I'm as sick of kicking a dead Caballo than anybody else, but yesterday morning Brian McTaggart tweeted something that caught my eye:
Carlos Lee was never the same after he broke his finger. It changed the way he gripped the bat.
Lee broke his finger in the 3rd inning of the August 9, 2008 game against the Reds, with Bronson Arroyo pitching. To that plate appearance, Lee was having a great year - .314/.368/.569, for a .937 OPS, all of which just happened to be career-highs. He had 28 homers to go with 27 doubles, for a 40.1% XBH/H rate. Lance Berkman hit a team-high 29 homers in 2008, one ahead of Lee, despite 174 more plate appearances.
So it's safe to say that Bronson Arroyo and his dumb garage band derailed Lee's season, for sure. But was Lee "never the same" after the broken finger? LET'S LOOK.
Let's just ignore Lee's 1999 season, where he played in 127 games after making his MLB debut on May 9, 1999. His career stats, 2000-2008 are as follows:
.290/.347/.508. 119 OPS+. A homer in every 21.5 plate appearances. An extra-base hit in every 9.8 plate appearances.
After that? .276/.327/.446. 109 OPS+. A homer in every 30.8 plate appearances. An extra-base hit in every 11.3 plate appearances. So the numbers seem to bear out.
Lee played 160 games in 2009, having recovered from the broken finger. How did he perform?
.300/.343/.489. 119 OPS+. Homer in every 25.5 plate appearances. Extra-base hit in every 10.7 plate appearances.
So yeah, there was a drop-off in production from 2008 to 2009 - but it's not as though he "wasn't the same" after that. His 2009 OPS (.831) was just 24 points off his OPS from 2000-2008, 16 points off his OPS from 2000-2007 - while his OPS+ was exactly the same in 2009 as it was from 2000-2008.
Where Carlos Lee was "never the same" was 2010-2012. In those two and a half seasons, Lee hit .266/.320/.428. 104 OPS+. Homer every 33.7 plate appearances, extra-base hit every 11.6 plate appearances. He was also 34-36 years old.
Perhaps Lee's grip on the bat changed - that's something McTaggart would know better than I. However, he seemed to be okay in 2009. It looks as though "Old" could have been more to blame for Carlos Lee's drop-off than an errant Arroyo throw.