Pujols, Crawford among big names on All-Disappointment team
One-third of the season is completed, a fair point at which to judge performance
Albert Pujols should bounce back but his slumping bat earns him a place here
Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Adam Dunn are also off to awful starts
At this point, with a third of the season in the books, it's fair to start taking performances seriously. The stat-head warning -- "small sample size" -- is a bit less ominous as we get through 200 plate appearances for hitters, double-digit starts or 70-80 innings for pitchers. You can, frankly, start judging guys; maybe you cut slack for injuries -- Joe Mauer and Chase Utley get passes for now -- but if you've been in the lineup and your OPS looks like my credit score, you're getting called out.
So with Memorial Day in the rear-view mirror, let's declare this the All-Disappointment team:
C: Yorvit Torrealba, Rangers. The journeyman signed as a free agent coming off the best two seasons of his career catching for 90-win teams in Colorado and San Diego. He's been one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2011, with a .213/.243/.326 line and just six walks all season. He makes up some value with his arm, throwing out 39 percent of basestealers and allowing just 20 steals, although he benefits from a heavily left-handed Rangers staff in that regard. Mike Napoli has been chipping away at Torrealba's playing time, moving into a 50/50 split of the starts, and will probably hold that ratio until and unless Torrealba finds his stroke.
1B: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Pujols isn't even a below-average hitter in 2011's homage to 1968. However, you expect the best player in baseball to bring a bit more than .262/.333/.412 with 15 extra-base hits. Let this serve as a reminder that the "walk year" effect is a media creation cobbled together from selective data points and Swiss-cheese memory. From this point forward, you can expect Pujols to be, well, himself, but to date he's one of the biggest disappointments in baseball, maybe the only thing that's kept the Cardinals from running away with the NL Central.
Honorable Mention: Aubrey Huff, Giants. His .219/.279/.348 batting line and lousy defensive value -- he was a disaster in 14 outfield starts -- have made him one of the very worst players in baseball over the first two months. Two-year contract or not, the Giants have to get Brandon Belt into the lineup at Huff's expense.
2B: Dan Uggla, Braves. It may be easier to find the second basemen who aren't disappointing, so this is saying something. Uggla, who doesn't bring much with the glove, has been awful with the bat, hitting .179/.241/.316 in his first year as a Brave and his first year under a five-year, $62 million contract. A sharp uptick in his groundball rate, at the expense of line drives, appears to be the culprit. There are real reasons to be concerned here; as a class, second basemen tend to age rapidly in their early thirties (Uggla is 31) and Uggla doesn't have a broad skill set to begin with. If he can't hit for an 800 or better OPS, he's a replacement-level player.
SS: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. Ramirez was one the short list for "best player in baseball" two years ago. After an off-year in '10, he's collapsed in '11, improving his walk rate seemingly at random while doing nothing else at the plate. He's recently cited a back problem and may head to the DL to give it a rest, and you almost hope that an injury -- rather than some inexplicable loss of skill at his peak -- is responsible for a .210/.306/.309 line. Ramirez, who was blasted for not hustling last season while nursing an injury, may have tried too hard to stay in the lineup this year rather than cop to the back problem.
3B: Chone Figgins, Mariners. You may have expected a dead-cat bounce from Figgins, who had a career-worst season in his Mariners debut a year ago. Instead, he's gone into a death spiral, with a .190/.232/.256 line that puts him at the bottom of the industry in OPS. He's starting to lose playing time, and even with 2 ½ years and more than $22 million left on his contract, the Mariners may be forced to do something even more dramatic with him. One potential solution: turn Figgins back into the supersub he was when he became a good player. He can still play four positions, plus fake centerfield and shortstop, and his speed makes him an asset off the bench.
OF: Carl Crawford, Red Sox. The $20-million man has failed to take Boston by storm, with a .235/.269/.362 line through two months in his new city. He's bounced back a bit after a brutal April, in which he hit .155, but the secondary skills simply haven't been there. Crawford has drawn eight walks and gone just 7-for-11 stealing bases. Occasional bursts, like back-to-back four-hit games last week, have all too often been followed by extended slumps -- he's 3-for-19 since then. Crawford will hit .300 the rest of the way; how valuable he is will be determined by his walks, power and speed.
