April 20, 2014

Grady Sizemore’s Strikeouts: Options Ahead

On more than one occasion, I’ve gone out of my way to tell you that strikeouts—in the grand scheme of things—really aren’t that important to assessing a batter’s value.

There’s really two reasons for this.  First, if you’ve managed to hang around in the Majors for any length of time with terrifically high strikeout numbers, you’re probably pretty good at two other important skills: getting on base and hitting for power.  But second, strikeouts just aren’t that much worse than any other kind of out.  Sure, they’re less likely to move a runner over successfully, but they also don’t ever end in double-plays. 

It’s a tradeoff that basically makes them just another out.  Slightly more depressing, sure, but not really any worse.

Still don’t believe me?  Here are the top eight players in strikeouts since the beginning of 2006, along with their OPS numbers:

PLAYER

Ks

OPS

Ryan Howard

922

0.947

Adam Dunn

899

0.902

Mark Reynolds

767

0.817

Dan Uggla

760

0.837

Adam LaRoche

695

0.836

Jason Bay

687

0.857

Curtis Granderson

683

0.824

Nick Swisher

683

0.838

The worst player on that list is Mark Reynolds, who has an OPS of .817 over this five year span.  The Indians have exactly two players with an OPS higher than that right now: Travis Hafner (.979) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.841).

So, in general, striking out really isn’t all that big a deal to me.   Mostly because striking out doesn’t really mean all that much in and of itself.

Which makes for an odd introduction to a piece in which I’m going to lament Grady Sizemore’s strikeout numbers.  Well, sorta.  Bear with me here.

We’ll start by looking at the two versions of Grady.  Let’s ignore his partial rookie season, and say that Grady v1.0 played the four years from 2005-2008, and Grady v2.0 played from 2009 through 2011.  Here are the numbers:

 

OPS

K%

BB%

SLG

Gv1.0

0.868

19.3%

11.2%

0.496

Gv2.0

0.738

22.3%

9.6%

0.419

Obviously, Grady’s injury plays a role here, and might still be playing a role.  But still, look at the shift in those numbers.  Grady has struck out more often in his second incarnation and walked less AND hit for less power.

That’s not a good combination.  Usually, we’re willing to tolerate high strikeouts because we believe that there will be an OPS bump.  Sizemore, on the other hand, is striking out more than he used to (which was a lot) while doing worse in both of the skills that OPS measures.  Hmmm.

One more thing I like to look at—when I see trends like these taking shape—is a player’s plate-discipline stats.  Here are Grady’s for the last seven years.

Season

O-Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

Zone%

SwStr%

2005

16.7%

49.5%

89.5%

82.7%

55.4%

7.6%

2006

18.3%

56.1%

88.1%

82.0%

54.5%

7.8%

2007

20.1%

63.5%

87.4%

81.6%

49.0%

7.6%

2008

19.5%

60.8%

89.4%

82.9%

50.8%

7.0%

2009

17.9%

53.5%

90.8%

83.1%

50.5%

7.2%

2010

33.0%

57.1%

84.9%

73.8%

45.3%

11.4%

2011

30.5%

53.7%

79.8%

71.0%

46.3%

13.5%

That’s a lot of data and acronyms, but just look at the trends.  The first column shows how many balls out of the strikezone he swings at.  It’s gone up considerably in the last two years.  The next column tells you how often he makes contact when he swings at balls out of the strikezone.  That’s down 10% from his great 2007 season; he’s missing more often than he used to.  The next tells you how often he makes contact with pitches in the strikezone.  It’s not good for that to be below 80% for a major league hitter.

All these columns lead inexorably to the last three.  Grady is making less contact now than at any time in his career, and he’s trending downward.  He also sees fewer good pitches than ever before, which makes a good deal of sense: if you know he’s going to swing, why throw strikes?  The last column drives the whole point home: nearly 14% of the pitches Grady sees now, he swings and misses at.  That’s just gross.

