In 2006, Grady Sizemore signed the biggest contract ever for a player of his age and started his change from one of the most beloved Indians of all time (especially with female fans) into on of the most hated. After a fantastic start of his career from 2004 through 2008, injuries hurt his standing and he missed significant time in both 2010 and 2011 due to injury. After missing all of 2012 (while under contract with the Indians) and all of 2013 (as a free agent), Grady is back after signing an incentive laden contract with the Boston Red Sox that can be worth up to $6M, $750K of which is guaranteed, if he can stay healthy and productive all season. Since our focus here is on the Indians, we will let the Red Sox decide whether he will be able to do that this year. Instead, we'll take a look back at his Indians career to see if Eric Wedge was right and maybe he should have taken a few more days off.
A great value of keeping track of every game for this website, is that I have a fairly reliable source of day-to-day information going back to 2008. It is this information I will use to follow the paths of Sizemore's injuries that lead up to his recent two year vacation.
Grady was always one to want to play every day, often to the dismay of Eric Wedge who hated playing streaks for two reasons. First, he overvalued utility players and wanted to get them as much playing time as possible. More importantly, he understood that bodies will break down with constant abuse and need a day off from time to time. From 2005 through 2008, Grady missed just nine games, mostly due to normal days off although he did pull a hamstring in early 2008. Sizemore was very strong headed and refused change, whether it meant moving down in the lineup to help the team or taking a day out of the lineup for a rest.
The constant wear down finally caught up to him in 2009, when he missed a large part of the season due to bone spurs in his elbow. Likely, he had been playing with pain for awhile and his stats show that is a possibility. Looking back at 2006, he was a high average, high speed, high power player that struck out almost once per game. From 2007 through 2008 he changed this up. The speed and power stayed, but his average dropped and his strike outs started turning into walks as he evolved as a hitter. While the second part could have come from maturity alone, coupled with the drop in average it looks more like a change in style to become less aggressive.
The first injury he dealt with, the bone spurs, was one that can develop and go unnoticed for years. There is a great chance that this injury had developed early in his career and he had played with it until the pain was too much, about 50 games into the season. Instead of surgically fixing the problem then, he took just 20 games off before returning and was significantly improved over his first half results. This time was short lived as he had surgery at the beginning of September on both his left elbow and his left groin, an injury he had been hiding for considerable time.
While it is not necessary the case here, often times when a person injures one part of their body, they will overstress a different part to make up for it. This may have happened to Sizemore as he had injuries in completely new places in 2010. While he was ready for Opening Day, it didn't take very long for a new injury to pop up. Just six games into the season, he missed two games due to a sore lower back, then after playing 28 consecutive games, the pain in his knee became too severe to play with. While initially it was though to be a simple bruise caused by a hard dive, it was likely a more extensive break down over time.
He had his first micro fracture arthroscopic surgery in June of that year and that kept him out for the rest of the year. In fact, he missed the first 14 games of 2011 as well, and the pain didn't go away. Although he tried to play through it, he missed significant time during May along with most of July and August due to the same injury. Wanting to avoid another surgery and nine months off, Grady tried to push things in September, but was able to play in just ten more games before being declared out for the season with just one week left to go.
Rather than using Sizemore's option for 2012, they allowed him to test the free agent market for awhile before eventually signing him to a $1M deal. He wasn't ready to start the season with the team, but continued to work during the season, fighting against major injuries in his knee and back in an attempt to play during the late summer, but it just wasn't possible. He had another, less severe surgery in December of that year and saw no interest from teams for the 2013 season.
Sizemore's is a cautionary tale, reminiscent of Ray Fosse's shoulder injury. In both cases the player dealt with pain and played at a far inferior level than they were capable of for multiple years. There is a good chance that this time off for Sizemore will be just what he needs to get back to the player that hit 53 doubles and stole 22 bases in 2006. Looking back at what could have been, however, Sizemore played at a sub par level in 2009 and missed most of 2010 and 2011 before taking two years off. While it would have been impossible to know at the time, a little more time off in 2008 could have saved five years of pain. If he had taken care of his elbow and groin as soon as the problems popped up, there is a chance the back and knee problems would never have appeared. Even if they were already on the way years in advance, playing less often would almost certainly have made his knee problems less severe.
While long playing streaks might be fun for fans to watch, they are of no benefit to the player or the team. The Indians seem to have learned from this as well and since 2010, no player has participated in more than 155 games in a single season. It is yet to be seen if this will be successful in preventing these long term stress based injuries, but since then to this point, there have been no severe injuries among Indians outfielders. We wish all the best to Grady Sizemore in his comeback with the Red Sox and hope that players will take this as a cautionary tale. If someone offers you a day off, take it and if something hurts, don't play through it. These things don't get better with use.
Sizemore during his comeback in 2011.