When is Mark Grudzielanek going to fall off the cliff? Has he already?
Grudz will be 39 next season and has now appeared in 1772 games, most of them at a physically demanding position. Nevertheless, he's been extremely consistent in his sunset years, really remarkably so. The only problem is that he can't stay on the field anymore:
Quietly, he's even starting to walk a tad more, and that .426 slugging in '07 was the third highest of his career (1999, 2004). I've talked about Grudz's growing place in Royals history before, but he's also stealthily turned in a great career. He's just about the best hitter you can be when you have no speed, very little power and don't walk a lot. Did anyone think in 2003 that he'd still be putting up his standard line five years later?
So why should we be worried about a crash? Only age really, age and the already declining ability to stay healthy. (Who hasn't come to love Grudz's annual day after the trading deadline injury?) Only one factor surely, but on the list of things to worry about, age would be number one, considering it's inevitable. Looking at the Bill James Projection for Grudz in '09 however, one hardly sees a cliff, or even much more than a very gentle slope: .286/.336/.393 with three homers and thirteen doubles in 78 games. (Considering he'll miss a few games early anyway, that sets the season-ender very close to the deadline, again.) Basically, it's a pretty boring projection to say that an old guy will lose some singles but little else. But there it is.
So whither Alberto Callaspo? 'Berto was a major player in last season's second half run at respectability, hitting .393/.485/.429 in 34 August PAs, then .294/.330/.400 in fuller time (91) in September. On the season, taking into account his rough beginning, he hit .306/.361/.371, which is a very Grudzian line: a high but half-empty batting average with a whiff more of patience and some less vetty power. Cool.
James however, spits out a .280/.335/.375 projection for Callaspo, with three homers and sixteen doubles in 100 games, almost exactly the same as what Grudz will do in his model.
Callaspo however will be turning 26 next season, with 431 big league plate appearances (and a host of off-field problems) under his belt (thats where these things usually originate). For this reason, Callaspo is a player to watch, both in real life and as the various projections come out this season. Unless there's something in his data that screams fluke (I see no major flags) one or two programs are going to see big things for him.
Or so sayeth one human, predicting the electronic predictors.
You can order the 2009 Bill James Handbook here.