This is what I wrote almost five years ago about Paul Konerko's 5 year, $60 million re-signing:
While it might be over-paying a bit, $12 million isn't ridiculous. Five years is probably a year longer than we would have liked but it's not like he's going to be 40 in that last year. At 35, he should still be a very productive player.
It's good that the contract was a year longer than we would have liked because this year, the last of his contract, has indeed been very productive (yes, I mistakenly tacked on a year to his age). If you believe Fangraphs' WAR, he's been worth 14.5 WAR during this contract which, if you also believe the dollar value ascribed by Fangraphs to wins, comes out to $58.5 million. And he's still got a couple weeks to make himself worth the full $60 million.
A rather substantial chunk of this value - $18.6M and 4.7 fWAR - has come in 2010. I would also argue that valuation probably understates his value this season because he's rated as -9 runs with the glove, which is a rather stark departure from previous seasons (where he's essentially been right at 0 runs) and doesn't jibe with the scouting reports. While he may be slipping some in the field, he still scoops with the best of them and it's unlikely any further deterioration to his always limited range was that dramatic.
In any event, it's with the bat that his season has been so remarkable. After the jump, I'll take a preliminary look at how he's managed his superb season and what we can expect going forward.
Konerko is currently flirting with a 1.000 OPS, sporting a .321/.400/.599 line. These numbers are single season career highs, surpassing his .313/.381/.551 of 2006, and are also well above his career line of .281/.356/.499. How is he putting up such gaudy numbers in his age 34 season?
You probably immediately noticed his high batting average and many probably thought he's getting some BABIP luck. That's certainly true. His. 335 BABIP this season is 50 points higher than his career average. Looking at his batted ball breakdown, he's apparently not doing all that much different this season than in 2009: 19.5% LD, 35% GB and 45.5% FB - almost exactly the same. The big difference is what is happening with those flyballs. Almost 20% are leaving the ballpark, a level Konerko hasn't been at since 2004 and 2005, two years in which he hit 41 and 40 home runs, respectively. Home runs are obviously not BIP but they still count in average. Both his BABIP and his HR/FB are unlikely to be repeated.
Konerko has always been a good fastball hitter. But he's taking it to a whole new level this season. He is an amazing 47 runs above average against the fastball this season, far outpacing Joey Votto's 37 runs to lead the majors in this category. While it's possible that he's sitting on the fastball more than usual, it still suggests that he hasn't lost much, if any, bat speed.
One other interesting area to note is his plate discipline. His 11.5% walk rate is in line with his recent history. He is, however, swinging more at pitches outside the zone and less at pitches inside the zone. Interestingly, this hasn't affected his contact rate against either type. I'm frankly not sure what, if anything, to take from this.
I'd be remiss in not mentioning that Konerko has been extremely healthy this season. He's struggled the past few seasons, particularly with the recurring issue with his right thumb. While Konerko is notorious for not mentioning health issues, we've heard nary a peep this season about his thumb or any other major concern, which suggests that health has been a key factor.
As one would expect with any career year, he's doing many things very well, including some things that probably aren't repeatable. Obviously, while it shouldn't matter as much as it does, having a career year in your walk year bodes well for your next contract - particularly given the way the market has treated older hitters without a great deal of positional value. Konerko has shown baseball that he probably has at least one more good multi-year contract left in him. He's far more likely to be near his 2007 and 2009 seasons of .360ish wOBA than 2010's .423. That would place him in the 2-2.5 WAR range. $4 million per win is probably a decent estimate of the price of free agents this offseason. 2 years and $20 million seems like a fair price but a yearly salary cut may be difficult to swallow, particularly given this season, and there may be someone(s) willing to tack on another season. How the market views Konerko - and how aggressive the White Sox are in seeking to retain him - will be an interesting thing to watch this offseason, just like it was after 2005.