Is Grady Sizemore's Big Opening Day a Sign of Things to Come?

Ben Carsley@BenCarsleyContributor IMarch 31, 2014

Boston Red Sox center fielder Grady Sizemore takes batting practice before an exhibition baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, March 7, 2014, in Fort, Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne

Despite the Boston Red Sox's 2-1 loss on Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles, there are plenty of positives we can extract from what was ultimately a frustrating day.

Jon Lester was magnificent, allowing just two earned runs in seven innings, striking out eight Orioles along the way. Xander Bogaerts came within inches of a home run, Dustin Pedroia enjoyed a two-hit game, and Mike Napoli reached base three times, giving fans a glimpse at what should be a productive offense once again in 2014.

Yet there's perhaps no storyline that emerged from Game 1 that's quite as fun as that of Grady Sizemore's big first day as a Red Sox. And if the skills he showed us Monday are real, it could be a story we get to enjoy all season long.

In Sizemore's first at-bat as a Red Sox and his first in the Majors since September 22, 2011, he reached base on a hard single to right field. Then, in his second at-bat, Sizemore truly made his presence felt by lifting an inside fastball up and over the right field wall for Boston's first home run of the season and Sizemore's first bomb since July 2011.

We can't draw any meaningful conclusions from one game. While Sizemore looked quite comfortable at the plate and showcased impressive power in his Red Sox debut (even breaking his bat on the swing, as he'd tell NESN after the game), his performance Monday tells us little about the type of player he is now and even less about whether he'll withstand the rigors of a 162-game schedule.

It's indeed the latter half of that equation—health—that raises the most doubts about Sizemore's ability to contribute meaningfully in 2014. Few players have ever rebounded after two-plus seasons away from the game, and even fewer have done so successfully after enduring the kinds of injuries Sizemore has since 2009.

According to Baseball Prospectus' Injury History, Sizemore has missed time with groin, elbow, back and knee injuries 15 different times since 2009. He missed 128 games with a left knee injury in 2010, and missed all of 2012 and 2013 recovering from right knee and lower back injuries, both of which required surgery to correct.

Now 31, there's no telling when or if Sizemore will miss time once again, but the odds would seem not to be in his favor in terms of staying healthy from now until the end of the year.

But if Sizemore can stay on the field for 250, 400 or 550 PA this season, what might he be able to contribute to a team with title aspirations? It's another question that's difficult to answer, but one that we can at least broach by looking at his past performances.

A younger Sizemore was one of the league's best all-around players, garnering three All-Star appearances and three top-12 MVP finishes between 2005 and 2008, while winning two Gold Gloves, too. According to FanGraphs, here are Sizemore's triple-slash numbers, weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and WAR during Sizemore's four best seasons:

Grady Sizemore, 2005-2008

Those performances don’t tell us what Sizemore is capable of producing now, but hopefully they do serve as a reminder of just how talented Sizemore is when he's on the field. It's reasonable to question his health and how his bat speed and physical speed will play in 2014, but perhaps it's not reasonable to question is ability to hit and feel for the game.

And it's not like Sizemore has to be as good as he once was to be a tremendous pickup for the Red Sox. As FanGraphs tells us, the average batting line for a qualifying major league center fielder last season was .258/.324/.395.

While there are escalators in his contract that could raise his 2014 salary to $6 million, Sizemore is signed for a base contract of just $750,000, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, which essentially guarantees that he'll be a relative bargain for the Sox no matter how he produces.

Between Sizemore's excellent spring training and his explosive Red Sox debut, it's hard not to get carried away when thinking about his potential. Yet Red Sox fans must remember that Sizemore should not be viewed as a Jacoby Ellsbury replacement, an All-Star center fielder or even as a core contributor to the 2014 team. Such expectations are likely to lead to disappointment, and they muddle what a terrific comeback story Sizemore's resurgence represents.

But there's the potential for Sizemore to make a very real contribution to the Red Sox all season long, and we got a glimpse of that potential Monday night. Sizemore's bomb would prove to provide Boston's lone run and his final hit of the day, but his offensive performance has produced quite the feel-good story nonetheless.

It's a story that will feel even better if Sizemore stays healthy and continues to produce well into the summer.