The Red Sox have made news, signing Grady Sizemore to a Major League contract worth $750k ($6 million if all incentives are factored in). This got me thinking about what happened to Sizemore. He made the game of baseball seem simple with his defensive prowess, his above average power, and his lightning speed. Then one day, his aging body realized that the kind of aggressive player that he had been would no longer work and it started giving in to the high strain that he put it under. He had a hernia surgery as well as several knee and back surgeries between 2010 and 2013 which seemed to end his baseball career. Then out of the blue he was picked up by the Red Sox in a deal that has high potential for both sides; the Red Sox could get a great player for cheap and Sizemore could resurrect his career. This deal could end poorly for Sizemore, who could finally realize that his career is over either from injury or performance reasons while the Red Sox will view it as a failed experiment that doesn’t hurt them financially now or in the long term.
The signing of Grady Sizemore is an indication that they are ready to give Jacoby Ellsbury’s former job over to Jackie Bradley Jr., but it also shows that they are prepared with a backup plan in case that doesn’t pan out. Some would say that Sizemore is hardly a backup plan as he could very well end up injured, which is absolutely true, and that an outfield of Gomes LF, Victorino CF, and Nava RF would happen in the event of Bradley turning out to be a dud. But with Sizemore comes a tremendous amount of upside. Five years ago he was a 30-30 player and a gold glover in the outfield. He was healthy, he was starting to walk more and strike out less, and then everything stopped for him. He was forced to undergo elbow surgery in 2009, an injury that had plagued him all season long, and from that point on if it wasn’t one problem then it was another. Left knee surgery, right knee contusion, hernia surgery, back surgery, and then a right knee surgery came all in a span of three years which can leave a player asking whether or not their career is over.
The question that should also be brought to the attention about Sizemore is what his plate discipline will be like. Sizemore’s BB/K reached its peak in 2008 with a .75 BB/K, dropped to .65 in 2009, and then plummeted to .245 in the combined 104 games in 2010 and 2011. For most of his career, it seemed that Sizemore was above average at walking and avoiding strikeouts as his career BB/K was .53, .05 above the Major League average during that time period of .48. Now did the drop come about as a result of the injuries that he suffered from 2009 to 2011 or did they just come as a result of him losing his ability? The interesting thing about his BB/K having such a drastic change is that his swing percent rarely changed. His career Swing% is 43.4% which is fairly decent considering that between 2004 and 2011, the average swing rate among players was 47.6%. Sizemore also made contact with the baseball at an 81.1% rate over the course of his career with the contact rate dropping barely below that number in the three shortest years of his career (2004, 2010-2011). Those were also the only years that his swinging strike percent exceeded 10%. Perhaps what this shows is that pitchers weren’t afraid to attack him and he wound up taking a lot of called strikes.
The other facets of his game that must be viewed at with a lot of importance are his power and speed. I truly believe that if Sizemore can stay healthy, then we will see a resurgence of his power. His power numbers have always been impressive, with a career ISO of .204 and career SLG of .473. Even in 2011 when he was limited to 71 games and was coming off of microfracture surgery in his left knee, he produced an ISO of .198. I don’t think power will be an issue for him. The other major part of his game that will likely never return is the speed. In those 71 games of 2011, he stole 0 bases after averaging 19 swiped bases per season and stealing at least 22 bases in 4 of his 7 seasons prior to 2011. With the second knee surgery having occurred in 2012, my guess is that little to no speed will be found from him in 2014.
As with everything in baseball, there are the intangibles that must come into consideration when discussing the future of Grady Sizemore. For starters, he has not set foot onto a baseball field in 2 years. It is a possibility that he will be incredibly rusty and might struggle to perform again at the big league level. For some players, that would be less of a concern but for a player who last played baseball in his twenties and who is now playing in his thirties (granted, it was his late twenties and it will be his early thirties), it could pose a greater challenge. It’s possible that he could shake all rust in Spring Training and come out in April and prove all the doubters wrong although it is impossible to know for sure.
The most optimistic yet realistic scenario for Sizemore is that he comes back to the majors, is solid defensively, and puts up great power numbers for the Red Sox. My guess is that from the knee and back surgeries, his base stealing days are over and he will not be able to cover as much ground in the outfield that someone else might. If I was Red Sox management, I would not give him the role of backup center fielder until I knew for sure the kind of speed that he has left. I would task Shane Victorino with that as he has remained healthy and still has the speed to cover that ground. Victorino would play center and when he does then Sizemore would be in left field and Gomes/Nava would be in right field. If Bradley fits in with the Red Sox plan, then Sizemore just becomes a spot starter/platoon player in left, center, and right field only to give people a break when they need it. So to answer the question that the title of this article poses: the Red Sox are getting a wild card, a player with the potential to be a power bat off the bench or even in the everyday lineup or a player that has played his last days in the bigs.
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