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Friday, January 13, 2012
What history tells us about Kendrys Morales

By Mark Saxon

Angels blogger Sam Miller has an interesting breakdown of some historical precedents for Kendrys Morales' 21-month absence from baseball on the OC Register's Web site.  A few things jump out:

1. It's not very common for players to miss more than one full season due to injury. Pitchers often miss a year-and-a-half or so recovering from ligament-replacement surgery, but position players typically return much sooner, even if the injury sometimes diminishes them.

2. Nobody really has any idea how this guy is going to respond. As Miller notes, the ZIPs projection system has him hitting .274 with a .321 on-base percentage, a .455 slugging percentage and 14 home runs in 87 games. And the fish in my living room thinks he'll hit .290 with 25 homers. How can anybody have any idea how his body will hold up, how hard he's been working and how badly he wants it?

3. Angels fans should hope Morales follows the Ron Gant path, as Miller writes:

Gant was coming off a fifth-place MVP finish when, before his age-29 season, he broke his leg in an ATV accident during the offseason. He didn't play a game that year; the Braves released him, just weeks after signing him to a $5.5 million contract, voiding the bulk of the contract. Gant signed with the Reds in 1995 and was very nearly as good as ever. He had a career-best .940 OPS, hit 28 home runs and stole 23 bases. He finished 11th in MVP voting. He hit 30 home runs the year after that, and while his stolen bases would steadily drop, that's typical for a player in his 30s.

4. Not the Nick Johnson trajectory:

In 2006, the first year of a three-year contract, the 27-year-old Johnson hit .290/.429/.520 and played in a career-high 147 games. But late in the season, he broke his leg in an on-field collision. Like Morales, he missed the rest of the year and all of the following season, before finally getting healthy in spring training 2008. It's hard to know just what to make of Johnson's recovery; he was badly injured again in 2008, but it was a totally different injury, and he had rarely been healthy before his broken leg. (He'd had a back back, a broken cheekbone, a broken hand, and he missed his entire age-21 season, too.) He continued to draw walks after the leg injury, but never hit with power again, and spent 2011 -- just his age-32 season -- in the minors, where he was one of the worst hitters in the International League. Not a good ending.

5. Best of all, he could follow in Ted Williams' footsteps. After missing three seasons as a pilot in World War II, Williams came back and won an MVP, batting .342/.497/.667. By the way, Williams should make Angels fans worry less about Albert Pujols' supposed declining years. From his age-32 season on, Williams got MVP votes every season but one until his age-41 season and finished in the top 10 of the voting five times.

The more we know, the less we seem to know.