The Return of the Return of Grady Sizemore

On the one hand, I’d feel like an unoriginal hack for going over Grady Sizemore’s career history. It is, after all, familiar to just about everyone — or at least everyone reading this website. He’s kind of like an outfield version of Mark Prior or Rich Harden: unbelievable talent, unbelievable fragility. He was amazing in 2008. But Franklin Gutierrez was amazing in 2009. Sizemore’s just another guy who hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and he’s well past the point of people thinking it might be bad luck.

On the other hand, over the past couple years it’s not like Sizemore’s provided anything to write about. Since the start of 2012, Sizemore has as many big-league plate appearances as Barry Bonds and Eddie Collins. And so if you’ll indulge me, I think it’s worth the very briefest of refresher courses.

This is relevant, incidentally, because Sizemore has been signed by the Boston Red Sox. He got a major-league deal, and it’s worth $750,000, though it could be worth up to $6 million if he hit all his incentives. Earlier, it looked as if Sizemore was going to land with the Cincinnati Reds, but that potential deal came apart, perhaps because Boston had a big-league deal on the table. So Sizemore’s going to try to stick with the defending World Series champions. It could be that his luck is beginning to turn.

Now for the quickest possible thorough review of Sizemore’s career. Between 2005 and 2008 — Sizemore’s age-22 and age-25 seasons — only Ichiro Suzuki played in more games, and only Ichiro and Jose Reyes batted more times. Between 22 and 25, Sizemore was worth 26.8 WAR, 20th in baseball history. Names around him include Evan Longoria, Barry Bonds, David Wright and Andruw Jones. He was worth 5.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, 58th in baseball history. Names around him include Hank Greenberg, Hanley Ramirez, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson.

Sizemore last appeared in a major-league game on Sept. 22, 2011. On Sept. 27, 2011, Jarrod Parker made his major-league debut.

Every superstar eventually declines into nothing. In the big picture, Sizemore was simply a little hasty about it. But he was durable, and he was awesome. But then seemingly overnight, he became neither durable nor awesome. Even right now, Grady Sizemore is 31. He’s younger than Shin-Soo Choo. This is the nightmare scenario when a team locks up a stud young player like the Rays did with Longoria; but the nightmare scenario almost never actually happens, making it feel particularly tragic when it does.

As you know, Sizemore didn’t decline because his skills got worse. Rather, his body  got worse. He needed a whole mess of surgeries. As AJ Cassavell noted:

Sizemore’s long list of injuries includes a pair of right knee ailments that hindered him in 2011-12 and a lower back injury that officially sidelined him in ’12. He has undergone seven surgeries since the ’09 season.

He’s had his elbow worked on. He’s had his back worked on. He’s had a couple sports hernias. Both knees have been through microfracture procedures. Word is, right now, Sizemore is working out, and he finally feels healthy. That word is probably coming from Grady Sizemore’s agent. That doesn’t mean it isn’t completely true, but Sizemore’s body has earned the distrust.

I think how you feel about Grady Sizemore is in some way reflective of the sort of person you are. If you believe — or if you at least want to believe — then you’re probably a positive person. You’re someone who looks for the best in others. If you refuse to be tricked again, if you’re skeptical that Sizemore will get on the field, you’re probably colder, which comes with its upsides and downsides. You’ve got reason on your side — and a healthy skepticism — but you might not wear enough smiles.

I’m not sure about what to do in projecting Grady Sizemore. The last time he was healthy, he was incredible. He could walk, he could hit for power, he could run, he could handle center field. That was years and years ago. He made a lot less contact in 2010 and 2011, but that could’ve been injury-related. He walked less frequently in 2010 and 2011, but that could’ve been injury-related. There’s nothing from the past two years.

Let’s cheat and try something. Let’s look at other guys who were worth between 5 and 6 WAR/600 between the ages of 22 and 25. Excluding the younger actives, this gives us a sample of 22 players since 1950. These are all sorts of position players; there’s a variety of positions and a variety of skillsets. Between 22 and 25, they were worth an average of 5.4 WAR/600, with a median of 5.4, as well. At 31, they were worth an average of 2.7 WAR/600, with a median of 3.1. Only Kal Daniels didn’t play, due to injury and decline. Andruw Jones, at 31, was a disaster. Fifteen of the players were worth at least 2 WAR/600. A dozen were worth at least 3. Six were worth at least 4.

Given what Sizemore was, you’d like his chances of still being a pretty good player at 31. But those comparable players are terrible comps in one important way: They didn’t go through what Sizemore has gone through. You have to try to figure out what to make of all the physical problems — and how they might take a toll on Sizemore’s performance — if he can even stay on a field long enough.

The surgeries are all supposed to be curative, right? It’s tempting to believe that, but it’s probably naive to think Sizemore has come away with nothing but a constellation of scars. Chances are, because he’s had his knees cut open, he doesn’t run so well anymore. Maybe that means he’s not a true center fielder anymore. The other operations could’ve had an effect on his swing, directly or indirectly. Reduced flexibility means something in a whole lot of areas. And this all ignores the likelihood of Sizemore getting hurt again. The strongest indicator of a future injury is a past injury. Sizemore has a lot of past injuries, and he’s spent an awful lot of time in the shop. Even without playing, he’s added some miles.

There’s a reason Sizemore got a small contract. There’s no reason to believe that he should be trusted, and he hasn’t even seen big-league pitching in two years. That would have an effect even without all the injuries. The Red Sox can evaluate Sizemore in the spring and if they don’t like what they see. They can cut him loose without it hurting too bad. The Sox had a fine outfield before this, and they can have a fine outfield without this.

There’s also a reason Sizemore got a contract, and a big-league contract at that. We tend to have soft spots for talented players with injury problems, and teams aren’t too different in that regard. If nothing else, Sizemore still has the mind that allowed him to be a star for several years. While his injury history is among the ugliest in the league, there is the corresponding positive view: It’s not like there’s too much evidence of Sizemore’s skills declining. He hasn’t been worth -0.2 WAR since 2010 over 2,000 plate appearances. He’s been worth -0.2 WAR since 2010 over 435 plate appearances, with zero since 2012. With Sizemore, you don’t have to hope for a talent rebound, necessarily. It might simply be about health.

And so I, like you, will be rooting for Sizemore. It wasn’t that long ago he could do things like this. I hope this return is the last he needs to attempt. I hope he can successfully spell Jackie Bradley Jr. I hope he can chip in in left field and off the bench. I hope he can stick — and succeed — for his sake and for the sake of all of those injured but talented players, current and future. After all, if Grady Sizemore can make it all the way back, who can’t?

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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8 years ago


in all fairness to Grady- injuries tore him apart as well. Nothing says “decline” to an athlete like several career threatening injuries along the way.

I’d still take a gamble on him, at worst he is a valuable bench piece/pinch hitter.

8 years ago
Reply to  FeslenR

In all fairness to you, I think you’re way too optimistic if you think the worst case scenario is that he is a valuable bench piece/pinch hitter. To me, that seems like one of the better scenarios at this point, and the Sox should be happy if he can provide value off the bench.

8 years ago
Reply to  vivalajeter

I actually think it’s simpler than that. If he’s reasonably healthy, Sizemore will provide value. If he isn’t, he won’t provide any value at all. I don’t see a typical bell-curve of percentile performances here…more like two curves with a valley in the middle. It really comes down to his health…we have virtually no data on his active baseball ability, so why bother guessing about it?

8 years ago
Reply to  redsoxu571

How are you measuring “reasonably healthy”? Probably by whether or not he provides value, right? See why that’s an issue?

The last season he played, he did not provide value.