Teams willing to pay for known commodities

Originally Published: June 29, 2006
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

It's been some time since baseball has seen as impressive a group of young pitchers as it has in the last year or two.

Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Dennis Reyes are just a few of the new names that figure to be at the beginning of brilliant careers.

But at the other end of the age spectrum sit pitchers, nearly 40 and older, who continue to shine, seemingly impervious to the advancing years. They began pitching in the 1980s and now, two decades later, remain big winners.

Tom Glavine
Tom Glavine is 9-0 with a 3.58 ERA in his last 11 starts.
Take a look at baseball's victory leaderboard and you might think it was 1990 all over again. Tom Glavine, 40, leads all of baseball with 11 wins. Kenny Rogers, 41, is one of two 10-game winners in the American League. Curt Schilling, 39, sits just behind Rogers, tied for second in the AL with nine wins.

Seems like old times. Especially on the mound.

"I think, bottom line, they throw strikes," one general manager said in trying to explain the veterans' success. "They command the strike zone. They're always 0-and-1, and when they're not, they get out of hitter's counts quickly. They trust their stuff and pitch to contact -- all the things that you want young pitchers to do, but they don't."

Indeed, Rogers, Glavine and Schilling remain masters of their domain -- the strike zone. Glavine has walked just 30 in 102 2/3 innings, Rogers has 25 walks in 104 2/3 innings, and Schilling (with the best command of the bunch) has issued a stunning 13 walks in 107 1/3 seasons. In one stretch last month, Schilling went five starts without allowing a single walk.

Clearly, these aren't back-end-of-the-rotation arms, filling out staffs and winding down careers. Deep into their careers, they remain winners and leaders, outclassing teammates barely more than half their age.

Thursday night in Boston, Glavine and Schilling will face one another in a duel for the, ahem, ages in the finale of the Boston Red Sox-New York Mets interleague series at Fenway Park. Together, they're almost 80 years old and have nearly 500 career victories.

"What it shows," ventured another GM, "is how little pitching there is in the game. We're all rushing kids to the big leagues quicker than ever, because they're inexpensive and talented, hoping they can throw like these older guys."

Of course, quality pitching, even with some gray involved, doesn't come cheap. Schilling is on the second-to-last year of a deal with the Red Sox that pays him $14 million this year. Glavine, in his fourth season with the Mets and 19th in the big leagues, stood to earn $10.5 million this year before reworking his deal to give the Mets some payroll flexibility. Rogers, meanwhile, signed with the Tigers for $8 million.

The money isn't irrelevant to the equation, either. Because pitching is in such short supply, teams are willing to pay for known commodities. With money to be made, there's extra incentive for pitchers to keep themselves in shape -- and in the money.

"We're talking about guys who take care of themselves," said another baseball executive. "Guys who are committed to their careers and guys who take care of their bodies -- there's a direct correlation between those two things. These guys are serious about what they do."

Glavine and Rogers are prototypical for older left-handers in that they win with finesse.

For years, Glavine pecked away at the outer limits of the plate, never needing to throw anything too hittable. But the introduction of QuesTec and a changing strike zone forced him to make some adjustments.

Now, Glavine is just as likely to come inside to a hitter. Since he can do so with his trademark precision, he's just as effective.

Rogers throws a four-seam fastball, but mixes it nicely with a slow curve and a changeup, and he is a master at changing speeds. His 90-91 mph four-seamer is made all the more effective by his assortment of off-speed pitches.

It's Schilling, however, who's the exception to this veteran rule. Though his velocity isn't what it was when he was registering 300-strikeout seasons in Philadelphia and Arizona, he still comfortably throws in the low 90s and is able to dial up his fastball when necessary.

"To still be a power pitcher at his age," said a GM, "makes him a a bit of a freak. He can still overpower you. But for the most part, the guys we're talking about are control-type guys. They've stayed within themselves and let hitters get themselves out. They keep you in games, keep their pitch count down and are smart. That's what you want all your pitchers, regardless of age, to do."

But some lessons take a while to learn.

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.