April 24, 2014

Grady And Pronk – Symbols of the Era of “Just Missed”

So Travis Hafner is out for six weeks after needing knee surgery and Grady Sizemore’s return from back surgery seems to be nowhere in sight. Stop me if you have heard something like this before. Decades from now, these two former cornerstone guys will be looked back on more for what they couldn’t do than for what they actually accomplished. I long for the days of 2005, 2006, and 2007 when Pronk and Grady were All-Star type players who played every single day and delivered the goods at the plate.

The incredible thing about Sizemore was not just his amazing play both with the stick and with the glove, but his durability. During his peak four-year stretch from 2005-2008, Grady missed just nine games TOTAL, which included a streak of 382 consecutive games played. Now we look at him as if he were Mr. Glass from the 2000 M. Knight Shyamalan movie “Unbreakable.”  Six surgeries and two bum knees later, Sizemore has become a lost cause that the Indians continue to sit and wait on.

Speaking with the media earlier in the week for the first time since the Spring, Sizemore sounded like a beaten man when asked about the home-run saving catch that current Indians center fielder Michael Brantley had made in Chicago.

“Those are the things I used to be able to do.”

Ouch.

Grady still thinks he can come back and contribute, but the “early to mid-June” timetable just isn’t realistic and never was. This is back surgery we are talking about here. “I tried (coming back early) last year, and it didn’t help me at all,” Sizemore said. “I ended up just putting myself in a worse position. What I’ve gone through is why we’re taking it slow now. It’s important to not just feel good, but feel really good, great.”

I think we all realize that the Grady Sizemore we once knew and loved no longer exists. Even if he manages to somehow miraculously come back and contribute this season, you don’t take the punishment he has coupled with all of the surgeries and return to your peak form. I took for granted just how good Sizemore was in that four-year stretch while it was happening. Now that he has become an injury prone shell of his former self, its easy to admit I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time.

Just for old time sake (not to depress any of you or anything), just take one last look at his numbers before the injuries took over:

2005 – age 22 – .289/.348/.832/22 HR/81 RBI/22 SB/111 runs

2006 – age 23 – .290/.375/.907/28 HR/76 RBI/22 SB/134 runs (led league)/53 doubles (led league), All-Star

2007 – age 24 – .277/.390/.852/24 HR/78 RBI/33 SB/118 runs, All-Star

2008 – age 25 – .268/.374/.876/33 HR/90 RBI/38 SB/101 runs, All-Star

Grady’s body began to fail him at 26. 26! He exploded onto the scene at 22, despite being considered the “throw-in” with Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee in the Bartolo Colon deal. Incredible. Now he is a 29-year old who may be at the end of the line.

His middle of the order running mate was Hafner. The man they called “Pronk” was the power middle to Sizemore’s speed and versatility at the top. He was a hitting machine who used all fields. His size and strength made you think of a younger version of Jim Thome (not the beanpole version, but the mid to late 90′s guy). Like Grady, Hafner had a four-year peak which we all sat in awe of. Here was our next great slugger. But also like Grady, the Indians continued to count on him year in and year out, but his body had other plans. The Tribe extended him in the middle of the 2007 season for four more year and $57 million, a deal that wouldn’t kick in until the beginning of 2009. “Why not,” We all said. The guy had been great over the last four years, was 30 years old, still in his prime, the Indians were contending, and Hafner had been for the most part durable, outside of a couple of fluke injuries coming from being hit with pitches.

We all know how that all went.

OK, time to depress you again. Take a look one last time at Hafner’s numbers from 2004-2007.

2004: age 27 – .311/.410/.993/28 HR/109 RBI

2005: age 28 – .305/.408/1.003/33 HR/108 RBI

2006: age 29 – .308/.439/1.097/42 HR/117 RBI

2007: age 30 – .266/.385/.837/24 HR/100 RBI (extension signed mid-season)

With the latest news of the Sizemore rehab not going as well as we had hoped and Hafner going to the DL for sixth time, all we can do is sit here and wonder would would have been if these two had stayed healthy. Obviously Grady would have priced himself right out of Cleveland and the Tribe brass would have been put in a similar position to that of the CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez impending free agency situations. Hafner has always had the immovable contract, but you would glady pay that money for the production he had to earn such a paycheck.

Instead, we’ve essentially seen almost five years of disappointment from the two centerpieces of the Indians offense.

photo via Rob Carr/Getty Images

  • BisonDeleSightings

    Mark Buehrle killed Hafner’s career when he hit him in the head.  Yet another reason to hate the White Sox.

    (Note: Disregard the part where he played well after the injury. You have to place the blame somewhere besides steroids, right?)

  • Narm

    Hating Hafner’s contract is the new 10 cent beer night – everyone claims they were there.  Looking back at his numbers, it wasn’t ridiculous to give him an extension in 2007 after being one of the best hitters in baseball the year before.  

  • Harv 21

    don’t remember him looking gun shy after that, or that it was related to the chronic shoulder problem that wiped out his bat speed all those years.

  • mgbode

    young Grady Sizemore is still playing in MLB today.  his name is just Mike Trout now. 

  • Harv 21

    the objections some people had were that it was a whole lot to pay a DH, and they weren’t bidding against anyone and maybe were devoting too much of their limited budget. I think the Dolans still had the PR disasters of Thome and Manny walking away on their minds, wanted to solidify fan identification with new core players going forward, so they decided it was safer to pay market value plus rather than risk a future bidding war.

  • mgbode

    Pronks 3 year OPS+ run (162,168,182) = 512
    Belle’s best 3yr run = 529
    Manny’s best 3yr run (for Indians) = 506
    Thome’s best 3yr run (for Indians) = 499

    Yeah, Pronk was right there with the best Indians hitters.  And, pitchers didn’t have those other guys to worry about when pitching to him either (making it all the more impressive).

