It’s been over a month since the whole Fausto Carmona / Roberto Hernandez Heredia issue came to light in a name falsification bust that resulted in his arrest, eventual placement on baseball’s restricted list, and a muddied 2012 season. And during that time no other additional information has become clear, leaving his immediate baseball future similar to his yearly production: unknown.
Sure, the Associated Press recently reported that Hernandez is supposed to receive judicial pardon, but then what? Will the Dominican-born right-hander be back in the states before Opening Day? How long will it take him to get back into game shape? How will this entire situation affect his mental state? Will he even playthis season?
No one really knows right not, probably not even Hernandez himself. But one thing is clear though: his potential absence has far reaching implications that extend well beyond the rotation. It could, in fact, impact oft-injured center fielder and former All-Star Grady Sizemore more than anyone realizes.
Sizemore was once one of the young premier players in the game. From his first full season, 2005, through 2009, he hit .281/.372/.496 and was worth over 27 wins above replacement, the fourth best total among hitters, trailing only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, and Alex Rodriguez. Then all of sudden the wheels fell off – figuratively and literally.
Early in the 2009 season something started to happen, a bit of bad luck or so, at least that’s what it seemed like. He lost 20 games to left elbow inflammation, a problem that never fully healed during his stint on the DL and eventually needed surgery, costing him another 28 games. Still, his production that season, .248/.343/.445, seemed like an aberration of sorts, just blip on an otherwise fantastic career. It wasn’t. It was a harbinger of bad things to come.
In 2010, the injury bug became an all-out plague: microfracture knee surgery, a procedure done to regrow cartilage, and one that isn’t a guaranteed fix. Fast forward two seasons and 201 missed games and Sizemore’s once blossoming career is carefully teetering on the knees of 29-year-old going on 80. Sizemore, by the way, is the scheduled Opening Day starter in center in 2012, not Michael Brantley.
But the Tribe, by design or coincidence, started shaping a pitching staff that could actually prevent added wear-and-tear on his knees; a rotation so perfectly crafted that anyone could play center field. It was supposed to be the Ultimate Groundball Starting Rotation. Led by Justin Masterson, newly acquired Derek Lowe, Carmona/Hernandez, and Ubaldo Jimenez; the rotation boasted three of the top six groundball pitchers in the game since 2010, and another, Jimenez, that strikes out nearly one batter per inning who also has an above-average groundball rate. If an organization had an oft-injured center fielder with a history of knee problems this was the rotation to have. Meaning: for six innings on four out of every five days a strong outfield defense, particularly in center, wouldn’t be need; too many groundballs and a lot less real estate to cover.
And now with Carmona’s future up in the air, at least in 2012, Kevin Slowey looks to be the front-runner for his old spot. Slowey, by the way, is an extreme fly ball pitcher, the eighth highest total since 2007. He also doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters either. Guys put the ball in the air an awful lot against him. Add in Josh Tomlin, another extreme fly ball pitcher with even worse strikeout numbers, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture – at least not for Sizemore’s playing time in center field.
But there is a way manager Manny Acta could stagger the rotation to allow his center fielder the needed time off: Masterson, Jimenez, Slowey, Lowe, and Tomlin. Sizemore could start on days when Masterson, Jimenez, and Lowe pitch, and rest on days when Slowey and Tomlin throw. That way he’s playing six out of every ten games (six out of nine depending on the schedule) with caution added because of his injury history.
Even if the team moves Brantley over to center, a position he is average at best defensively, Sizemore is still going to have to play in left. So fly balls and real estate are going to be a problem anywhere. He can’t be hidden at DH either, where Hafner likely to see about 375 PA next season.
The Indians had the perfect rotation in place for Sizemore with Carmona/Hernandez which could have squeaked 135 or so games from Sizemore, but they still might be able to get 115 to 120 out of him as it stands now.