Scoring and hitting have declined the last three seasons. Despite that fact, Paul Konerko keeps hitting and putting up terrific numbers at the plate. And yet, he is not a statistical darling because he is not considered a great fielding first baseman and has lead in his pants on the bases. But gosh, the guy can hit. Since 2009, Konerko has a higher wOBA than Matt Holliday, Joe Mauer, Lance Berkman, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano and Justin Upton. And he is just behind Adrian Gonzalez (.390 to .392). And yet, outside of Chicago, there is little love for Paul Konerko.
Since 2009, Paul Konerko has the following triple slash line: .300/.381/.536. That .917 OPS is the eleventh highest in baseball in that time. The names in front of him are the Who’s Who of baseball. Shouldn’t Konerko be considered with them? And 2012 is showing that he is not slowing down any. His triple slash line so far this season: .369/.436/.655. So far this season, 14 of his 31 hits have been for extra bases. At the age of 36, if Konerko can simply put up his usual number the rest of the season, this could be the best season of his career.
To say that Konerko is locked in would be an understatement. He currently sports a line drive percentage of 25 percent. Anything over 20 is considered very good. And this continues a two-year trend as he finished last year with a 22.3 line drive percentage. Earlier in Konerko’s career, he was prone to infield pop ups. But the last three years have been down drastically in that category and he has only had one all season. Paul Konerko is not an easy out.
And for a guy that is a slugger who averages 32 homers for every 162 games he’s played in his career, Konerko is not a big strikeout guy. His career strikeout rate is a modest 14.5 percent. And last year, he only struck out at a 13.9 percent clip and this year, he is at only 12.8 percent. For a guy that has hit 401 homers in his career, his career swinging strike percentage historically is an impressive 7.8 percent.
The big knocks on Paul Konerko is his base running and fielding. As far at the base running goes, there is not much you can do about being slow. Since 2009, only Carlos Lee is considered a worst base runner than Konerko. To put it mildly, all the leaders in this category are first basemen and designated hitters. Players are not assigned this position because they are fast. But the fielding is another story.
The fielding data for Konerko has been all over the place. Let’s go back to 2005 and look at his numbers in Fangraphs. Starting with that season, here is his ratings: 2.8, 0.0, 0.4, -0.9, 1.9, -13.4, -0.5 and this year, 1.6. Those numbers are confusing, aren’t they? They range from pretty good to average to terrible and back to average. So where is the truth there? As far as scooping ability, an up and coming statistic, Konerko rates neither in the top ten or the bottom ten. So call him average there.
The conclusion here is that Konerko is an average fielding first baseman who has taken some knocks for that ability that might not be deserved. Since first basemen are given such lousy positional values to begin with, Konerko has fought an uphill battle not to have the value of his offense eroded by those positional and base running measurements. The result is that despite his hitting heroics, Konerko is only 61st in fWAR since 2009. And that is a shame.
It is a shame because Paul Konerko has been an outstanding player for the Chicago White Sox who even at the age of 36 does not show any signs of slowing down. In a time when pitching is starting to dominate the game, Konerko’s OPS+ the last two full seasons have been 160 and 144. And judging by OPS and wOBA, only ten better hitters have played this game of baseball since 2009.