. He has a little power still in his bat but is a mediocre defensive player and a slow baserunner, especially for a middle infielder.
Steve Finley: OF, 40, LAA, .149/.227/.322. Although Finley has perhaps the worst rate stats of anyone, I suspect he is the most likely player of them all to end up with numbers closer to his seasonal average. Why? Well, for one, he is in outstanding shape. Two, his HR, ISO, SEC, and BB rates are all in line or better than his career norm. Three, Steve has stolen four bases in five attempts, suggesting he hasn't lost much, if any, speed. Come October, I think Finley's numbers will be just fine.
Scott Hatteberg: 1B, 35, OAK, .267/.320/.344. Hatteberg's stats are down across the board. The Pickin' Machine is walking at half his normal rate and hitting home runs at the lowest pace of his career. The fact that he is seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance than ever makes me think pitchers are going after him and exploiting his inability to hit. Scott might be able to hang around as a catcher but not as a first baseman.
Mike Lieberthal: C, 33, PHI, .239/.316/.338. Lieberthal's age and half-dozen knee surgeries may be catching up with him. His power is way down this year. However, Mike is walking and striking out at career-best rates, making me think he might be more effective in a limited role.
Jorge Posada: C, 33, NYY, .235/.315/.321. Posada may be in nothing more than a slump. However, his isolated power is less than half his career norm. I wouldn't give up on him at this point but the wear and tear of catching 130 or more games for five consecutive seasons may be the culprit here. Jorge won't be an effective 1B or DH unless he can produce at a similar rate as in the past.
Jim Thome: 1B, 34, PHI, .203/.347/.304. It may be premature to include Thome in this group, but players his size tend not to age particularly well. I'm not sure if his bad back is an excuse for his early season woes or an indication that he is in the decline phase of his career. He continues to walk and strike out a lot. The only real change in Thome's stats is the marked decrease in the number of HR from where you would expect him to be at this stage of the campaign.
Royce Clayton: SS, 35, ARI, .225/.279/.325. I saw Clayton hit his only home run of the year when I was in Phoenix ten days ago. I have no plans of going back this summer so it might be a long year for ol' (literally) Royce. Granted, Clayton has never been much of a hitter (career OPS+ of 78 with nary a season of 100), but his current rate stats are at or near career lows and he is striking out more than ever.
Tom Glavine: SP, 39, NYM, 1-3, 5.67 ERA. Counting Glavine out is like giving up on his former team. Both just keep coming back when just when you thought they were done. That said, 16 walks and 17 strikeouts aren't the recipe for longevity. Glavine is 37 wins shy of 300. I wouldn't be surprised if he bounced back this year, but I'm skeptical as to whether he can last long enough to make it to that magical mark.
Ken Griffey, Jr.: CF, 35, CIN, .244/.313/.372. Griffey has been skidding since 2000, his last full season. He has stolen 11 bases this century, an indication of his health and speed (or lack thereof). Junior doesn't have the ability to lift the ball like he once did. To illustrate, he didn't hit his first home run this year until the last day in April and his groundball/flyball ratio is the highest ever. Griffey is also striking out like never before and his BB/SO ratio is at an all-time low.
Mike Piazza: C, 36, NYM, .221/.286/.390. Piazza has been in a gradual decline since 2000. He played at a high level in 2001 and 2002 but is no longer a standout at his position. Working in Piazza's favor is the fact that he has only struck out four times this year, suggesting he may have a year or two left as a designated hitter. That said, Mike has limited value as a hitter only. Unfortunately, he can't even blame Shea Stadium for his ills as he has hit better at home than on the road the past few years.
Sammy Sosa: OF, 36, BAL, .270/.305/.450. I realize Sosa has four home runs, but he is only on pace to hit 27 with 61 runs and 74 RBI. Worse yet, Sammy has struck out 18 times and has walked just three times. His OPS (.755) hasn't been this low since 1992, the year before he went on a power splurge that saw him slug 533 HR in the following 12 campaigns (an average of 44 per season).
Bernie Willliams: OF, 36, NYY, .236/.317/.303. Bernie has been written off before but he's now 36 and not getting any younger or better. Hard to believe he is still playing CF. Not only does Williams possess a poor arm and range but his offensive production can now be called into question as well. His isolated power, secondary average, and power/speed numbers are all at career lows. He might be a good guy to have on your bench but not in the field.
Very Well Done
Ray Durham: 2B, 33, SF, .222/.356/.278. Durham is walking more than ever so his OBP is in line with his career average despite a precipitous drop in AVG. However, his loss of power (no HR and an ISO one-third his career norm) and speed (one SB and an all-time low zone rating) are such that he is on the verge of no longer being a productive player.
Marquis Grissom: OF, 38, SF, .213/.229/.325. Grissom has gone from a player who stole 70+ bases in consecutive seasons to one who has hit 10 or more HR in each of the last 13 years to a guy who hasn't pilfered a base and has scored just five times in 22 games. His slugging average is also the lowest it has ever been and he has walked just twice in 84 plate appearances. There is nothing in his stat line that suggests he will bounce back.
Brian Jordan: OF, 38, ATL, .238/.297/.333. I will never understand why the Braves signed Jordan (and Raul Mondesi, for that matter). Perhaps John Schuerholz thought he and Bobby Cox could wave their magic wands and turn back the calendar to 2001. In Jordan's last 520 AB (dating back to 2003), he has hit .258 with 13 HR, 67 R, 65 RBI, 44 BB, and 4 SB in 7 attempts. He is such a poor offensive player at this stage that I'm not sure he would be productive as a shortstop or catcher. As a LF, he is nothing short of a major liability.
Raul Mondesi: OF, 34, ATL, .202/.236/.357. Although not as old as his fellow corner outfielder, Mondesi is equally inept. Forget his rate stats, look no further than his four BB and 21 Ks for proof that he has spun around the rotisserie a few too many times. I thought he was from the Dominican Republic, but he must be from Finland because he is finnish(ed).
Rafael Palmeiro: 1B, 40, BAL, .238/.295/.313. Palmeiro is no longer a major-league caliber ballplayer. He can't hit, field, or run. In other words, Raffy has no tools other than what he might hawk on TV. Palmeiro no longer has the lift (so to speak) in his swing as his 1.35 G/F ratio suggests--the highest rate since 1989 when he hit a whopping eight HR. He is a former shell of himself and is simply hanging around, trying to get to the magical 3,000 hit mark.
Hideo Nomo: SP, 36, TB, 2-3, 6.58 ERA. Nomo's K/9 rate has been plummeting since it reached 10.0 in 2001, and it has dropped even further this year. He has walked more batters than he has struck out and has allowed six HR in 26 innings. I will be shocked if he lasts the year in Tampa Bay.
I'm sure there are other players who may qualify for one of the above lists, but I don't have Nomo at this time.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]