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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.