I still think Grady has a chance to turn all this around, mostly because I think (hope?) he’s still hurt.  But we’re approaching a fairly significant off-season decision for the front office.  Grady has a $9 million club option for next year, and if his poor approach at the plate continues for too much longer, it could get interesting.  What was once a fait accompli now looks to be seriously up for debate.  Will they pick up his option if he’s still struggling like this?  I would assume that they would, if only because he’s still a pretty good/great defensive center fielder (yes, still better than Brantley, despite the arm).

But what was once one of the most team-friendly options in baseball now looks to be a potential noose.  What say you?

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Photo: Associated Press

 

  • Tron

    I understand it’s only a 1 year option, so in the long term it doesn’t saddle the Indians with a bad contract, but the problem is a small market team like the Indians really only has a 2-3 year window to compete when all the young guys start coming into their own before they require ridiculous contracts we can’t pay them. Why take out 1 of those years of competing to pay 14% of you team salary to 1 guy who’s not making a large impact. Put Brantley in Center, keep Choo in right, and use that 9 million plus maybe a bit extra and get a power hitting left fielder who can replace the platoon of kearns/duncan/buck/whoever/etc that we keep using in the outfield. I love Grady as much as the next Indians fan, but he gets hurt a LOT, and added to that his loss of focus on the strikezone, I just can’t justify picking up the option for nostalgia’s sake, not when they seem like 1 or 2 pieces away from really being a threat.

  • dwhit110

    Grady performing at 1.0 levels (to borrow your phrase) is worth much more than $9 million to this team. Just looking at the 4 seasons that were outlined above he delivered WARs of 5.8, 6.2, 7.4, and 8.0.

    If there’s a reasonable chance that he can regain that ability you’ve got to pick up the option, if only due to the opportunity cost of not picking it up.

  • JNeids

    “Sure, they’re less likely to move a runner over successfully, but they also don’t ever end in double-plays.”

    Lou Marson respectfully disagrees as he throws you out trying to steal 2nd.

  • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

    If the Indians let him walk in free agency, what type of free agent would he be considered? What would the compensation be?

  • NJ

    I want a third option. Somethine more pragmatic. Maybe: “we should pick up the option and hope that Grady can get/stay healthy even though that probably won’t be the case.”

    1.) As bad as Grady has been this year and as sporadically as he has played, he has still been an above replacement-level-player.
    2.) In the past when healthy, he has been elite, top tier talent.
    3.) What are we going to be able to get for one year with $9M?

    He’s worth the risk.

  • JNeids

    Grady:career::Indians:this season. Not as good as he started, not as bad as he is playing now…hopefully

  • Vengeful Pat

    If Sizemore stays at this same awful level for the rest of the season, I don’t think there is any other choice but to let him walk and use that money elsewhere. The last ~3 years have shown us that he is not the same player he used to be. I hear people using the argument that he just hasn’t been healthy in the past couple of years, but if he’s swinging a bat then he is healthy. Other players learn to play and produce in spite of pain, and Grady is no different. I think even Grady would agree that his level of play in no way warrants paying him $9,000,000 for one season.

    So if the Indians don’t pick up his option, can they still sign him as a free agent for less money? I’d be in favor of that option. Of course, the optimist in me would really love for Grady to prove me wrong THIS season and get it together.

  • mgbode

    I pick NJ’s option. At worst, he bides some more time for our minor leaguers and I’m worried that we won’t be able to sign a corner OF any better in free agency (and yes, I am also suggesting that he be moved to LF and Brantley to CF. not giving up beating on that particular drum).

    Great post Jon. It confirms with stats what we have all been complaining about this season. That Grady is over-swinging at way too many pitches (seemingly trying to be a pure power hitter though he’s not doing a good job at it because you have noted he’s swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and missing them).

    The one thing that is strange is how does a knee injury affect his eyes? Because if he’s not swinging at strikes, then why is he swinging? He never had the keenest of batting eyes, but as can be seen above he was a heck of alot better than he is now.

