2009 Was a Million Years Ago

[With apologies to Mike Keneally]

[Author’s note added later for anyone who cares: the mentions of the differences between subjective and objective senses of time should not be taken as technical or precise in the way one would expect when reading, say, a historical explication of classic philosophies of time. This is just supposed to be an entertaining way of launching a discussion of how a few years can seem so distant with respect to certain things in baseball. For a technical and precise account of the different senses of time in Augustine, Husserl, or whomever, you should look elsewhere. Sorry.]

The existential experience of time passing is different than the intellectual acknowledgement of “how much time has passed.” I do not mean anything “deep” by that — I’m generally opposed to depth, or at least the appearance of depth. What I mean is simply that while, for example, every year is about 365.242199 days, on a subjective, personal level, it feels as if some slices of time go by faster than others. An hour spent staring at a clock feels longer than an hour playing video games. An hour watching Stephen Strasburg pitch flies by faster than an hour watching Jonathan Sanchez pitch. You get the idea.

That is all a prelude to saying that 2009 “feels” pretty recent to me. I am not sure why. Maybe because when I first started blogging (for the dearly-departed SB Nation site Driveline Mechanics) around that time. “Pretty recent” is itself a vague description — it is not “objectively” a correct or incorrect description. But it really has been a while since 2009. It was three birthdays ago. Looking at the changing perceptions of particualr baseball players is one way of measuring how much time has passed. Without giving a full recap of the year, here are a few things from 2009 that drove home the reality that, in fact, 2009 was a “million” years ago.

* Back in 2009, Grady Sizemore played only 106 games, and hit for a disappointing .343 wOBA. It seemed like simply a down year for a young player (who was only 26 at the start of the 2009 season) who had been one of the most valuable players in baseball the previous four seasons. Three years and numerous DL stints later, Cleveland would be thrilled to get a .343 wOBA and 106 games from Sizemore, or that sort of offense from any other outfielder not named Shin-Soo Choo, for that matter.

* Back in 2009, Jason Bay had his first full season with the Red Sox and was one of their better hitters on the way to the playoffs. Matt Holliday had his first major-league season in which Coors was not his home field, and while he “struggled” (relative to his past performances, and in a small sample) a bit in Oakland, he hit well after a trade to St. Louis, with whom he had a memorable playoff gaffe in the field. Both left fielders were free agents after the season, and back in 2009, there was actually a fair bit of discussion about who was better. In 2012, the debate has, shall we say, died down a bit.

* Back in 2009, Joe Mauer did his usual thing — walked more than he struck out, hit for a good average, and was a solid defensive catcher. Oh, his ISO also rose from .123 the previous season to .222 as he hit 28 home runs (his previous single-season high had been 13), he hit 43 doubles, and by “good average” I mean “he hit .365.” Yeah, it’s just batting average, but .365 is insane, especially given how non-empty it was. Mauer had been a tremendous player before that, but the added power and his age (26) made it seem like he really had reached a new level. A catcher who his for average, walked, and had very good power? It really didn’t bother people (other than maybe me) that Mauer got the MVP award that should have gone to Zack Greinke.

In 2012, Mauer is still an excellent hitter. However, after 2009, not only did his batting average regress to previous levels (which most expected), but the power did, too. Moreover, injury problems have pushed Mauer to pretty much being a half-time catcher. You may also have noticed fewer “boy, Mauer staying in Minnesota sure is great for baseball” columns recently. This is not to deny that Mauer is very valuable. But we have come a great distance in our perception of Mauer since 2009.

* Back in 2009, Tim Lincecum completed his second straight National League Cy Young campaign, and looked poised to dominate for years to come. His 2012 season obviously is much worse than his 2010 or 2011 seasons, and it is far to soon to say “Lincecum was great, not he is terrible,” the 2009 Lincecum seem eons ago, doesn’t it? Whatever we expect from his going forward, I doubt many see him as ever being the same pitcher he was only (or is it “only?”) three seasons ago.

