The Cleveland Indians placed CF Grady Sizemore on the disabled list on Thursday. Entering last season, Sizemore was a legitimate superstar. From 2005-2008, Sizemore compiled 25.5 wins above replacement, playing at an all-star level both in the field and at the plate.
The 2009 season was a struggle for Sizemore. He still managed a .343 wOBA – well above average for a center fielder – but that mark signified a drop in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Combined with a UZR which fell to -4.6 – the first below average defensive season of his career – Sizemore’s WAR fell to 1.9, by far a career low for a full season.
The struggles have only been amplified in 2010. Sizemore has yet to hit a home run in 140 plate appearances, and his batting average and on-base percentage have yet to return to 2008 levels. Now, it appears that we may have an explanation for Sizemore’s struggles, at least in the 2010 season, as the deep bone bruise on his left knee that has sent him to the disabled list may require surgery to fix.
Sizemore’s 2009 season and 2007 season compare favorably. Both seasons saw Sizemore homer on roughly 11% of fly balls. Sizemore walked slightly more often (13.5% to 11.9%) in 2007, but he also struck out more (24.7% to 21.1%). However, Sizemore posted a 132 wRC+ in 2007 compared to 112 in 2009. The difference is in his performance on balls in play. In 2007, Sizemore posted a BABIP of .333, contrasted with a BABIP of only .275 in ’09. The question, then, is whether or not this BABIP dip which has carried over to 2010 (.287 in 93 BIP) is indicative of his true talent of if it’s simply random variation.
We can separate Sizemore’s career into two separate eras based on his BABIP. From 2005-2007, Sizemore’s BABIPs were .334, .339, and .333 respectively – a remarkably stable mark. From 2008-2010, Sizemore has recorded BABIPs of .290, .275, and .287. Still relatively stable, given the statistic, but a far cry from the high marks of his early career.
The key difference in Sizemore’s profile is a jump in infield fly balls. His IFFB rate stayed within the 5-6% range from 2005-2007, but jumped all the way to 10.% in 2008, 8.7% in 2009, and 7.7% in 2010. The infield fly ball is death to BABIP – the league BABIP on balls marked infield fly is roughly .020. This hasn’t been accompanied be a marked change in FB rate or a decrease in HR/FB rate – marks that could indicate either an uppercut swing or a loss of latent power. This doesn’t completely explain the drop in BABIP, but a 3% increase in infield fly balls essentially takes 6 hits away per season, which explains a sizeable portion of the dip. Hitting more infield flies could also suggest that Sizemore is simply making weaker contact, which would lower his BABIPs on all batted ball types.
Perhaps the various injuries that Sizemore has been dealing with since 2009 have changed his swing in some way as to induce more infield fly balls and create weaker contact than in his best years. Perhaps it’s an issue with his plate discipline, as Dave Allen noted last week, or a combination of the two. Last season, Sizemore dealt with a pulled groin which later needed surgery and then elbow surgery in the offseason. The best case scenario for the Indians is that some simple rest allows Sizemore’s body to fix what ails him and allows him to regain his swing. If injuries aren’t the issue, and Sizemore simply isn’t able to reach base on balls in play as he did from 2005-2007, the era of Grady Sizemore as a superstar will likely be over.
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