Everyone has a vice. If you’re like me, you have multiple vices. My favorite vice, fantasy baseball, is right around the corner, so I just couldn’t help but look for some interesting angle to write on in January. Analysis of off-season moves are done by, well everyone. Rankings and season previews are more of a spring-training time piece. Writing about the shittiness of any one of my Houston Astros’ players value (except Mr. Bourn and WayRod, duh) is pointless for so many reasons. So what does that really leave a guy with in January? How about a little head-to-head action…by position. I’m not talking about looking at the top guys at each position, but rather the guys in those second – possibly third if you’re in a deep league – tier guys that can really make or break your draft and season. Over the next week and a half, I will be releasing a new position each day. I will take a look at a couple of guys from each position and see how they match up versus their higher drafted counterparts. As per usual, any ideas, thoughts, or beliefs (both supporting and opposing) are welcomed.
First base is a rather deep position this year with Joey Votto emerging as the hitter many have seen coming, Adrian Gonzalez getting to trade Petco for Fenway, Prince Fielder heading into free agency after the season (I’m a sucker for a guy playing for a new, mega-sized contract), as well as your standards like Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Teixeira. If you are not fortunate enough to secure one of those guys, then whom do you take a flier on?
Paul Konerko- 34-years-old (turns 35 before the season starts)
2010 slash: .312/.393/.584
Bill James 2011 Predicted Slash: .273/.361/.496
I have decided to look at Konerko because he had an incredible season in 2010, but also because at age 34 (turning 35 in March) he presents an interesting case. Let’s play a popular analytical game called “Player A vs. Player B”.
Player A: .276 AVG, .353 OBP, .505 SLG, 620 PA, 31 HR, 87 R, 108 RBI, ADP (ESPN leagues only) 12.8/5th 1B off the board
Player B: .312 AVG, .393 OBP, .584 SLG, 631 PA, 39 HR, 89 R, 111 RBI, ADP (ESPN leagues only) 213.3/22nd 1B off the board
At first glance, it is hard to believe that player A was drafted that much higher than player B. That is, until you learn their names. Player A is Ryan Howard and player B is Paul Konerko. Just like name-brand clothes, name-brand players require you to spend far too much, sometimes. Paul Konerko has a real knack for producing. He is a former Home Run Derby Champ after all. Let’s delve a little deeper into Konerko’s stats to see if his remarkable 2010 can carry over into 2011.
In his 631 PA last season, Konerko drew 72 BB and 7 IBB for a total of 79 walks and a BB% of 11.4%. Konerko has a career average BB% of 9.7, along with rates of 11.4%, 9.3%, 12.6%, and 12.3% over his last four seasons. This tells me that Paul might digress some in his BB% but no more .5%. Last year his K% sat at 20.1%, the highest of his career since his rookie campaign. This worries me. Looking deeper into his K% we see that since 2004 his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that were swung at) has risen every year. Between 2009 and 2010 it jumped a staggering 5.7%, from 22.0% to 27.7%. Over his last 3 years Paul has also been swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone. His Z-Swing% has decreased for the last 3 years. This makes me wonder what effect Paul’s 34-year-old eyes are having on him.
In 2010, Konerko also had a .326 BABIP and a .272 ISO. Let’s start with BABIP, because it is about 26 pts higher than the league average. This is typically indicative of a regression in batting average, which I am guessing will sit somewhere around .275-.280 for in 2011. We’re not talking Carlos Pena bad, but it is definitely a far cry from the .312 that he posted in 2010. And now to the ISO power. The .272 ISO that Konerko put up last year is the highest of his career. By almost 20 pts! Again this gives reason to believe that there will be a strong regression in his 2011 SLG%, which I believe will hover around the .490-.495 range.
By all accounts, 2010 was arguably a “career year” for Paul Konerko. His return was through the roof considering his ADP, especially compared to guys like James Loney, Lance Berkman, Billy Butler, Carlos Pena, and Chris Davis – who all were off the board before Konerko. But after considering all of the above mentioned stats, there is no logical way to expect the same kind of production from Konerko this season.
He is 34, going on 35 this March. He continues to swing at more balls out of the zone each season. He continues to swing at fewer balls in the zone each season. I see no possible way that he can have the ISO power that he did last year, and his K% was the highest it has been since his first year in the league. Although Konerko has shown he can take a walk, I just don’t think it is enough to make up for everything else. My final opinion on Konerko is that he finishes the season somewhere around the 15th best 1B in the league, with guys like Kendry Morales, Billy Butler, Derrek Lee, and Kevin Youkilis finishing ahead of him.