Friday, April 6, 2012
Can Paul Konerko have another big year?
By David Schoenfield
Paul Konerko has aged extraordinarily well for a player generally viewed as a slow, unathletic first baseman. He is slow although he was athletic enough to spend time in the minor leagues as a catcher and he did play a few games at third base early in his career. But he arguably had the two best seasons of his career in 2010 and 2011 at age 34 and 35, something you rarely see from players of his type, who often wash out around his age. It's a testament to his work ethic and willingness to make some adjustments as he's aged.
I was surprised, however, to see that Konerko's career Baseball-Reference WAR is just 25.9. With 396 home runs, he's about to become the 48th player with 400 career home runs. Here are the lowest WAR totals for members of that club:
Paul Konerko enters his 14th season with the White Sox.
So why is Konerko's WAR so low? After all, he has a career .282/.358/.500 line and Kingman was a notorious hacker and legendarily inept defensive player. A few reasons why:
1. Some of his early years came when other first basemen were putting up monster numbers. For example, in 2001 he hit .282/.349/.507 with 32 home runs. Nice season, no? But his OPS ranked just 15th among MLB first basemen. In 2004, he hit .277/.359/.535 with 41 home runs. Pretty good numbers. He still ranked just eighth among first basemen in OPS. That affects his WAR, in which value is compared to others at your position.
2. On-base percentage. While Konerko has consistently put up good home run and RBI totals, his OBP has fluctuated from as low as .305 in 2003 while generally hovering around .350. He's reached a .375 OBP just four times. Compare that total to some of his contemporaries: Todd Helton (11), Jeff Bagwell (11), John Olerud (9), Jim Thome (8, not including DH years), Fred McGriff (8), Jason Giambi (7), Carlos Delgado (7), Rafael Palmeiro (7).
3. Ballpark effects. The Cell has been a better-than-average park for hitters during his tenure. The runs he's created are less "valuable" because they've come in a higher run-scoring environment.
3. Defense. He's rated as a poor defender at minus-3.1 WAR.
White Sox fans will view this assessment as a little harsh on Konerko's abilities. Hey, he's been a good player, at times an excellent player, so I'm not trying to rip the guy. When you hit 400 home runs you've obviously done something impressive with your career. As 2012 kicks off, he's an interesting guy to watch. If the White Sox have any chance of contending, Konerko has to keep defying Father Time. (You can follow the White Sox all season on ESPNChicago.com's White Sox blog.)