Leg injury didn't kill Konerko's resurgence

If you want to do justice to Paul Konerko's outstanding 2011 season, don't compare it to what he did in 2010. It falls short in just about every respect.

But if you can pretend you blacked out through all of 2010, his 2011 would still elicit a "Wow!" In this alternate reality, his .388 OBP would have been a career high, as would his OPS+ (144). For an old-player-skills guy approaching old age, that would be a pretty good renaissance. We just happened to see a better one the year before.

Maybe it's best to add both years up. When you look at all the players to average 130 games over the last two years and then sort by OPS+, Konerko finds himself among impressive company.

Rk Player OPS+ Age PA R H 2B HR RBI BB IBB GDP BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Miguel Cabrera 180 27-28 1336 222 377 93 68 231 197 54 41 .337 .434 .604 1.038
2 Jose Bautista 174 29-30 1338 214 303 59 97 227 232 26 18 .280 .412 .613 1.025
3 Joey Votto 165 26-27 1367 207 362 76 66 216 201 23 31 .316 .420 .564 .984
4 Albert Pujols 162 30-31 1351 220 356 68 79 217 164 53 52 .305 .391 .569 .959
5 Adrian Gonzalez 154 28-29 1407 195 389 78 58 218 167 55 43 .319 .401 .530 .931
6 Matt Holliday 151 30-31 1191 178 318 81 50 178 129 14 34 .305 .389 .529 .918
7 Paul Konerko 151 34-35 1270 158 334 55 70 216 149 24 23 .306 .391 .551 .941
8 Prince Fielder 150 26-27 1406 189 321 61 70 203 221 49 29 .280 .408 .518 .925
9 Ryan Braun 149 26-27 1313 210 375 83 58 214 114 3 26 .317 .381 .547 .927
10 David Ortiz 145 34-35 1211 170 302 76 61 198 160 26 36 .290 .384 .542 .926

(One thing that stands out to me: Konerko has the second-lowest total of double plays.)

 

Back in February, I wrote a post that highlighted four reasons to believe Konerko could repeat his 2010. It holds up pretty well, I think, but this is the key difference:

No. 1: Health

The MVP(art) of the White Sox's MVP was the ligament in Konerko's right thumb, which had bothered him since he suffered a bone bruise early in the 2008 season. He had taken cortisone shots to deal with the pain, including one right before the start of the 2010 season. Since shots can only be administered once every few months, the Sox hoped it would get him to the All-Star break.

As luck would have it, his thumb never even came up in conversation. It's hard to tell if it was 100 percent healthy, since Konerko avoided talking about the thumb when it gave him fits, but since there were no reports of more midseason treatment, I have to think that the news was almost all thumbs-up.

In 2011, Konerko was not the picture of perfect health. He had "floating bone fragments" removed from his wrist in early June, and more significantly, he took Andrew Miller's 95-mph fastball to his knee at the end of July.

It hampered Konerko for most of the rest of the season, including unfortunate moments like this one:

Here's where I stop grimacing: After the knee injury, Konerko hit ..291/.397/.448.

An .845 OPS isn't normally something you'd write home about. While the OBP is fine and dandy (albeit aided by seven intentional walks), the slugging percentage isn't what you'd want out of a first baseman.

Still, I like that line a lot, because that is a great one for an unhealthy Konerko. In past years, when a nagging injury popped up, it killed his production for weeks, maybe even months. He just doesn't have the athleticism to compensate when an injury attacks a source of his power.

Konerko was visibly a different player over the last two months. His even-more-reduced speed cost him several doubles (which is saying something, considering his doubles are seldom automatic). He also swung through some fastballs he would've turned around in the first half of the season. It's impossible to assign percentages to blame -- in-season fatigue could have played a part -- but there's no question he was limited for weeks.

Even with a bad wheel for a month-plus and zero protection for all six, Konerko put together what might be the second-best season of his career. That's encouraging no matter what, and considering he's only paid like a star for one more season, the early indication is that he'll be able to leg out this contract. Maybe even standing up.

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