This is the continuation of a series of analyzing the possibility of regression in several aging White Sox players. It begin in conception as one post with a series of blurbs, then bloated horribly into where each blurb is now it's own post.
Nevertheless, here's the breakdown on Paul Konerko's regression possibilities.
Paul Konerko landed his big contract after 2005, partly because he was the best offensive player on the team by 9 miles, but in no small part as a reward for leading the team to mountaintop and beating the living hell out of Angels in the ALCS. While he paid the team back with a big year in 2006, the next three years of his career mapped out a period of pretty steady decline that hinted at his parting after 2010 being easy (as easy as such a thing could be) and inevitable.
Of course, Paulie went bonkers in 2010, leading the team to re-sign the plodding slugger despite the fact that he would turn 35 before opening day. In doing so, they were double dipping by adhering to the "Don't push a guy out the door after a career year" principle, and the Jim Thome-branded "Don't push a super-productive player out the door when you have no real contingency plan just because he's old" principle.
Why he might be on the downslide: Well, as we've covered, he's 35. He didn't scratch 115 wRC+ three straight seasons in a row, and the diminished skills dye was really cast until last year. Is one year of evidence more reliable than three?
Peripherals aren't kind to Konerko either. 19.8% of his fly-balls went out of the yard last season, which is not only streets ahead of the league average 10.6%, but a solid three points above his U.S. Cellular aided career-level. Even if you've moved beyond caring about batting average, a BABIP 40 points higher than his norm means it might take some luck to hit .312 again.
Finally, while a great point for Konerko's success is that he was finally healthy in 2010, it should be pointed out that health, is not something that can be easily relied upon, especially as a player gets older.
Why this is crazy-talk: When making projection systems, it's customary to weigh the previous season the most, as it is the best predictor for future performance. To witness Konerko have an utterly superb 2010, but just write it off because 2007-2009 was underwhelming and assert that there was no real, lasting change at all that took place is well...'asinine' is a bit rude, but if someone really had you worked up about it, yeah...use that word.
While I dismissed basing boatloads of optimism on Konerko's health, he did explode in 2010 after suffering from thumb injuries the past few seasons, and as long as he's healthy as he is now, he should remain optimized.
On the note of sustained change, there's this: Konerko killed fastballs last season. To unheard of levels (48.4 runs above average), especially for him. It's pretty atypical to gain bat-speed with age, so suspicion is abound that Konerko was "cheating" on heaters to compensate for a slow-down. However, this wouldn't help explain why he was better-than-ever on change-ups as well (6.4 runs above average). What might explain it, is that essentially eschewed the breaking ball (-6.5 runs above average vs. curveballs) for a more straight-forward aggressive approach (career-high 27.7% swings outside the zone) on the heaters, resulting in a lot more boom (39 HR), and a bit more bust (20.1% K-rate).
Is this idea based on mulling through game-tape? Not particularly. Would a new approach also mean that the league would adjust? Inevitably. Is this optimistic? Yes, which is why I'm sticking with it.
Still working on bits for A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Buehrle, Juan Pierre, Carlos Quentin's Defense, and Jake Peavy, but here's the completed post for Adam Dunn
Fellow CN Sox Blogger Melissa Miller comes out and says she's emotional about Paul Konerko, rather than let it shade her supposedly legit analysis like I do.