As a recent inductee into the much-fêted Torn ACL Club, (there’s only one membership requirement, but I wouldn’t recommend it), a subdivision of the Busted Knee Alliance, I’ve a fairly new appreciation of professional sportsmen who come back from serious injury. Mine was fairly innocuous all things considered, and yet still, after one day of rehab work, already my quadriceps have fallen out with me. So whether it be Yasmani Grandal, Tyler Pastornicky, Scott Sizemore, Corey Hart, or even (hopefully) Manny Machado – really anyone who has ever had knee problems – I’m rooting for you to succeed this year regardless of the laundry you wear. Hence why I’ll be crossing my fingers in sincere hope that Grady Sizemore’s health permits him to stick in the Boston outfield mix for the whole of 2014.
I’ve only ever known Sizemore as an injury prone player; that’s how long his various afflictions have plagued him. After all, he’s undergone seven surgeries since 2009 alone, including (amongst treatment for his left elbow, a pair of sports hernias, and in 2012, a herniated disk in his lower back) microfracture procedures on both knees. When he last appeared in a regular season game on Sept. 22, 2011, an 11-2 win for his Cleveland Indians over the Chicago White Sox, Sizemore was apparently a shell of his former self – not that I noticed. My newly-acquired baseball fandom knew nothing of his time as perhaps the most dynamic player in the game.
I’ll leave it to Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs to point out just how good Sizemore was back in the days in which he once played 382 straight games:
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.
By the end of his age 25 season in 2008, Sizemore already had 111 home runs, 117 stolen bases, three All-Star Games, two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger award and three top-12 MVP finishes… After 2008, Sizemore owned a career .279/.370/.491 over 3,109 plate appearances. His 127 OPS+ made him just the ninth center fielder since integration to post a 120 OPS+ or better in at least 2,500 plate appearances by age 25.
By all measures – entertaining video highlights included – Sizemore was one of the five best position players in baseball, at just the tender age of 25 looking set to be an MVP candidate for years to come. And yet if it weren’t for his Spring Training play for the Boston Red Sox over the last couple of weeks, I’d never have known.
While my Reds were also supposedly in on him, the now 31-year-old Sizemore was lured to the reigning champion Red Sox by a one year, $750,000 major league deal (plus incentives that can take him past $6 million). Even with Jacoby Ellsbury departed to the Yankees, it seemed an odd decision, Boston not only having Jackie Bradley Jr. on the way up to play center, but a gluttony of players for every other outfield spot too – a stellar group consisting of Shane Victorino, Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, and Jonny Gomes. A lottery ticket without a clear opportunity to begin with, the underwhelming performance of Bradley (batting .189 thus far) in combination with flashes of the old brilliance – including two spectacular grabs made in the field against the Cardinals on Monday – have not only assured Sizemore sticks with the club, but may well have pushed him up through the once-presumed clogged depth chart into a starting role.
Even if he will forever struggle to remain fully healthy, Boston, with their considerable outfield depth, will give him the best opportunity to showcase the offensive skills that once put him in such elite company. As evidenced this Spring, when healthy, Sizemore can still contribute, and could potentially be another monumental bargain for the Sox. Much like former Indians teammate CC Sabathia, I’ll be pulling for Grady Sizemore all year regardless of his performance. Just getting back out onto the field healthy is achievement enough.