LeBron Returning to Cleveland

'Ready to Accept the Challenge'

How Do MLB Hitters Perform After Taking a Year Off?

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
How Do MLB Hitters Perform After Taking a Year Off?
Getty Images

One finds it easy to imagine Alex Rodriguez just sort of lounging around while everyone else is playing baseball in 2014. Assuming the American judicial system doesn't have other ideas, he won't be able to do much else while serving out his 162-game suspension.

It's been pondered that the ban could spell the end of the New York Yankees third baseman's career. But if A-Rod does suit up to play in 2015, don't be surprised if he makes a strong return.

Just sayin', because it wouldn't be the first time a hitter made a strong return after a year off.

This is usually the point where I dive right into some research. It'll be along shortly, but not before the following warning: There's not much precedent for A-Rod's situation.

Hardly any, in fact. According to Maury Brown of BizofBaseball.com, there have been only two other season-long drug suspensions in MLB history: Pascual Perez in 1992 and Dwight Gooden in 1995. Since both were pitchers, they're no help here.

In lieu of other season-long drug suspensions, we have to consider the next-best thing: a mix of guys who were out of baseball for a year for health reasons and guys who were out for a year for reasons other than health.

If we ignore the players who left baseball for military service back in the day, the latter group consists of a very small collection of players. Only seven established players from more recent history came to mind as relevant examples: Ryne Sandberg, Eric Davis, Deion Sanders, Sammy Sosa, Gabe Kapler, Jim Edmonds and Miguel Tejada.

Due to various reasons, each of these guys took a year off from baseball during their careers. Most of them, however, came back strong.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

First, a bit of background. Sandberg and Davis are in a boat together, as both spent the 1995 season in retirement. Sosa was forced into temporary retirement in 2006 by a lack of interest in his services, and the same ended up happening to Edmonds in 2009.

Sanders, meanwhile, spent the 1996 season focusing on his football career before returning to the diamond in 1997. Kapler retired after 2006 and managed in the minors in 2007 before returning to the majors in 2008.

As for Tejada, well...alright, I'm cheating a little bit with him since he did play minor league ball in 2012. But since he only played 36 games in the minors before being released, I'm allowing myself to allow it.

Regarding these seven guys' performances, it's best if we keep it simple: Did they pick up where they left off? Better? Worse?

Survey says:

Seven Year-Off Guys
Player Year G PA OPS OPS+ WAR
Ryne Sandberg (1995) 1994 57 247 .702 83 0.9
1996 150 621 .760 97 3.2
Eric Davis (1995) 1994 37 138 .582 51 -0.3
1996 129 496 .917 140 3.1
Deion Sanders (1996) 1995 85 379 .727 94 1.3
1997 115 509 .693 80 0.1
Sammy Sosa (2006) 2005 102 424 .671 78 -1.0
2007 114 454 .779 101 0.1
Gabe Kapler (2007) 2006 72 147 .694 77 0.5
2008 96 245 .838 119 2.0
Jim Edmonds (2009) 2008 111 401 .822 112 0.1
2010 86 272 .846 125 2.0
Miguel Tejada (2012) 2011 91 343 .596 69 0.0
2013 53 167 .695 90 0.5

Baseball-Reference.com

Only Sanders got legitimately worse. His legs generated 56 stolen bases in '97, but his weak bat and defense (minus-0.5 Defensive WAR) rendered that production moot. 

But everyone else? They did alright.

Sandberg and Davis both returned to have excellent seasons in 1996. The 2007 season was a slight return to form for Sosa's bat. Edmonds was more or less himself in his return in 2010. Kapler was a pleasant surprise for the Brewers in 2008. And while still far from his old self, Tejada wasn't quite useless in 2013.

Now, you can argue that Tejada wasn't doing it on the level given that he was hit with a 105-game suspension in August for Adderall. But if you believe what he told ESPNdeportes.com, he had been using the stuff for five years already. He said his punishment was a paperwork issue.

"I've been using it [Adderall] for the past five years and had medical permission from MLB. But my last permit expired on April 15 and they didn't [give] me another," said the veteran infielder. 

Include Tejada in the discussion, and six of our seven case studies responded well to their years away from the game. Exclude him, and you still have five out of seven. 