* Back in 2009, Paul Konerko looked like he was nearing the end of a nice career — there just isn’t much of a place for an incredibly slow and unathletic first baseman who hits .240/.344/.438. In 2012, Konerko is working on his third straight year of awesome hitting, easily the three best offensive seasons of his career. The three-year contract he signed after 2010 now seems like a bargain.

* Back in 2009, A.J. Burnett was a key part of a playoff team, and while he was not dominating, he was very good. In 2012, A.J. Burnett is… uh…

Well, maybe the real lesson here is “the more things change…”

That is just a small sample (sorry), I’m sure others have their own signposts for measuring the existenial passage of time in baseball fandom. Maybe this was boring for everyone else, but it was something of a cathartic exercise for me. Hey, I didn’t even mention the greatest off-season in the history of whatever. I must be growing.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


65 Responses to “2009 Was a Million Years Ago”

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  1. Derek says:

    Greinke should not have been the AL MVP in 2009. Stop it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian S. says:

      He was better than Verlander last year.

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        verland last year is irrelevant to the 2009 award. im not taking a stance on greinke/mauer one way or the other, but 2011 verlander has no place in the argument.

        +27 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Swamp Ass Jones says:

        He wasn’t just better than Verlander last year, though. He was better than Mauer in 2009. Yes, a wRC+ of 170 from a catcher is very, very impressive. Its not as impressive as a 2.16/2.33/3.06 line from a guy that started 33 games. His ERA- was 48 and his FIP- was 53. Lets be real, the only difference to the BBWAA betwen Verlander in 2012 and Grienke in 2009 was W/L record, or just the fact that the 2012 Tigers won more games than the 2009 Royals.

        +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JimNYC says:

        Being better than Verlander has nothing to do with anything. Pedro Martinez in 1999 was better than Justin Morneau in 2006. So?

        With Grienke, the Royals tied for last. Without him, they would have taken sole possession of last. If you have an argument why “helping your team tie for last” makes you the most valuable player in the league, I’m all ears. The marginal value of wins for a 95 loss team is negligable.

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    • ThirteenOfTwo says:

      10 WAR!

      He had 10 WAR!

      That’s absurd.

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • KCDaveInLA says:

      They have an award for the most outstanding pitcher, it’s called the Cy Young Award, and get off my lawn you darn kids.

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JimNYC says:

        I agree that Grienke didn’t deserve the MVP, but going back just a brief time in history to when the Cy Young award was first invented, Don Newcombe won both the very first Cy Young Award ever, and the NL MVP. Going back to the real “get off my lawn” old guy past, the modern MVP award as we know it is a relatively recent invention — only goes back to 1931.

        I really would have loved to have seen the 1908 MVP race between “I led the league in everything” Wagner and “so did I” Mathewson.

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      • B N says:

        In the case where a batter and a pitcher are too close to call for the MVP, they should be forced to base it all on a series of 6 plate appearances between the two players. If the batter gets on base twice or hits one home run, he gets the award. Otherwise, it goes to the pitcher. Pitcher has to use his own team’s defense, only using players with at least 100 plate appearances.

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  2. Person says:

    In 2009, Mike Trout was less of a prospect than Donavan Tate.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Atari says:

      In 2009 Mike Trout was not only just the 25th selection of the first round in the MLB draft, he was the second HS OF chosen by the Angels in the first round after Randal Grichuk.

      +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Choo says:

        On the morning of August 7, 1991, Chuck Norris climbed Mount Everest in the nude, sneezed, and gave birth to Mike Trout.

        -31 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Rich says:

    Nationals 2009 Opening Day rotation:

    John Lannan
    Scott Olsen
    Daniel Cabrera
    Shairon Martis
    Jordan Zimmerman

    Nationals 2012 Opening Day Rotation:

    Stephen Strasburg
    Gio Gonzalez
    Jordan Zimmerman
    Edwin Jackson
    Ross Detwiler

    Yeah, I’d say a lot can change in three years.

