It happens to the very best of them — Paul Konerko knows that.
He just didn’t know exactly when time would finally catch up to his MLB career, that’s all. For a while, the longtime Chicago White Sox first baseman looked as though he was immune to age, putting together three consecutive All-Star seasons from age 34 to 37, slugging 96 home runs in the process — good for a fourth-place tie among his peers in the bigs.
Even while he was making the Midsummer Classic appearances, however, regression was eating at him, and there was a fairly clear pattern emerging:
2010: .977 OPS, 39 HRs, 3.6 fWAR
2011: .906 OPS, 31 HRs, 2.5 fWAR
2012 : .857 OPS, 26 HRs, 1.9 fWAR
As much as he’d done (and successfully so) to fight it, Konerko has simply hit a wall in 2013. You might have been able to chalk up his .233/.290/.400 triple-slash through April to a slow start, but as he currently carries a .233/.296/.347 line through 213 PA into early June, I’d say that doesn’t hold too much water anymore.
No, it’s a full-on regression train at this point, and the 37-year-old is feeling the full effects of the ride.
All of his numbers have just about plummeted off the deep end, from his power (just five home runs on the season) to his patience at the plate (0.46 BB/K, lowest since his rookie year). Every time it looks as though he might put together a string to get out of it (.293/.341/.415 over the last 14 days), he falls back into another slump that keeps his numbers down (.217/.250/.304 over last seven days).
A closer look at his numbers reveals what you might expect: a diminishing contact rate (82.6 percent, 82.2, 81.6 from 2011-2013), a rising swinging strike rate (7.2 percent, 7.8, 8.4), and a penchant to chase outside pitches (28.2 percent, 28.6, 29.4).
Of course, his HR/FB rate has fallen off a cliff too (7.4 percent in 2013 compared to 16.4 over career), as the power that Konerko has exhibited all these years isn’t what it used to be.
Coupled with the fact that there’s probably been a little meddling from the baseball gods (.258 BABIP despite a career-best 26.3 percent line drive rate), and for the first time in a very long time (since his age-27 season when he led the league in GIDPs), Konerko is not only an unproductive player — he’s below replacement level at -0.9 fWAR.
Yes — unless he turns things around at the plate in very short order, the Chicago White Sox might actually be better off without Paul Konerko.
Sounds crazy to me, but in a sense, that epitomizes the team’s unfortunate 2013 season to date, no?