I'll grant that this conclusion is less than 100 percent definitive given the tininess of the sample size. In addition, one of the reasons there are so few case studies is because not all comeback attempts result in major league playing time. Take Manny Ramirez this past year, for example.

But if I'm A-Rod, I'm enthused about how years off seemed to have a rejuvenating effect on Sandberg, Davis, Sosa and Edmonds, all older players who probably needed a year off. The relatively younger Kapler also played like a rejuvenated man after his year off.

There's also some encouragement to be drawn from how some notable established hitters bounced back after years off due to health matters.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rounding up a sample size here wasn't much easier. Position players don't suffer season-ending injuries as often as pitchers do, and when they do it's usually during the season. And since I wanted to focus on hitters who were established before their injuries, that limited my options even more.

In the interest of symmetry, I came up with a list of seven: Bo Jackson, Moises Alou, Andres Galarraga, Aaron Boone, Rocco Baldelli, Kendrys Morales and Victor Martinez. They stood out because:

  • Jackson: Missed 1992 due to hip replacement surgery
  • Alou: Missed 1999 with an ACL tear
  • Galarraga: Missed 1999 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Boone: Missed 2004 with an ACL tear
  • Baldelli: Missed 2005 with an ACL tear and Tommy John surgery
  • Morales: Missed 2011 with a fractured tibia (suffered in 2010)
  • Martinez: Missed 2012 with an ACL tear

I asked the same question of these seven guys that I asked of the other seven guys: Did they pick up where they left off, or get better or worse?

Survey says:

Seven Injury Cases
Player Year G PA OPS OPS+ WAR
Bo Jackson (1992) 1991 23 84 .742 107 0.1
1993 85 308 .722 94 0.6
Moises Alou (1999) 1998 159 679 .981 157 6.2
2000 126 517 1.039 151 2.6
Andres Galarraga (1999) 1998 153 648 .991 157 5.0
2000 141 548 .895 123 1.1
Aaron Boone (2004) 2003 160 656 .780 105 4.1
2005 143 565 .677 82 1.5
Rocco Baldelli (2005) 2004 136 565 .762 100 3.0
2006 92 387 .871 122 3.2
Kendrys Morales (2011) 2010 51 211 .833 129 1.7
2012 134 522 .787 119 2.2
Victor Martinez (2012) 2011 145 595 .850 131 3.2
2013 159 668 .785 111 1.2

Baseball-Reference.com

The only answer to Deion Sanders among these seven is Boone in 2005. He struggled at the plate and saw his overall value take a big hit as a result.

Elsewhere, however, it's largely good. Jackson had his production dip from where he had been in a small sample size in 1991, but not drastically so. Alou's bat was still explosive in 2000. Baldelli's bat had never been better in 2006.

Galarraga, Morales and Martinez, meanwhile, all saw their bats regress, but not to a point where they were below-average hitters. It's also worth noting that the latter two really got rolling in the second half, as Morales' OPS went from .758 to .817 and Martinez's went from .693 to .913.

Consider this more for A-Rod to be enthused about. It's not as if he doesn't have his own medical issues to worry about, after all, as he's walking around on two surgically repaired knees and two surgically repaired hips.

If the seven guys listed above could heal up during a year away from action, then Rodriguez certainly can too.

 

Some Final Thoughts

I'll note for the 90-umpteenth time that this was not a scientific study. Conducting one of those was my original goal, but established players who leave the game for a year are few and far between. Because of that, I'm frankly not sure it's even possible to get scientific with a topic like this.

But the big takeaway here, such as it is, is this: A year away from major league action is hardly a death sentence.

The bulk of the first seven guys we looked at played like rejuvenated men upon returning to action. Not all of the seven injured players picked up exactly where they left off, but most of them didn't see their talent utterly ruined by their health woes.

We have no way of knowing whether Alex Rodriguez will be able to make a similarly strong comeback in 2015. In part because we indeed don't know if he'll still be on the Yankees or a member of any other team, and in part because he's a very special case.

One: He'll be old. Two: He'll be rickety. And three: He'll be without the stuff he was apparently getting from Biogenesis. If he does come back to play in 2015, I wouldn't be too quick to go and lay down a big bet on him having a good year.

But if I'm him, I'm taking comfort in how there are players who can vouch that a year off isn't necessarily a career-killer.

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

Load More Stories

Follow B/R on Facebook

MLB

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.