What Happened to Grady?
June 4, 2010

Lost in the torrent of baseball news this week - Armando Galarraga's near perfect game, Ken Griffey Jr. retirement, Jose Bautista's epic home run barrage - was the news that Grady Sizemore, considered one of the three or four best young outfielders in the game just a couple years ago, is out for the season after microfracture knee surgery was performed.  Sizemore was viewed as a perennial 30 homer, 30 steal threat when healthy but the past two season have changed that perception.  Last year he struggled through elbow and groin injuries and this year was wiped out on an awkward dive that injured his left knee. 

The word is that the surgery went as well as could be expected and that recovery time is between six and nine months which gives him ample time to be ready for next season.  Or does it?  And what should we expect from him when he returns?

I'm not a doctor but I do read the newspapers and the track record of recovery from microfracture surgeries - which is a procedure where tiny holes are drilled into the bone to promote cartilage growth - is not exactly encouraging.  A number of basketball players have undergone the surgery but the rate of returning all the way back to pre-surgery form is not all that great.  Granted, the physical demands on a knee are a little more intense in basketball than they are from baseball but it's something to be considered.  

Something else to keep in mind that the 6-9 month recovery period is just the amount of time it takes to return to normal activity.  To play professional sports the full recovery time can be as long as a year which mean that Sizemore might not return during spring training, but be delayed by as much as two months.  Recovery times from knee surgeries can be a sliding scale depending on the individual.  Carlos Beltran considered getting microfracture surgery but instead got his knee scoped in December, for which the recovery time was estimated just a couple months.  He still has not begun his rehab stint in the minors, much less played a game in the majors this season.  Last word was that he would not return before the All-Star Break.

I will give Sizemore this much: he is a baseball player through and through and has always worked extremely hard.  Make-up has never been a question with him and given that, I have little doubt that he will do everything the doctors and therapists tell him and will recover as quickly as humanly possible.  But if you're in a keeper league, what does that mean for next year?

My guess is that he'll resume baseball activities sometime during spring training and probably begin the season in extended training and return to regular play sometime around the first month of the season, maybe a little after.  However, I also expect that it will take some time before he is really comfortable doing everything he needs to play the way he is accustomed so he might not be in center field - especially if the Tribe can find an adequate defensive replacement - and might not run very much, at least maybe not until the second half.

As for this season, the rumor is that Michael Brantley will be called up and if that is true, he'll be the primary replacement in center.  He has no power, but tremendous on base skills and excellent speed, so for fantasy purposes this might be guy you need to get if your team is lagging in steals.  He's shown very good instincts for picking the right times to run in the minors but that has not translated to his brief major league exposure.  So the talent is there to round up a nice total of stolen bases but it remains to be seen if he'll get the green light.  Given the baserunning success of Manny Acta-led teams (currently 19th in overall steals and success rate) I'm not optimistic.  But Cleveland needs to figure out a way to score more runs so maybe Acta will let his kids run more as the season progresses. 

OK, so that about covers the Cleveland centerfield situation.  But what about the aforementioned power display by Jose Bautista?  Is that sustainable?  As you might expect, my answer is both yes and no.  That's sorta my thing.  The "yes" part is that he does have legitimate 30-homer power.  In the minors he was almost always slightly older than his competition, but he was almost always hitting for power.  In years he didn't hit many homers he hit plenty of doubles.  His career minor league stat line is .285/.375/.467.  I know, I was a little surprised by how good his on base percentage was, too.  I think one of the reasons he slipped under the radar is that he pretty much missed an entire year of development in 2004 getting passed around four different major league clubs.  He should have spent that season playing full time in AA and perhaps AAA, but was instead wasting on the bench in the majors.  Once the Pirates got him, they put him back where he belonged.  Unfortunately for them, they traded him away just as he was about to emerge as a useful player.  But that's sorta been their thing for the past decade or so. 

Anyway, he's always had very good power.  In fact, in each season from 2005 to 2007 he had at least 50 extra base hits.  Probably the only reason he didn't replicate the feat in 2008 and 2009 was that he didn't get enough at bats.  He'll get the at bats this year and probably top the 50-mark once again as well.  So why won't he continue his current rampage all season?

Four reasons, really.  The first is that he's on pace to hit 52 homers.  He has good power but he doesn't have THAT kind of power.  The second reason is that he's always been more of a doubles hitter and so far this year his homers far outnumber his doubles.  That will revert to career norms.  The third reason is that pitchers will start paying closer attention to the scouting reports and stop throwing him as many fastballs.  They'll start working him more carefully and the number of fat pitches will go down.  The only question then is will he have the discipline to lay off borderline pitches instead of getting himself out as he has done in the past.  And the last reason is that it's been a warmer than usual season temperature-wise so far so that the Blue Jays have been playing with the roof open more than they normally would.  Warmer temperatures cause the ball to carry a little more.  As the season progresses, the Jays will play more night games and more games with the roof closed, which means air conditioning which means the ball won't fly as far. 

So to sum up:
1) Grady Sizemore is a risky play for next year but should be back to normal by 2012
2) Michael Brantley might be a good play for steals but only if Manny Acta decides he doesn't care about winning this year
3) Jose Bautista's power is for real but career norms and a change in the weather will slow down his march toward the home run title.