First order of business: this is going to be the last post you see from me for a few days, because tomorrow morning Matthew and I are disappearing into the potentially snowy wilderness for a little while to officially celebrate the passing of another baseball season. We do have an emergency backup in place in the event that there's actual Mariners news while we're gone, but don't expect much in the way of fresh content until Monday.
Second order of business: Grady Sizemore. Available free agent Grady Sizemore. Like a lot of people, I'm intrigued by Grady Sizemore as a free agent. I think there's something wrong with anyone who isn't intrigued by Grady Sizemore as a free agent. The man's only 29 years old, and over the four-year period between 2005-2008, he was one of the most valuable players in baseball, right up there with David Wright, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. Sure, he's been hampered by injuries ever since, but think of the upside. Think of the upside!
And indeed, so much of the talk is about how much Sizemore could provide given a healthy 2012. Who's to say he couldn't get back to what he was, or at least back to something close to what he was? He's coming off some scary knee surgeries, but what if he moves past those? Lots of athletes move past those.
This post isn't about Sizemore's knee situation. Rather, this post is about...well why don't I just show you? What you see below are Sizemore's year-to-year contact rates as a hitter.
Something stand out? Yeah. Sizemore's contact rates were impossibly stable for years and years, and then something happened, and then his contact rate dropped rather significantly, without a rebound last season.
What happened? Well obviously I can't answer that for absolute certain, but I do know there's a pretty simple potential explanation. In 2009, Sizemore went on the DL with elbow inflammation, and then later had surgery on the same joint. There was talk that Sizemore was putting a strain on his elbow with the way that he swung, and so it makes sense to believe that he developed a new swing. Or at least adjusted his old one, which is the same thing. Anthony Castrovince suggests this is exactly what was going on back in May 2010:
Sizemore used to generate a lot of topspin when he made contact, but he was strong enough and his hands were fast enough that he could get away with it and still drive the ball. Trouble is, such a swing can put a great deal of stress on the elbow upon contact, and all that stress caught up to Sizemore last year, prompting arthroscopic surgery.
What you're seeing this year could be a byproduct of Sizemore attempting to shorten his swing and get more backspin on the ball.
Is it that simple? Probably not. It never is. But I think it's very likely that Sizemore's elbow problems caused him to make an adjustment, and that that adjustment has had an effect. Sizemore has come to the plate 435 times over the past two years. In those plate appearances, he's hit .220/.280/.379 with 26 unintentional walks and 120 strikeouts.
At his peak, Sizemore wasn't exactly a guy who walked as often as he struck out, but the ratios then were a lot more reasonable than they've been lately. Sizemore's walks have been down, and his strikeouts have been way up, because he's struggled to make contact as often as he did.
Chalk this up as just another red flag when it comes to Grady Sizemore. It isn't as simple as, if he's healthy, he's awesome. There's no guarantee he stays healthy, there's no guarantee he will have recovered well from his assortment of maladies, and there's no guarantee that even a healthy Sizemore would hit all that well, because there are indications that he's changed his swing and approach. Those things can be difficult to undo, especially if they were done for a reason.
I'm not saying this is a deal-breaker. I'm still intrigued by what Sizemore could do. He's local, he's familiar with Eric Wedge, he could fill a need and provide some big upside...I'm open to the idea. But the more I look into Grady Sizemore, the less optimistic I am about his chances of being a true impact player in 2012 and down the road. The old Grady Sizemore might be dead. He probably is.