We’ve seen it with Albert. We’ve seen it with Bautista. And we’ve seen it with another former superstar, Adrian Gonzalez, who’s been in the news lately. Aging hitters experiencing a swift fall.
After being traded to the Braves in a glorified salary swap, Gonzalez was immediately designated for assignment and officially released on Monday afternoon.
However, it was not long ago that Gonzalez was one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Packing a powerful stroke from the left side, he hit at least 20 home runs in 9 of 10 seasons from 2006 to 2015.
In 2012, Gonzalez reached the apex of superstardom, gracing the cover of MLB 12: The Show. He was awarded this honor after posting eye-popping numbers in his first year in Boston. Batting .338, Gonzalez clubbed 27 homers, 45 doubles, and posted a .410 on-base percentage.
The 2017 version of Gonzalez was a far cry from his former self. Through an injury-riddled campaign in which he lost his starting job to the NL Rookie of the Year, Gonzalez only mustered a .242/.287/.355 slash line.
Really, this was only his second less than spectacular season. Granted, it was pretty awful, but Gonzalez was still elite just two seasons before.
Now, hitting free agency at 35, he’s unlikely to land an everyday spot in someone’s lineup.
It was rough to watch at the end, but Adrian Gonzalez had a hell of an awesome tenure with the Dodgers. Hopefully folks remember the good stuff.
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) December 16, 2017
So, why do hitters age so quickly? How does one go from perennial All-Star to below replacement-level in such a short span?
A common explanation is that hitters experience a decline in reaction time as they get older. So, their bat speed slows down. As a result, they have a more difficult time catching up to the fastball.
Although this seems like a fair hypothesis, it’s a flawed one. In a number-crunching analysis, FiveThirtyEight found that older hitters are not any worse against high-velocity pitches.
Instead, they believe it has to do with a variety of factors.
Declines in durability, stamina and muscle mass may combine to claim careers before hard-throwing pitchers start to take a higher toll.
The season moves fast, new players rise and fall every year. It’s easy to view players through the lens of “what you’ve done for me lately”. But let’s not forget greatness.
We have to show respect and appreciation for these former superstars. While it’s sad to watch your favorite players grow older, we need to remember the good times they gave us not so long ago.
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