He was the story of the spring, the 31-year-old outfielder signed on a one-year flyer after myriad injuries knocked him out of professional baseball for over two years.
Heading into the 2014 season, Grady Sizemore looked like he might just become the story of the season for the Red Sox. That strong spring led to an Opening Day start in center field for Sizemore and, as if the story couldn’t get any better, he belted a solo home run during that first game against the Orioles, his first long ball since July of 2011.
But things haven’t gone particularly well for the Red Sox and Sizemore since then. Through 20 games this season, Sizemore is hitting just .208/.275/.361 with two home runs, two stolen bases, and six extra-base hits. In addition, Jackie Bradley Jr. has grabbed the starting center field spot for Boston, pushing Sizemore into a bench outfielder role with Shane Victorino back from injury.
Now that the optimism of spring has waned, what should we make of Grady Sizemore and his play with the Red Sox?
There is no denying that Sizemore has shown flashes of the player he once was. His second home run of the year off CC Sabathia was a no-doubter, and one that made Boston fans, myself included, dream about just what the 31-year-old could become with this ball club.
To be fair, though, Sizemore’s play has been uneven since the early weeks of April, as the former Indian has just three hits in his last 37 at-bats. His speed, which once led to 30+ stolen base seasons in his prime, hasn’t really been a factor either, and with Bradley Jr. showing off Gold Glove ability in center, Sizemore’s once great defense has been relegated to the corner outfield spots.
None of this is meant to be overly critical of Sizemore. It’s wonderful that he has been able to make it back to the majors after injuries halted his once-promising career. The fact Sizemore has even shown glimpses of his former self is reason enough to celebrate.
But the Red Sox can’t afford to be sentimental in any way—they need to determine just what this version of Grady Sizemore can give them for the rest of the season. More importantly, with the possibility that Daniel Nava might return to the fold from Pawtucket sometime this summer, Boston’s brass will need to decide just who the odd man out will be in a crowded outfield picture.
In the early going, Sizemore’s numbers demonstrate he is nowhere near the type of perennial All-Star he was for Cleveland at the beginning of his career, but they also show he is better than the injury-plagued player who struggled through two tough seasons with the Indians in 2010 and 2011.
Sizemore’s 8.8% walk rate isn’t particularly close to the 12.3% rate he averaged with the Indians from 2006 to 2009, though it is an improvement from the minuscule 6.2% he averaged in his final two seasons in Cleveland. The same can be said for the outfielder’s strikeout rate, which has dropped to 20% so far this season after sitting at 27.6% in 2010 and 2011.
Similarly, Sizemore’s swinging-strike rate has fallen from a woeful 12.9% in 2011 to a much more manageable 9.0% in 2014. Taken together, these numbers demonstrate that Sizemore’s peripherals have been right near league average thus far, which the Red Sox would be more than happy to have from their fourth outfielder, especially if he can add value on the bases with his legs.
Sizemore has also seen his overall contact percentage (79.1%) and line-drive rate (19.3%) improve after dipping during his last two years in Cleveland. Like his strikeout and walk numbers, these both sit right near league average at this point in the season.
What this means is Sizemore still has a chance to be a solid contributor for the Red Sox, despite his recent struggles. His .236 BABIP through Tuesday night is the biggest thing holding him back, and considering his walk and strikeout numbers aren’t anything to worry about, expect Sizemore’s .275 OBP to improve sooner rather than later.
Sizemore isn’t going to be the type of MVP caliber player he was in Cleveland for the Red Sox. But to be fair, neither Boston’s brass nor anyone else truly expected him to be. His early-season performance shows reasons to be encouraged, and for a player being paid $800,000 in 2014, any positive contributions are well worth the cost.
He may be slumping at the moment, but Sizemore deserves a little longer to prove his worth to the Red Sox. After sitting out two seasons, it’s fair to expect him to go through a period of adjustment anyhow, and many of his early numbers indicate Sizemore is a better hitter than he was towards the end of his run with the Indians.
Ultimately, both Sizemore and the Red Sox need a little more time for the dust to settle before they can draw any meaningful conclusions from what has been an up and down April.