The Red Sox are taking a calculated risk that Grady Sizemore, not long ago considered baseball's premiere outfielder, can provide some punch at a fraction of what it would've cost to retain Jacoby Ellsbury.
The not-so-Super Bowl is behind us so it's time for the 2014 baseball season to get rolling in Fort Myers for the Red Sox. Some major parts of their 2013 title team (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew) are missing but Boston looks to become baseball’s first repeat champions since the 1999-2000 Yankees, and the first Red Sox team to repeat since the days of Babe Ruth, Harry Hooper and Everett Scott in 1915-16.
General Manager Ben Cherington did well reloading his squad with solid replacement parts (A.J. Pierzynski, Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, Jonathan Herrera), and the most impactful of those moves could also be the most economical. Last month Cherington inked one-time Cleveland Indians star Grady Sizemore to a one-year major league contract for $750,000, with hopes of him competing with Jackie Bradley Jr. for time in centerfield. Since 2009, Sizemore, 31, has been battling a cornucopia of injuries to his groin, back, and legs that resulted in a total of seven surgeries including microfracture procedure to each knee, that caused him to miss all of 2012 (with Cleveland) and 2013 (out of baseball). Now under the watchful eye of the Red Sox medical and training staffs Sizemore is reportedly healthy again and feels ready to help fill the void left by Jacoby Ellsbury’s $153 million departure to the Bronx.
A three-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and 2008 Silver Slugger recipient, Sizemore hasn’t appeared in a big league game since 2011, but in 2008, his last full season, he was one of the premier players in the game placing eighth among all major league batters (and third in the AL) with 5.9 offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR). Using similarity scores developed by Red Sox stats guru Bill James the explanation of which is shown here, you can see how talented that Sizemore was in his prime. with numbers that compared most favorably to the output of Hall of Famer Duke Snider over his first two seasons, and drawing close comparisons to Barry Bonds in his age 25 and 26 seasons. Having taken the past two seasons off, Sizemore allowed his body to recover to the point that there’s a chance that he could once again flash some of the same skills that allowed him to become one of three players in baseball history (with Bobby Bonds and Darryl Strawberry) to reach 20 home runs and 20 steals in four of his first five seasons.
Look at his contemporaries and you’ll see Sizemore’s potential. Among those who’ll be in their age 31 season are a Who’s Who of today's elite hitters, including Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Shin-Soo Choo, David Wright, and the list goes on. Arguably, from 2005-08 Sizemore was the most valuable of the bunch, with his 24.1 oWAR ranking third among everyone over that span behind only the two undisputed best offensive weapons, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. He and Alfonso Soriano were the only players in the game to top 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases in the same timeframe. To further illustrate how outstanding Sizemore was, over the past four seasons, only three players—Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen—have exceeded a WAR of 24.
It's clear that Sizemore's development was stunted and his career sent flying off the rails by myriad ailments, but given how skilled he was, plus his fresh legs from a cautious approach to recover,y and a perfect opportunity staring him in the face with the Red Sox, there’s a chance that he could return to being a solid big league regular, if not an All Star star level talent. All at 1/28th the 2014 cost of Jacoby Ellsbury.
Here are the WAR leaders from Sizemore's prime, illustrating some of the company he kept and hopes to join again, this time for the Red Sox.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.