Paul Konerko has defied the odds. At an age where most players a clearly past their prime, Konerko is posting some of his best offensive seasons. Even with the late-career resurgence, Konerko continues to be a risk because of his age. That’s a fair criticism, as 37-year-olds are rarely still exhibiting numbers anywhere close to their prime. Given what he’s been able to do over the past couple of seasons, there’s reason to believe Konerko will be just fine this year.
Believe it or not, there actually was a time in his career where it looked like Konerko was susceptible to aging curves. While he was still pretty effective, Konerko delivered three of his worst worst offensive performances between 2007 and 2009. At the very least, it seemed like his prime had ended, and he was about to enter the twilight of his career. Not the case. Konerko exploded at age-34, posting a ridiculous .417 wOBA, easily the best rate of his career. He posted another vintage season in 2011, and was well on his way to doing to same last year, before a wrist injury limited his performance during the second half.
Very few players have seen that big of an improvement at such an advanced age. From 1969 to 2012, there were 72 hitters who posted a similar wOBA through age-33, and received at least 1,000 plate appearances over the next three years. Of those 72 players, 28 were able to improve their offensive performance from age-34 to age-36, just like Konerko. But Konerko’s gain over that period was particularly impressive. Konerko’s wOBA through age-33 sat at .361. During the last three years, his average wOBA has risen .030 points, to .391. That .030 improvement rates as the fifth best among that sampling of hitters. That’s impressive, but does it say anything about how Konerko will perform going forward?
Upon first glance, it doesn’t look too promising.
|Player||wOBA through 33||wOBA 34-36||wOBA 37||Initial improvement||At age-37|
Only six players above either saw their wOBA stay the same or improve. The rest declined, and 12 saw a major decline in their numbers. However, it’s important to note that four of those 12 players basically reverted back to their pre-surge numbers, meaning they were still useful players. So, just under half of the players above either improved, or declined, but still remained effective.
There’s another slight reason for optimism with Konerko. Of the seven players who saw at least a .020 gain in their wOBA from age-34 to age-36 seasons — Konerko was at .030 — five either improved or remained useful. Two of them, Ron Fairly and Eric Davis, completely dropped off. It’s a small sample, admittedly, but it shows that if Konerko does decline, he may still remain valuable for at least one more season.
Every player succumbs to Father Time, and Konerko remains a considerable risk at age-37. At the same time, his surge over the past three years has been impressive, and gives him a much better chance at remaining effective despite his age. Expecting another season with a .391 wOBA would be foolish, but Konerko might be able to put off a major decline for at least one more year.
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