OF: Alexis Rios, White Sox. One of the best stories of '10 has become one of the worst of '11, as the 30-year-old Rios has lost the speed and pop that made him one of the game's best center fielders last year. Rios, who has often struggled to turn his tools into performance, has been a bit unlucky, with a .208 BABIP despite a reasonable line-drive rate (18.7 percent of balls in play). The 4/3 SB/CS and .105 isolated power, though, are shortfalls in skill, not luck. Look for the batting average and power to rebound from here on out -- he's basically the same player he was last year.
OF: Nick Markakis, Orioles. One of the great mysteries of this decade is the loss of Markakis' power. After slugging .491 as a 24-year-old, he's seen that figure drop three straight seasons all the way to .318 in 2011. This year, he's not hitting for average, either: just .244, after five straight seasons above .290. Even with his above-average defense, that makes him a liability for an Orioles team that was, to some extent, built around his bat. Look for the average to rebound -- Markakis is hitting a ton of line drives -- without the power.
Honorable Mention: Austin Jackson, Tigers. Jackson's rookie campaign, in which he hit .293 with 27 steals, came with stat-head warnings about his ability to maintain that average with such a high strikeout rate and so little power. This year, Jackson's strikeout rate has jumped to 31 percent, his line-drive rate has slipped to 15 percent, and he's hurting the Tigers' efforts to catch the Indians in the AL Central.
DH: Adam Dunn, White Sox. The pairing of the powerful Dunn with U.S. Cellular Field seemed like a match made in home run heaven. Instead, Dunn has seen his strikeout rate rise to a career high 41 percent, a level at which no player can be productive. He's also popping up more than he has in years. The one thing to note here is that in 2010 and 2011, Dunn has swung at many more pitches out of the zone -- about one in four -- than he ever had previously. Dunn may need to go back to the style he had at his peak to regain his form.
SP: Chris Carpenter, Cardinals. Carpenter's 4.52 ERA and 1-5 record are clearly not what Cards' fans expected from their ace, especially in a good year for pitchers. Carpenter, however, has the same fundamentals that he did last season, when he posted a 3.22 mark with 16 wins: He's striking out and walking the same percentage of batters as he did in '11, and his Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP), which is a better measure of performance, is a tick better (3.57) than it was last year (3.69). There is one significant problem, in that hitters are squaring up more balls; Carpenter's line-drive rate has jumped to 24 percent. He is basically the same pitcher he's been the past two seasons, and a good bet to put up last year's stats in the next four months.
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies. Another Opening Day starter gone bad, Jimenez's command left him for much of the season's first two months: he walked 12 percent of the batters he faced before tossing a four-hit, no-walk shutout against the Dodgers last night -- his first start of the year in which he'd allowed zero free passes. If there's a concern, it's not the command, but the velocity: Jimenez averaged 96 mph on his fastball the past two years; he's at 93 in this one. There's some chance it's just growth on his part, but tread carefully despite Wednesday night's gem, in which he threw a four-hit shutout at the Dodgers.
SP: Edinson Volquez, Reds. This Opening Day starter found himself sent to the minors after walking nearly 16 percent of the batters he faced, good for a 6.35 ERA and less than five innings a start. Command has always been the worry with Volquez, who even at his peak would walk about one in 10 men, but the complete inability to get ahead of hitters or keep them off first base blew up on him this year. He'll be back, and his raw stuff remains strong; until he shows a minimum level of control, though, he's a question mark.
SP: John Lackey, Red Sox. If you're counting, we're well over $30 million worth of Red Sox on this team. Lackey, the Sox' big free-agent signing last year, was considered a disappointment even before blowing up to an 8.01 ERA in seven starts, then heading to the DL this season. Lackey is on his way back to Boston from a rehab assignment, and while his velocity seems fine, he'll have to locate the control he had in his Angels days to be a contributor to the Sox rotation
CL: Joakim Soria, Royals. Is he hurt? Soria has lost nearly two MPH off his fastball this year, running a 6.55 ERA and blowing as many saves in the past week (three) as he did all last year. He's been dropped from the closer role, a shocking turn of events for a pitcher who was second only to Mariano Rivera in stability and performance in the role since 2008. While the move is likely temporary, Soria's dip in velocity and uptick in walk rate -- it's nearly doubled -- are worrisome indicators that something else is going on.
CL: Matt Thornton, White Sox. Thornton was victimized by some terrible defense in April, which contributed to him losing the closer role first to Chris Sale, then to Sergio Santos, who holds it today. Thornton didn't help himself by rediscovering the control problems that plagued him in the early days of his career, walking a bit more than 10 percent of the men he faced for the first time since 2005. He was much more effective in May, and would be first in line to move back into the ninth-inning job should Santos falter.
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