There’s word from the Star-Telegram that Sammy Sosa worked out with the Texas Rangers in Arlington, and may be offered an incentive-laden minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. The question now becomes: What does Sammy Sosa have left in the tank, at age 38?
In 2005, Sosa had his worst campaign since 1991 with the Chicago White Sox, hitting just .221/.295/.376 in 380 at-bats, slowed down by both decline and a staph infection in his foot. After a .253/.332/.517 season in 2004, it was clear to anyone watching that Sosa’s production was dropping, but this was more of a dip than anyone expected. Sosa did under perform somewhat though, as his expected BABIP (LINERD% + .12) was .277, whereas his actual was only .248 (a difference of .029). His line drive percentage was also uncharacteristically low; from 2002-2004, Sosa’s line drive rate was in the 19-20 percent range, while in 2005 it was only 15.7 percent. He also hit a great deal of infield pop-ups, with 16 percent of his flyballs never reaching the outfield, and his homerun per flyball rate dropped by 13 percent in a single season.
Those all appear to be signs of a bat that is slowing down: more pop-ups, fewer line drives, less power behind his swing, and a slowly rising groundball rate. Oddly enough though he began to pull a few more line drives and flyballs than he had in the past, but most of those seem to be balls that he used to drive solidly with authority into center. As they age, players start to get out in front of the ball and hit it to the opposite field more often, as well as experiencing a spike in their walk rate. In 2005, Sosa’s walk rate was roughly the same as it had been from 2003-2004, and his strikeout rate was actually the lowest of his career since 1994, although he did experience a spike in 2001 and 2002 starting at age 32. This may be part of the reason the hit charts don’t show his decline, since it had already started before the data was available.
If you add in the missing .029 points of BABIP to Sosa’s line, his 2005 was closer to .250/.324/.425, assuming all of the lost hits were singles. This certainly is not incredibly productive by any means, but it’s a bit more aesthetically pleasing than a sub-.300 OBP and sub-.400 SLG. His 2006 PECOTA projection was along the same lines as his expected 2005 line, pegging him for .242/.312/.418. Sosa didn’t play in 2006, so we can’t be too sure of how accurate this projection was, but given his expected production from 2005 it seems very accurate. His 2007 projection (in his 2006 PECOTA card; there is no updated projection for Sosa in the spreadsheet released yesterday) is .238/.305/.420; unless he can bring his line drive percentage back up to pre-2005 levels, that seems about right for Sosa, although playing in Arlington may boost his stats somewhat.
What interests me the most about Sosa’s possible return is that he only needs 12 homeruns to reach the 600 mark, something only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds [edit: Babe Ruth also hit 600 homeruns, somehow I forgot that] have done. Also, returning to the majors delays his spot on the Hall of Fame ballot, which may work out for Sosa in the long run, and according to JAWS, he’ll need some more number padding to be a worthy Cooperstown candidate anyways.