Paul Konerko: Can the Chicago White Sox Slugger Stay Productive Past Age 35?

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 1, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 08:  Paul Konerko #14 of the Chicago White Sox hits a grand slam home run in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians on September 08, 2011 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

Paul Konerko will once again enter the season as the key run producer for the Chicago White Sox. This season, the difference is that Konerko is leading a subpar offense at the age of 36.

White Sox fans must wonder if Konerko can keep up his production and power at his age.

Konerko has put together a very nice career. He has collected 30 home runs seven times, driven in 100 runs six times, posted a slugging percentage of .500 seven times and posted an on-base-plus-slugging rate of .840 10 times.

Konerko has been a valuable player for the White Sox. Four of the six times Konerko drove in 100 runs, he was the only White Sox hitter to drive in 100 runs. In the last two years, Konerko has been the only White Sox hitter to club 30 home runs. He's placed in the top 10 in the American League in slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging four times.

The White Sox may see lower numbers from Konerko, since players generally drop off after age 35. Last season, Chipper Jones was the only player past the age of 35 with an above average on-base-plus-slugging figure with a mark of .814, which placed him 53rd. Derek Jeter posted a slightly below average .743 mark.

Veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero had a quaint .733 mark. Once-powerful Hideki Matsui put up a .696 rate.

In an age when drug policy is steadily enforced and performance-enhancing drugs are independently tested, older players have a tough time sustaining their effectiveness.

The numbers that Jeter, Guerrero and Matsui posted are a far cry from the thick of the steroid era. In 2003, players past 35 had a combined .265 batting average, .425 slugging percentage and .770 on-base-plus-slugging rate.

Konerko picked up his production in 2010 and 2011 after down years in the two years prior. In 2008, Konerko hit 22 home runs and had a .438 slugging percentage. The next year, he slugged .489 with 28 home runs.

If that's any indication, Konerko won't be slugging at a high rate for long. One can't expect a player who picked his game back up in his mid-30s to keep it going in the latter part of his personal decade.

Hopefully, the White Sox will be prepared for a possible decline from Konerko. They'll need Adam Dunn and Alex Rios to find their strokes again.

Also, the White Sox will have to hope young players can slug for a full season. If those players don't step up and Konerko falls off, then the White Sox will be hard-pressed for runs.