Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Triumphant Return of Grady Sizemore

The last few years have been trying ones for Grady Sizemore. Entering the 2009 season, Sizemore was a 26 year old, five-tool, three time all-star center fielder. He had just won his second Gold Glove award, and his first Silver Slugger award. He could do it all on a baseball field, and having played in at least 157 games in each of the past four seasons, he had a well deserved reputation for durability. Offensively, he gave you everything. A career .279 hitter with a .370 OBP, he had slugged at least 22 homeruns and stolen at least 22 bases in each of his first four seasons, and 33/38 in 2008.

He was going to be 27 in 2009, and after watching his stolen base and home run numbers steadily improve every year, expectations for what my still be in store had fans of the Indians (and baseball in general) titillated.

The derailments began shortly thereafter however. He injured his groin in spring training which forced him to miss the World Baseball Classic which he had previously committed to. Another injury, this one to his throwing elbow also hamper him and he struggled through the worst season of his career. With his swing hampered by his elbow, and his speed sapped by his groin injury, the 2009 version of Grady Sizemore hardly resembled the one that had come before.

His season would eventually end on September 9th when he finally elected to undergo surgery on his elbow. He would finish the season having hit just .248 with a .788 OPS, 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases. It would still have been a good year for most, but it was nothing like what fans had become accustomed to. Shortly after his elbow surgery, Sizemore would also have surgery to repair a hernia that had resulted from his groin injury.

Things would only get worse in 2010. Hitting just .211 and off to by far the worst start of his young career, Sizemore would suffer a bruised knee sliding into second base in mid April. He tried to tough it out but the pain in his knee was severe and it was hampering his game. He finally succumbed and again went under the knife in May - this time to have microfracture surgery on his knee.

Microfracture surgery is a still relatively new procedure that involves removing loose or damaged cartilage, and then drilling tiny holes into the bones of a persons knee with the hope of generating new cartilage growth. The recovery time for such a procedure is usually around at least one year, though it can take multiple years to recover full preoperative strength.

While Sizemore participated in spring training, his knee still wasn't 100% so the Indians had him open the season on the disabled list. He worked in extended spring training to open the year before doing rehab games with the teams Minor League affiliates. When it became clear that his knee could handle the stresses of running the bases and taking the outfield every day, the Indians made the move to call him up.

Since the day he came back, he's been vintage Sizemore. After a first at-bat groundout, he drove a long homerun to right field, a powerful notice American League pitching that he was still a player to be respected. He backed it up with a double later that game and has stayed hot since, hitting .357/.438/.714.

It's a BABIP fueled hot streak (as essentially all are) but it's been encouraging to see Sizemore driving the ball with authority and roaming the outfield with the same swagger as before. If Sizemore can be the player who he was before all the injuries of the past couple years, or at least a reasonable facsimile, it could give the Indians a truly potent lineup. Paired with a seemingly rejuvenated Travis Hafner, Carlos Santana, and perennial all-star Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians could suddenly possess one of the best lineups in the American League.

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