Paul Konerko's numbers took a big hit in 2012. Is age catching up to the White Sox first baseman?
The way people talk about Paul Konerko's age, you'd think he was around for the first Thanksgiving or something. The Chicago White Sox first baseman turns 37 in March -- meaning his fantasy usefulness is nearing its demise -- but you can't argue with the production from the 16-year vet. The six-time All-Star has amassed 422 home runs and 1,336 RBI in 2,142 games -- that's an average of 31 home runs and 101 RBI per 162 games. Think of it like this: That's the kind of production Angels fans should be hoping for from Albert Pujols when he turns 36 in three years.
Time for some honest reality that I'm not particularly proud of: As a full-fledged Cubs fan, nothing makes me happier than watching the South Siders struggle (see: public enemy No. 1 A.J. Pierzynski), but watching Konerko get better with age has actually been something I've thoroughly enjoyed. The guy is a Hall of Famer in my book (especially if he hits that 500 number). May your Thanksgiving turkey be cooked to a juicy brown perfection, Paul.
Now for some more reality: Konerko's production dipped significantly in 2012. After averaging 32 home runs and 101 RBI over the three years prior, Konerko hit 26 homers and drove in 75 runs in the middle of a pretty good Chicago lineup -- the team's 97 wRC+ was tied for tenth best in the league. He did miss time with nagging injuries, but still appeared in all but 18 games while coming within two at-bats from 600.
Some quickies to get through: Konerko's above-average strikeout rate stayed at 13.9-percent from a year ago, but his walk rate declined from 12.1 to 9.4. He failed to produce an ISO of .200 for the first time in three years -- in 2008, it was at .199, and he reached .231 or better in the four years before that. Not surprisingly then, his fly ball rate was at its lowest in 16 years, at 36.5-percent. There are definitely reasonable concerns about his power. Finally, Konerko's BABIP was right around .300, where it's always been. Nothing to analyze there.
Konerko is a a notorious fast ball killer, but he struggled catching up to the heat in the 2012. In 2010 -- when he hit 39 home runs with 111 RBI -- he feasted on opposing fastballs. Using the FanGraphs Pitch Value tool (see here for description), it's obvious Konerko's success with the heater has worsened the past three years, with a value of 49.0 in 2010, all the way down to 21.2 this past year. For context, a score of zero is average. And, to be fair, anything over 20 is considered above average. Another problem for Konerko is that he's becoming a less patient hitter, as he's swinging at far more pitches outside of the zone (28.6-percent in 2012; 22.3 career), and it shows in his decreased walk rate.
In my opinion, those planning on being a Konerko owner in 2012 must have a backup plan. The Fake Teams writing staff has Konerko as a top-10 option, but I'm not seeing it. If you take Konerko, I would suggest also drafting someone in the 16-19 range on our list, which includes Anthony Rizzo, Corey Hart, Freddie Freeman and Ike Davis, in case Konerko continues his 2012 decline.
Konerko will still hit for average, but it wouldn't surprise me if he struggled to reach 20 home runs in 2013. My Paul Konerko prediction: .290 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI and plenty of succulent turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Break him off a leg. After 16 years of MLB service, he's earned it.
Statistics from FanGraphs.