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A Rambling Essay on Austin Kearns

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Austin Kearns

Let's Ramble on the Topic: Is there any hope for Austin Kearns? He's 25 years old now.

In 74 games for the Reds this year, Kearns has hit .232/.307/.408, with 15 doubles and nine homers in 250 at-bats. 25 walks, 65 strikeouts. He spent a month down in the minors, hitting .342/.407/.685 in 28 games for Triple-A Louisville. Obviously, he has nothing left to learn down there. If he's going to rebound, it has to be against major league pitching. Triple-A competition is not a challenge for him.

If you add up Kearns' playing time in 2004 and 2005 for the Reds, you get a full season of play, 138 games.

Combined 2004 and 2005 stats:
138 games, 467 at-bats, 62 runs, 108 hits, 25 doubles, 3 triples, 18 homers, 69 RBI, 53 walks, 136 strikeouts, .231 BA, .313 OBP, .413 OBP, .726 OPS.

His numbers this year are very similar to his numbers last year, and are much less than expected by most experts. Remember these projections for 2005?

Baseball Prospectus: .888 OPS
Community Projection: .874 OPS
Bill James Handbook: .863 OPS
BTT ZIPPS Projection: .861 OPS
John Sickels JSPS-2: .860 OPS
Baseball Forecaster: .792 OPS
2005 Kearns Reality: .726 OPS

So, what's going on here? Is Kearns a lost cause?

I think it is still too early to conclude that. Injuries have been a major factor; he's seldom been completely healthy the last two years. But that excuse only goes so far; even when he isn't hurting, he's simply not played well, not showing the same kind of plate discipline and refinement he showed in the minor leagues or in his rookie season.

Let's look at some comparable players. This is based on Sim Score and PECOTA, with some of my own "special sauce" modifications.

Possible Similar Players to Austin Kearns, No Actives Listed

Dan Ford
Jeff Leonard
Roy Sievers
Carmelo Martinez
Willie Montanez
Jeff Heath

There are precedents in history of guys who get off to great career starts, then slump for two or three years before coming around again. There are also guys who get off to great starts and never develop much.

The guy who Kearns really reminds me of is Sievers. At age 22, Sievers hit .306/.398/.471 in 140 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1949. His OPS+ was 126 (26 percent better than league), compared to Kearns' OPS+ of 130 at age 22. . .their performances were very similar, in other words, given the context of the time. But Sievers slumped in 1950 at age 23, hitting .238/.305/.398. Injuries cost him most of '51 and '52. Even when healthy in 1953 at age 26 he hit just .270/.344/.407. But in his late 20s he became one of the most devastating power hitters in baseball.

The answer is that there is certainly hope for Austin Kearns, although good health is a must, and a change of scenery may be necessary. This is little consolation to Reds fans, or fantasy owners who made a heavy investment in Kearns.