The Curious Case of Paul Konerko
What if I were to tell you that, by the end of his career, Paul Konerko will deserve to be in the Hall of Fame some day? You’d think I was crazy, wouldn’t you? Paul Konerko in the Hall of Fame? No way in hell. But would you have anything against my claim? I bet your only argument would be that he’s just not good enough. Unfortunately, that argument won’t cut it. I urge you to find a more underrated player in Major League Baseball over the last decade than Paul Konerko. You can’t do it. At the age of 36, Paulie has only gotten better with age. There are few players as respected within the baseball circle as Konerko. Even as a diehard Cubs fan, I have always respected him as a player and person. He’s been with the White Sox since 1999 and owns a World Series ring. But even after all my sentimental BS, you want facts. First, let me enlighten you with the reality that this man has actually gotten better with age:
I know, there’s a lot of numbers to look at, so I don’t expect you to go through them all. But if you want one major takeaway, it’s this: Konerko’s statistics between the ages of 34 and 35 (past two seasons) compared to what should be considered his “peak years” (ages 28-31) are clearly better. Although he’s averaging five fewer games and 17 fewer at bats per season these past two years, he’s still to managed to average more hits and much higher average/OBP/SLG splits. The home runs and RBI’s are nearly identical. The two seasons in between (2008-09) are somewhat of an enigma – Konerko was battling some injuries in 2008 and for some reason, he just wasn’t the same player. He’s found his groove over the last couple of seasons, and it’s carried into the 2012 season, where he’s sporting a line of .345/.426/.584 thus far. After that, though, it’s hard to say exactly how Konerko’s career would end up (injuries, bad lineup protection, etc. all play factors).
The good thing is this: many baseball fans, like myself, tend to project hypothetical statistics in order to determine how a player’s career will end. Forget the crazy math that goes into calculating projections for fantasy sports and stuff – no one knows where those projections really come from anyways (at least I don’t). Everything is about hypotheticals with baseball. “If A-Rod averages X amount of homers over the next X amount of years, he will shatter Hank Aaron’s home run record.” Things of that nature. Nothing is ever set in stone.
That’s why I would like to randomly project how Konerko’s career numbers will end up IF he continues at a rate similar to that over the past two seasons AND retires at the age of 39 (keep in mind that he may very well play until he’s 42 or so, so these numbers can be spread over a few extra years instead of just three). For the rest of the 2012 season, let’s assume, based on his history alone, that Konerko will play about 148 games and will end up with 540 at bats. In order to make our lives easier, let’s also assume he will come back down to earth this summer and have the same exact same splits that he has averaged the past two years. I will base home runs, RBIs, and runs on this season’s current pace and then add it up for “projected” totals.
Based on this process, here is what his 2012 numbers will look like: .306/.391/.551 with 165 hits, 29 HRs, 86 RBIs, and 76 runs. In order to address the main purpose of this post, I asked myself, “If Konerko were to go against all odds by continuing to not slow down with age, what would his career numbers look like if he averaged 30-100-75 with .306/.391/.551 splits for the next three seasons, and where would they rank up against the all-time great first basemen?” Before I answer that hypothetical question, here are the career numbers for every Hall of Fame First Baseman and how Konerko currently matches up with them:
At only 36 years young, Konerko would be one of just six hall of fame first basemen in the 400 Home Run Club. Regardless of his home run numbers, though, these stats probably would not cut it for the Hall of Fame. Everyone knows that baseball players have always been judged, and will always be judged, strictly based on their numbers. So, let us go back to the question I just asked and look at what Konerko’s career could potentially end up looking like (I reiterate potentially because, again, these numbers are merely based on his positive trajectory over the past two seasons and a lot of good fortune):
Attaining these numbers is by no means out of the question. How Konerko has gotten better with age is a mystery of its own, but it just proves that there’s no reason to think he can’t keep it up for a few more years, especially after how well he’s been hitting the ball so far this season. You can see that if Konerko does somehow achieve, or even surpass these numbers, he will finish with more hits, RBIs, runs and a higher slugging percentage than over half the first basemen in the Hall of Fame. He will also become one of only 25 (possibly more by then) major league baseball players ever to join the 500 Home Run Club (all of whom either made the HOF, are not yet eligible for the HOF, or whose numbers are tainted by the Steroid Era). If that’s not Hall of Fame worthy, it would be a damn shame.