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Derek says:

      Zimmermann wasn’t on the Nats’ opening day rotation in 2009. He was called up toward the end of April (not sure who he replaced…maybe the esteemed Garrett Mock?). This only helps your point though.

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      • Jones says:

        JZ was the #5 starter on Opening day. He didn’t replace any starter. He only started later in the season because the Nats didn’t need a 5th starter until mid april. Before that they were on the 4 man rotation.

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      • Derek says:

        No he wasn’t. He made 2 starts in the minors before his first start in late April.

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  4. don't hate on Burnett says:

    Burnett isn’t bad this year…he’s not great but about above average.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      not really. dominating in his home park against weak competition with no DH. borderline startable on the road as hes always been. he still sucks.

      -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BobbyC says:

      That’s the joke- Burnett is pitching well on a team in the playoff hunt in 2012, just like in 2009, and despite what happened in the intervening years.

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • PiratesHurdles says:

      He’s also a one bad start victim 12 ER in 2.2 IP on 5/3 vs St.Louis. Sans that his era is 2.64, better than just good (13 starts of 2 runs or less).

      Lesser competition, wouldn’t that apply to every NL pitcher?

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      • TheUncool says:

        Unfortunately for me, that one horrific start compelled me to drop him in the one league where I had him (and could really use him since then)… :-p

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  5. Jordan says:

    The 2012 Nationals last night earned their 59th win. The 2009 Nationals managed to scrap together 59 wins over the course of the entire season.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    In 2009, the Nationals won 59 games.
    In 2012, the Nationals have won 59 games.

    +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Scott Clarkson says:

    In 2009 Carlos Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz were quad-A players sitting on the FA wire to begin the season in most fantasy leagues.

    In 2009 Brandon Webb was coming off 3 straight 6+ WAR seasons and was in the conversation for best MLB SP going into the season….

    In 2009 Randy Johnson threw 96 innings for the….Giants???

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Scott Clarkson says:

    in 2009 Chone Figgins was the 9th best Position Player by WAR ( 6.9)

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Michael Scarn says:

    I would like to broadly state that I think that articles like this are incredibly fascinating and interesting, and I would love to see more similar articles in the future.

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Swamp Ass Jones says:

    In the offseason between 2009 and 2010, Dallas Morning News beat writer Evan Grant wrote of the Rangers in THIS ARTICLE

    All that said, there are few scenarios I can imagine in which the Rangers would realistically compete for a playoff spot in 2010 with a limited payroll and without Millwood. Perhaps they could still sign Ben Sheets with the money saved by moving Millwood. And perhaps Sheets would be 1) healthy and 2) effective. But those are big ifs. if the Rangers go without experience at the top of the rotation, they are begging for trouble.

    and…

    If the Rangers deal Millwood and fail to sign Marlon Byrd along with letting Eddie Guardado and Omar Vizquel walk, there is going to be virtually no veteran leadership in the clubhouse. It would all fall on the shoulders of Michael Young and one man can’t lead an entire team by himself. Don’t think a team lacking in clubhouse policing would be an issue? OK, just wait.

    There are a lot of reasons why dealing Millwood would make sense now, namely that the Rangers would be trading him at higher value than he’s probably worth. And I’m not advocating that the Rangers shouldn’t deal him. But any suggestion that the Rangers can take the one veteran presence in their rotation out of the mix and still contend in 2010 is simply incongruous.

    “Ok, just wait.” The Rangers lost veteran leaders such as Omar Vizquel, Andrew Jones, Kevin Millwood, Marlon Byrd, Pudge Rodriguez (again), and Eddie Guardado. The Rangers made the world series in 2010.

    Today, Evan Grant is making this same arguement in favor of keeping a -1.4 WAR Michael Young in the lineup.