    #note – Manny and Thome could get a small bump if you include the last 2yrs with Indians and 1st year with new team, but that defeats the purpose of this exercise in my mind (Indians feared hitters shouldn’t include stats from another team).

  • Robbie

    I honestly hate Mark Buehrle specifically for that pitch.  The Indians were surging and when Hafner went down, that was that.  A guy who can throw multiple no-hitters just happens to lose control and beam the White Sox’ primary contender in the face?  Hate that guy.

  • Narm

    His contract averaged out to $14.3 million – which made him the 17th highest paid player in 2007. Even as a DH, he was behind Thome and Giambi ($23 million!) that year. It was actually fairly team friendly at that point.

  • Narm

    His contract averaged out to $14.3 million – which made him the 17th highest paid player in 2007. Even as a DH, he was behind Thome and Giambi ($23 million!) that year. It was actually fairly team friendly at that point.

  • mgbode

    yeah, Belle, Manny, and Thome all were higher up on the MLB payscale than Hafner (per yr salary doesn’t work as Belle was in a vastly different era).  As shown above, he was right in their league as a hitter.   even as DH, that was team-friendly.

  • Steve

     Market value, yes, not sure why we add the plus. And if your DH brings in $15 million dollars in marginal wins, then why does it matter what position he plays?

    Also, anyone who complains about devoting too much of the limited budget doesn’t get to complain about Sabathia or Lee. It seems that few people would have a problem if Dolan spent 25 million on them.

  • Harv 21

    to clarify, this is what I remember as the objections. I was supportive at that time, even excited that we were locking him up and that this meant they would do the same for others.

    “Market value plus”: maybe right in comparison to those others, but I was referring to complaints that he would have signed for less. Clumsy wording.

  • Ricodespeedstra

    Don’t mean to cause a stir, but no one has every whispered anything about steroids with Grady.  Is there any chance that his body breaking down is the byproduct of this?  Not everyone using will grow like Sosa, Bonds, et al…  Seems so odd that a guy known to be durable suddenly is this fragile.

  • 5KMD

    Curtis Granderson?

    I remeber the battle we used to have with the Detroit fans on who was the better player.

  • BisonDeleSightings

    I wouldn’t rule out anyone from the steroids discussion, except maybe David Eckstein and that piece of crap Craig Counsell.

  • 5KMD

    Don’t tend to do that with guys who don’t get big all of a sudden and who dive around the park everyday in the field and on the bases. Grady got hurt because he played hard and played everyday for 4 years straight.

  • Steve

     Don’t rule them out either. First guy busted – the generously listed at 5’10 180 lb – Alex Sanchez. The fact of the matter is that there is no evidence of steroid use other than a positive test, and even starting whispers about a guy using based on something circumstantial is not a road we should go down.

  • mgbode

    Grandy never had the batting eye.  He’s got the power certainly.

  • mgbode

    also, try to name a power/speed combo guy who hasn’t spent a good amount of time on the DL.

    Kemp, Beltran, Grady, Hamilton.   These guys are wound so tight to get both power & speed that the body just breaks down at times.

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    I’m pretty sure Hafner led the league in RBI groundouts in 2007.

  • Harv 21

    Power + speed not all that common, but there’s been plenty of healthy over long parts of long careers. Griffey, until he was way older. Some dude named Henderson, who’s most likely still playing somewhere. Torii Hunter enough power to qualify?  Dave Winfield, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente. Some of them slowed down as they ‘roided up, so it’s hard to gauge: Barry Bonds and Sosa could both run initially.

    The Mick was a physical mess for sure, but at least he hung around well into his 30s.

  • mgbode

    Torii was a 20/20 guy, he counts.  Good call.

    Barry Bonds is another good one.  I prefer to just not think about him though :)

    Sosa had tons of problems staying healthy.  He once had a DL stint due to throwing his back out while sneezing afterall.

    Griffey Jr. had 2 injury-filled seasons with the M’s.  And, if you want to call him durable, be prepared for a barrage from Reds fans.

    and I don’t know if Rickey should really count as his power came in spurts a few years and his body started breaking down when he hit 28 anyways (though he never lost that speed).

    —————-

    the rest were the old guard.  they definitely deserve mention and thank you for it, but it was another time and the over-training of today was not really there.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Situational hitting counts. I’d love to have the ’07 Hafner and all his RBI’s this year. 

  • porckchopexpress

    You’re not mistaken, (I mean you could be about leading the league but he was def up there).  ’07 was the year he really started to consistently hit into double plays, or ground outs.  I know he grounded into a double play in the first inning of game five of the 2007 ALCS with runners on the corners.  I know we lost by 6 runs but I also know CC was a different pitcher with a lead, and if Hafner just gets a single we’re in business.  Its one of those unfair sports moments but I’ve always blamed him for that whole failure.  Well, him, the umps who refused, sometimes mockingly to give CC and Carmona the corner that Beckett got, the fact that Manny and Poppy were known to be on juice but they also seemed to be able to tell the umps what to call simply by looking at them, oh and one of their freaking owners somehow missed them in his steriod inquistion but Byrd managed to get outted right before game 7.  There hasn’t been a dirtier series since 1917

  • Herr Dr.

    Please, please let us never mention 2007 again. I tend to smash nearby objects when such things are discussed…

  • Alex

    He was. I remember 2006 very, very clearly. Before the Buehrle incident, Hafner had one of the best batters eyes I’d ever seen…he’d only swing at pitches he could hammer hard and he was incredibly successful at it. For an entire year after the concussion, Hafner looked so lost at the plate. He looked like a totally different guy, his timing and swing and everything were so off.