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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.