Best Shape Of My Life, A Retrospective

In about eight months we should find out how this year’s crop of good shapers fared. Dave listed 28 players who have claimed to be in the best shape of their lives, and a few commenters added to the list. While they’re busy being all shapely, I’m sitting at my work desk pining for baseball. This leads to odd ideas, like the one I had after reading Dave’s bit. What happened to players who last year who made the cliched proclamation?

Using a Google News search ranging from February through April, 2009, I was able to find only five players who declared their shapeliness during spring training. I’m sure plenty more said it, and I’m sure a more intense search would yield plenty of additional results. But for right now five sounds just about fine.

Julio Lugo

In the early days of last year’s camp, Julio Lugo not only said that he fully recovered from his quadriceps injury from the previous season, but also that he was in the best shape of his life. The first two years of his four-year, $36 million deal were his worst since 2002, and 2009 figured to be a big year for him. It didn’t help, then, that about a month after Lugo made his claim he hurt his knee and required surgery that would keep him out for the season’s first month.

Upon his return he did hit better, posting a .329 wOBA over 123 plate appearances. The Red Sox, however, had seen enough. On July 22 they traded him to the Cardinals for Chris Duncan, eating the remainder of Lugo’s contract. To rub it in, Lugo hit .277/.351/.432 over 170 PA in St. Louis. It added up to a 109 wRC+, his best mark since 2006.

Mike Gonzalez

The Braves acquired Mike Gonzalez from the Pirates in the winter before the 2007 season, but got only 17 innings out of him before he required Tommy John surgery. That kept him out from mid-May 2007 until June 2008. Heading into the 2009 season he’d pitched just 50.2 innings for the Braves. Wanting not only to impress the Braves, but to impress the league heading into his walk year, Gonzalez showed up to camp in the best shape of his life.

Used as both a setup man and a closer, Gonzalez got into 80 games and pitched a career-high 74.1 innings — over 20 innings more than his previous mark. His walk rate, while still high at 4 per nine, was still lower than his 2005 and 2006 seasons with Pittsburgh, and his strikeout rate, 10.90, was higher. It was clearly his best season since 2004, and it earned him a two-year, $12 million deal with the Orioles.

Howie Kendrick

Heading into 2009, Howie Kendrick knew something had to change. Over the previous two seasons he had hit well enough, but couldn’t stay on the field long enough to provide his full value. In total he missed 150 days, or about 30 days short of a full season. How can a ballplayer keep himself on the field? By getting into the best shape of his life over the off-season.

At the start it didn’t seem like the off-season workouts helped much. In April and May Kendrick hit .225/.263/.350 over 171 PA. While still healthy, he lost playing time to Maicer Izturis in June. In the second half of the season Kendrick hit much better, though, compiling a .351/.387/.532 line over his final 199 PA. That brought his season wOBA up to .341 which, combined with a slightly better than average defensive season, added up to a 2.0 WAR. Not terrible for a guy with just 400 PA.

Scott Proctor

Being in great shape can help a player in many ways, but it cannot heal an elbow ligament. Scott Proctor found that out last season. He showed up for camp in the best shape of his life, but got into only one spring training game, on Feb. 27. After spraining an elbow ligament he sat out all of March, but on April 1 said he felt no pain in his elbow. Like his proclamation of shapeliness, this meant nothing. Proctor underwent Tommy John surgery, though there are now reports that he’s ahead of schedule. I wonder if he’ll make the same claim again this year.

Chris Lubanski

I had no idea who Chris Lubanski was before researching this post, and I’m kind of surprised. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, and fared pretty well early in his minor league career. He struggled once reaching AAA, though, and the Royals never added him to the 40-man roster, even when teams could have picked him in the Rule 5 draft. In 2009 he knew he had something to prove, and showed up for camp in the best shape of his life.

At first, it looked like Lubanski’s off-season workouts paid off. Royals manager Trey Hillman called him the MVP of camp, though that didn’t earn him a spot on the big league roster, or even the 40-man. Then, a month into the season he tore his left hamstring, which kept him out until August. He hit poorly upon his return, getting into 12 games and getting just two hits. The Royals shut him down, ending his season. He caught on with the Blue Jays this off-season.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

21 Responses to “Best Shape Of My Life, A Retrospective”

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  1. Disco says:

    Dice-BB is in the best shape of his life according to Timmy K of ESPN.

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  2. TsB says:

    I never knew how funny the words “the best shape of his life” could sound.

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  3. JoeIQ says:

    Barry Zito was the poster child for best shape of my life last year. He increased the pullups he could do from 2 to somewhere in the teens. He played catch across the grand canyon.

    He ended up having a vastly superier year to 08.

    I’m not going to bother looking for the article, but he should have been #1 on the proclaimers of “best shape of their life” list.

    All in all, it looks like most of these people did better. Excellent article btw.

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  4. JoelQ says:

    I forgot to mention his pilates. Overall, he did 2 workouts a day all winter.

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  5. Millsy says:

    If you’re interested in this, I got my data from Roto Authority at the links below for my crude study at FBJ. Here are the links to the lists for 2008 and 2009:

    It’s a real pain to retroactively googling things, so it’s nice they have the list there.

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  6. paris7 says:

    Nice job on this post! I love reading things like this.

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  7. Richie Abernathy says:

    You had never heard of Chris Lubanski?

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    • Joe Pawlikowski says:

      Nope. Probably saw the name a few times, but I didn’t follow the minors in 2003 so wasn’t aware of the draft until after the fact. I guess Lubanski just didn’t catch my attention.

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  8. gandriole says:

    Ryan Ludwick showed up to the Cardinals’ camp last year in the best shape of his life after a winter of weight lifting. He struggled and got hurt pretty early in the season (May?) and has since said that he did not have the same flexibility.

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  9. Steve S. says:

    I remember Larry Holmes proclaiming he was in “the best shape of his life” in 1988 before he stepped into the ring against Mike Tyson. Which was true, he lost about 15 pounds and really looked great laying unconscious on the canvas.

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  10. Alireza says:

    Russell Martin was “in the best shape of his life” last spring and had shed like 15 pounds. He got an incredibly hot French Canadian girlfriend, but ended up with a screwed up swing and a sudden inability to hit a good fastball. This spring, he put on like 25 pounds and we are expecting much more from him (and Marikym gets more to love).

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  11. dave crowell says:

    Scott Kazmir definitely belongs on the 2009 “best shape of my life” candidates. I drafted him relatively high based on the spring training article I read — and of course he was flat-out atrocious.

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  12. Bronnt says:

    Chipper Jones comes to Braves camp every year in the “best shape of his life.” Of course, considering his career progression from 2004-2008, you can almost believe it.

    Tim Hudson, this season, says “It’s like I have a new arm.”

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  13. Tobias F. says:

    I don’t know if he qualifies for this since he really didn’t lose any weight but Joel Zumaya is a guy I’d like to throw out there. He’s returning from injury and according to him this is “the best he has felt since 2006.” Of course he says this every year and every year he implodes and get injures. Here’s one of the articles about it.

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  14. exxrox says:

    Adam Lind showed up last year with “20 pounds” of added muscle.

    He hit 35 home runs.

    Whether that was due to the added muscle, the extra confidence BECAUSE of the muscle, or because of his more regular playing time, or because he made the league adjustment is up for debate because of his extremely good minor league numbers.

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  15. PhilT says:

    Can’t forget Kevin Millwood.

    Rangers fans were inundated with stories the last two years about how he’d revamped his offseason workout routine and came to camp in better shape than ever.

    Didn’t show up much in his FIP, but this last year he clearly improved his luckiness and managed to pitch enough innings to vest..

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