    +46 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    Other players whose 2009 seems like yesterday:

    Hanley

    Aaron Hill

    Zobrist

    David Wright (Citi Field attack! It still feels like he hits 10 HR a year even though is ISO is back.)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. DD says:

    Matt, you forgot Hanley Ramirez. And maybe even Cole Hamels, as there were maturity and work ethic questions surrounding him after that season.

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    • Brian says:

      Most of Hamels’ “issues” were just BS narratives created by talk radio to explain a simple spike in BABIP.

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  13. DavidJ says:

    If you think 2009 was a long time ago, go check out who led the AL in wRC+ in 2008.

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  14. Jonathan says:

    In 2009, Bud Selig wondered why umpiring was so bad but said that there wasn’t any support for expanded replay. http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2009/news/story?id=4606976

    In 2012…

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  15. Phantom Stranger says:

    Most of the points really indicate the razor-thin margins that exist between being the best in the sport and just another mediocre player at the professional level. It can change on a dime if even a little slippage in talent level occurs.

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    • Ian R. says:

      This. The difference between good and great is a whisper. It’s amazing how a look just a few seasons back (heck, just one season back) can illustrate that point.

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  16. Pat says:

    So many things change year to year in baseball, players just randomly fall off cliffs, pitchers turn from aces to scrubs overnight, and prospects come out of nowhere, that’s why I love it. You can’t simply look at last season’s numbers and project how a player/team will do, it honestly seems like anything happens sometimes.

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  17. Dave in GB says:

    In 2009, Matt Weiters was enshrined in the HOF before his ML debut. In 2011, he went from bust to All Star…

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  18. LTG says:

    You will, perhaps, be interested to know that at least one philosopher has proposed that the “subjective” experience of time is prior to (i.e., more “real” than) the physical measurement of time.

    You will, perhaps, also be interested to know that your implicit equation of ‘existential’ with ‘subjective’ would be denied by anyone calling herself an existentialist.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. kevin says:

    Randomly stumbled across this article which made it seem more like a billion years ago…http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/share-the-wealth-bostons-pitching-depth/

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  20. jpg says:

    In 2009, Albert Pujols was universally recognized as the best baseball player on the planet. In 2012, he might not even be the best player…. on his own team.

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  21. DT says:

    In 2009 Jeter finally found some range.

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  22. Ivdown says:

    Being a little nitpicky (aside from your actual point), Burnett is 12-3 with a 3.52/3.64/3.49 line this year. Not great but damn the Pirates are happy to have him.

    Also, the 2008 season for Konerko is the one you mentioned, but damn he has had a career resurgence. Awesome to see.

    Hard to believe that the 2009 season was 4 seasons ago.

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  23. sox2727 says:

    Paulie! Paulie! Paulie!

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  24. Sean says:

    Saw Keneally in concert last month.

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  25. BoSoxFan says:

    In 2009 R.A. Dickey pitched in 35 games, starting only one with a 4.62/4.99/4.91 line.

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  26. Eugene says:

    And still no ones mentioned Jose Bautista?

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. Jorgath says:

    In 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies lost their 57th game on September 6. The score was 4-3, Astros. They won the division that year and lost in the World Series to the Yankees.

    In 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies lost thier 57th game on July 29. The score was 6-2, Braves. They are in last place in the NL East and are 12 games under .500.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. CDI says:

    Usually I’ll just lurk, but not sure if you noticed, Konerko hasn’t done *crap* since the end of May. He basically raped April/May for .381 with 11 homers and 33 RBI (2 months), and since then has just been absolutely useless at 1B, .264 with 10 homers and 27 RBI (!) over 3 months. Yes, 3 Hr/9 RBI a month, or a pace of 18 hr/54 rbi.

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  29. WY says:

    I remember a lot of people criticizing the Holliday signing during that offseason. Looking at the other long-term contracts for corner outfielders in recent years — Bay, Crawford, Werth — I’d say it has worked out pretty darn well for the Cardinals. Holliday is a streaky hitter within the course of a season, but his season-by-season numbers have been ruthlessly consistent.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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