  • NJ

    @7 – Couldn’t disagree more. We’ve seen the exact same thing with Hafner. When you’re playing at less than 100%, you end up cheating a little to compensate and it costs you.

    And this is more than just “playing with pain” and gutting it out; he had major knee surgery. That will have to alter a player’s swing, timing, etc. rather significantly.

    From everything I’ve read, recovering from microfracture knee surgery is tricky business. Mostly it’s been NBA players who have had it and some have recovered while others have never regained their old form. Only MLBers I know of who have had it promptly retired.

    So to say the surgery/injury isn’t an influence… well, I don’t buy it.

  • DCTribeFan

    @dwhit–I think you have it perfectly analyzed. I like Grady, and hope he has a place on the roster for several more years, actually.

    Wonder if we could re-negotiate, and replace the $9M, with a 3 yr, $15-18M deal instead…..wishful thinking, probably!

  • http://www.whitecollarredneck.com Narm

    I’d pick it up because we don’t have anyone to replace him that will come cheaper. If he were a 2B, I’d dump him in a second, but as it stands, unless Weglarz can stay healthy, I’m not all that excited about an OF of Brantley in CF, Choo in RF and a FA in Left.

    Something to think about for the future – if Grady never snaps out of this (or we lose him to FA), is Brantley the CF of the future? He has an arm about equal to Grady’s, but doesn’t seem to get a good read on the ball or come up with many big plays. He seems to be below-average to average in CF, with a weak arm.

    I like Brantley as a player, but fear we’ll soon need more power from LF and more defense from CF. He may end up in a Coco Crisp / Franky Gutierrez situation where he has more value in a trade than to this team.

  • mgbode

    @NJ – looked for a list of MLB microfracture guys and Grady is the only one I can find (but there are vague references that he isn’t noted by saying he’s the only CF to return from it rather than the only MLB player, etc).

    the NBA players might be a better indicator anyway as few positions in MLB (other than maybe SS) require the athleticism to be at 100% levels like CF does.

    and, it’s sort of a scary look as other than Amare, really no player has returned at the same level of athleticism.

    Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Zach Randolph changed their games after they came back from the surgery as Grady seems to be trying to do. that may be the best we can hope for after the surgery (that he can become more disciplined and use his power-stroke more to up his SLG/OPS numbers and help the team from the 3-6 slots).

  • NJ

    @8 – “The one thing that is strange is how does a knee injury affect his eyes? Because if he’s not swinging at strikes, then why is he swinging?”

    Hamilton and Heagen were talking about how much Hafner looks at the plate this season. (Must have been a while ago before the DL stint). In short, Hafnerhad told them that the injuries forced him to guess more often on pitches. When he was wrong, he’d put terrible looking swings on the ball.

    Soon as I heard this, I thought of Grady. Because he’s looked downright horrible at times this year (yet still seems to mash it one AB out of four).

    Having to swing/commit to a pitch a split-second earlier means you’ll probably be swinging at a lot of pitches out of the zone. Also, I think pitchers are aware of this so they’re feeding Sizemore a steady diet of breaking stuff. And like you said, Sizemore has never been known for his plate discipline so the whole thing is that much worse.

  • mgbode

    oh, Carlos Guillen was another high-profile MLB player I found that had the surgery, but he just had it well after Grady and is behind him in terms of rehab, so I’m not counting him yet.

  • mgbode

    ok, my little brother helped me out. there was one high-profile MLB OF who came back from microfracture surgery and had a big year in recent years (and he has Indian’s ties): Brian Giles.

    Looked it up and he had the surgery in October of 2007, came back and played the whole 2008 season and had a big jump in SLG% and OPS+.

    Sadly, the next season, that knee acted up again and he ended up retiring from baseball (after giving it one more go in 2010 for the Dodgers in spring training).

    http://www.aolnews.com/2007/10/05/brian-giles-undergoes-microfracture-surgery/

  • mgbode

    @NJ – ok, thanks. that makes sense.

