Since Major League Baseball’s expansion era began in 1961, 13 rookies age 29 or older have had Fangraphs wins greater than replacement by 2 or more.
Of these, only Casey Blake improved his rookie fWAR and only Blake and Ed Charles finished with career fWARs of 10 or better.
Older recruits are at their peak when they arrive, with little time to progress in their games.
Whether Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel can join the exceptions after breakthroughs at 29 is a big question for the Cubs in 2022. They are the only active players on the roster of 13.
Wisdom built his 2.3 fWAR on 28 home runs and an .823 OPS in 375 plate appearances. Schwindel made the most of 239 plate appearances with 13 homers, a 1.002 OPS and a 2.1 fWAR.
Over a full season of 600 board appearances, Wisdom’s fWAR would project at 3.7 and Schwindel’s at 5.3. A Fangraphs chart explaining WAR lists 3–4 as “good player” and 4–5 as “all-star”, with 5.3 just above the line in “superstar”.
The highest fWAR among older recruits since 1961 was Charles’ 4.1 for athletics in 1962. Stuck in the minors behind Braves Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, Charles flourished after a trade with the A’s. He hit .288/.356/.454 with 17 home runs.
Charles added fWARs of 3.7, 3.0 and 2.9 during an eight-year career with the A’s and Mets. A career fWAR of 19.0 and 86 home runs suggest a star-level career had he found a big-league home at around 24.
In MLB coffee cups with the Blue Jays, Twins and Orioles from 1999 to 2002, Blake had just .643 OPS in 125 board appearances. He retained rookie status when he broke through with the Indians in 2003.
He responded with 17 homers, a .723 OPS and a 2.0 fWAR. Blake improved that with a 3.4 fWAR the following season and a 4.5 with the Dodgers in 2009. Playing through 2011, Blake finished with a 22.2 fWAR, 167 homers and .778 OPS
In terms of enduring success, Charles and Blake are exceptions. Coco Laboy, Wayne Kirby, Hal Breeden, and David Newhan had lower career fWARs in their rookie seasons, meaning their WARs were negative for the rest of their careers. Former White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi posted a 3.3 fWAR as a rookie in 2005 and added just 3.3 more in three more seasons. Rich Amaral started at 2.5 but only added 1.6 more. Kenji Jojima added 0.8 to his rookie 2.8.
Chris Stewart (2.8 as a rookie in 2011, 9.1 overall) built a 12-year career as a backup receiver. Nori Aoki (2.4 in 2012, 9.6 overall) hovered near the line between role player and solid regular with fWARs of 2.2 and 1.9 in the second and third seasons of a six-year career.
But the only two who came close to star level were Blake and Charles. They show that it is not impossible for Schwindel and/or Wisdom to have lasting success. But for late-starting careers, Blake-Charles’ level of achievement is a treat to savor while you can.