Earlier this week, 36-year-old backup catcher Russell Martin smoked a base hit into center field for the Dodgers’ tenth walk-off win of 2019. The franchise record for most walk-off wins in a season is a whopping 15 back in 1974.
Russell Martin talked about his walk-off hit with this quote:
A lot of walkoffs have come from young guys. The old guys need to sharpen up. Let the old guys get hot too, you know.
This year the rookies on the team have provided a lot of late-game heroics — namely Will Smith, Alex Verdugo, and Matt Beaty. They are the players that tend to get the most praise and it tends to lead to a lack of appreciation for the veterans on the roster.
Russell Martin’s two-run, walk-off base hit underscores the importance of veteran leadership on a roster that seems destined for postseason glory. In addition to Martin, the 34-year-old Justin Turner anchors the offense, 12-year veteran Clayton Kershaw anchors the pitching staff, and the 31-year-old Kenley Jansen anchors the bullpen. The Dodgers even have postseason legend and 36-year-old David Freese putting up big numbers, when healthy. It seems as if these guys get lost in the mix.
While Cody Bellinger fights in the MVP race, Walker Buehler takes center stage, and all the hoopla is about rookies Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and Will Smith, the ‘old guys’ get it done. Night in and night out, they produce.
So, here is some love for them.
While the 36-year-old Martin has not been the greatest presence at the plate this season, he is invaluable to the roster. I will tell you why. Martin is quite possibly the greatest veteran catcher to mentor rookie sensation Will Smith.
Martin holds just an 83 wRC+ this season, but he is forever ingrained in Dodgers lore. He is a Dodger at heart and who better to rub off on then a rookie catcher with immense potential. When Martin came up with the Dodgers in 2006, he was the talk of the league. Will Smith and Russell Martin are basically clones of prospect profiles, just 13 years apart. Athletic, versatile, and intelligent. Martin’s jovial personality is quietly the backbone of the Dodgers’ success.
When 36-year-old David Freese was inked in the off-season at a cheap cost, the signing was praised. Still, nobody foresaw the amount of impact Freese would have. He holds an elite .300/.399/.579 slash line with a 156 wRC+.
While he has been hurt for a chunk of the season, being limited to just 66 games, Freese has still been an impact bat when he is on the field. His 202 wRC+ against right-handed pitching is the BEST mark of any player in Major League Baseball if he qualified. Yes, that includes Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich.
Turner, now 35, remains one of the club’s best offensive forces. A career trajectory not all that dissimilar from the underdog stories of Rich Hill, Max Muncy, and Chris Taylor, JT is loved by his teammates and fans alike. The Red Dream has taken somewhat of a step back this season, but is still holding a solid .285/.368/.474 slash line in 2019.
His presence in the middle of the lineup is invaluable to the Dodgers. He walks so younger stars like Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Alex Verdugo can run.
Hill, 39, has been hurt for a majority of the season. He is in the final year of a three-year contract he signed after the 2016 season and has been fantastic since then. The Dodgers knew he would be oft-injured when they signed him, but they also knew they were getting a fantastic pitcher when healthy.
They also knew that they were signing someone who was quite possibly the headline of one of the best underdog stories around the MLB in recent memory. He continues to work hard with his late son Brooks as motivation to defy the odds. Those odds have never been in Rich Hill’s favor, but you wouldn’t know it from how much emotion he demonstrates on the mound and from his 3.19 ERA across four seasons with the Dodgers.
Your current front-runner for the 2019 NL Cy Young is 32-year-old Hyun-Jin Ryu. Signed to a qualifying offer this past off-season, Ryu looks like a steal at $17.9 million. His 1.53 ERA would be the best single-season ERA for a qualified pitcher since Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA in 1968.
Hyun-Jin Ryu holds a 1.53 ERA, the best single-season ERA since Bob Gibson posted an absurd 1.12 ERA in 1968.
Gibson was 32 years old and Hyun-Jin Ryu is 32 years old.
'Wrong side of 30'?
— Daniel Preciado (@DanJPreciado) August 8, 2019
Coming into the season, the narrative surrounding Kershaw was that with his fading velocity, he would fade too. This is not nearly the case. We are starting to get to the point where Kershaw is one of the most underrated players in the league, just two years removed from a 2.31 ERA. Why any would bet against the best pitcher of this generation and quite possibly the best pitcher of all-time is beyond me. Once thought to be aging poorly, Kershaw may be aging like fine wine.
On the season, Kershaw holds a 2.77 ERA, tied for sixth in MLB. His Statcast numbers all support what he has done with a 78th-percentile hard hit rate and 76th-percentile xwOBA. He is still an ace, folks. His 3.04 DRA and 62.4 DRA- are indicative of that.
Love him or hate him, Jansen is not as bad as you may think he is.
‘Washed Kenley Jansen’ has allowed multiple runs in just 3 of 42 appearances (7.1%) and runs in 11 of 42 (26.2%).
‘Elite’ Josh Hader, for example, has allowed multiple runs in just 4 of 41 appearances (9.8%) and runs in 10 of 41 (24.4%).
I’m not ready to label him ‘washed’.
— Daniel Preciado (@DanJPreciado) August 5, 2019
Friday night’s blown save notwithstanding, Kenley anchors the bullpen and while he has his faults, he is far from washed. At 31 years old, a 3.32 DRA is not bad whatsoever. While his closing days may be over fairly soon, he remains solid. This is the first time in Jansen’s career that has seen him post a DRA above 3.00. His highest prior to this season was a 2.56 DRA in 2018. Give him time.
The Boys in Blue remain poised to make it to the World Series this season and while the young guys may have a significant impact on that, let’s not forget about the ‘old’ guys, too.