  • NJ

    “How much better Hafner looks…”

    mgbode – I actually was going to say something about how Grady may have to change his game if he wants to keep playing.

    What worries me about Grady is it looks like he’s always trying to hit the stiches off the ball rather than just make contact. Why take a walk when you can make contact? Why try for single when you could get a homer? He goes 100-mph all the time.

    And up until now, he had the physical gifts to do that. Now, I’m not so sure. I just don’t know if he can play it any other way.

    It takes a special kind of athlete to honestly evaluate his skill set and willingly try to change his game.

  • Ben

    He is done. I love the guy but move on…he is going to be one of those guys that we talk about 20 years from now and wonder what could have been if he stayed healthy. Save the money and try and buy a decent LF for next year.

  • Jon

    If only some brilliant, handsome writer had written about microfracture surgery in baseball before….

    BOOM: http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2010/12/the-once-and-future-grady/

    As for NJ’s “third” option, I don’t see how it differs from the first option. And that’s the one I’d choose, FWIW.

  • Harv 21

    What I wrote a week ago when we were commenting on Sizemore’s injuries possibly affecting his Batting eye:

    If you can’t stride and twist for torque as normal it’s natural to cheat and start your swing early. That leaves you vulnerable to breaking balls in the dirt because you commit to swinging earlier. This might be making his big-swing tendency worse.

    Not a huge Grady fan but let’s remember how he was making great contact when he first played this year, before he bumped the other knee on the base.

    I think the percentage move is to pick up the option because when healthy his ceiling is pretty high and you can either ride him on a playoff chase or trade him when his value is higher. But the other factor always is: will the Dolans risk the entire season’s $9M salary, knowing they might not be able to move him if he is hurt or unproductive?

  • Anthony

    Do you remember what Hafner was saying at the beginning of the year? He attributed his success to the fact that he was finally able to train in the offseason instead of just rehabbing. The past two years Grady has just been rehabbing. Maybe give the guy an offseason to get healthy and train, pick up that option, and see what he’s got left next year.

    It’s a risk but it’s successful moves like that that can win you a championship. I mean imagine Grady at 100% and our young players this season with another year under their belts. Add it another influx of young prospects (Kipnis, White, Hagadone, maybe Pomeranz?) and you never know…..

  • Godlenflash7903

    I looked a week ago at Grady’s strikeout rate and it was nearly 10% higher this year over the rest of his career and this article hammers what I see as true. His health is a major factor. Players don’t all of a sudden forget how to have plate disipline.

    Taking his option for next season is fairly low risk at $9M considering the standard for a player like him around baseball.

    For me this seems like a low point in his career. Too often we look at recent peformance and forget what a entire career look like. He has made a career of having a high OBP and SLG, if he can regain 75 to 80 percent of that $9M doesn’t look that bad. Considering his age and his past, I would expect a turnaround, especially to 2.5 to 3.0 win a year player.

  • Stinkfist

    Grady Sizemore and a young guy for David Wright. Both have injury problems, but 3B is a bigger need than LF/CF… That is, unless we are in love with Chisenhall’s glove and/or Hannahan’s bat

  • Stinkfist

    …just a quick thought, I didn’t really give much consideration to the practicality/feasibility of it

  • dwhit110

    @22

    Not a good deal for the Mets who will want much more for Wright than an injury prone CF with one year on his deal (and a “young guy”) also pretty dumb for us to block a guy who is by all accounts our best prospect.

  • NJ

    I think we need to keep him, but I’m not sure that this is just a blip and I don’t honestly believe he’ll be worth the $9M next season.

  • mgbode

    @Jon – well sure. we need to figure out how to get it atop the google searches since I was too slow to search this site first :)

  • mgbode

    so, apparently it’s Zach McCallister tomorrow vs. the Blue Jays. Hopefully, he does as well as our first start call-ups did last July.