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5/25/2007 10:51:00 AM

Wild Card: Classic Underachievers

By Cliff Corcoran

Since my look at underachieving teams was such a hit, I thought I'd zoom in to take a look at some of the players that have been underachieving thus far. The following are players that have produced at far below their expected levels. In most cases that means they're due to break out, though in some cases their lack of production could represent the dying embers of a long, lustrous career, or the fast fizzling of a brief, but bright, flame. We'll take them by position (as always, the slash stats are AVG/OBP/SLG):

1B Carlos Delgado (.216/.293/.317)
Delgado is a career .281/.388/.551 hitter who hasn't had an OPS below .900 since 1997 when he hit "just" .262/.350/.528. He'll turn 35 next month, but his combination of power and patience is usually the sort of skill set that ages well. He's been a bit better in May (.254/.342/.413), but historically April is actually one of his strongest months (.287/.402/.552 career). Delgado claims he’s not hiding an injury, but he was dropped to sixth in the batting order from his customary cleanup spot on Wednesday.

2B Robinson Cano (.254/.293/.373)
Unlike Delgado, Cano is a historically slow starter, the only problem is there's not much history to base that on. Cano's major league debut was on May 3, 2005, so he's only had one April before this one. Still, he's now a career .270/.299/.381 hitter in April and May compared to .333/.353/.528 over the remainder of the season. With that in mind, he's not so much underperforming as following his established pattern, but he's the brightest star in the second base bunch that also includes Tadahito Iguchi (.217/.313/.333) and batting champ Freddy Sanchez (.286/.316/.342).

SS Michael Young (.240/.284/.385)
Believe it or not, as recently as 2002, Young hit .262/.308/.383 over 573 at-bats as the Rangers' starting second baseman. He was 25 that season and, though he had hit consistently in the minors, at that point he looked like a bust. A closer look at that 2002 season reveals that Young was wildly streaky, posting an OPS above .800 in April, June and August and an OPS below .650 in May, July and September. The next year he smoothed things out, and from 2004 to 2006 he was a perennial All-Star and MVP vote-getter. Indeed, Young appears to be back on track this year, hitting .319/.395/.514 since May 4, which just goes to show how awful he was in April.

3B Scott Rolen (.215/.303/.319)
Unlike Young, Rolen has only gotten worse this May, hitting .169/.301/.220 on the month. The best split one can find on him is his .267/.368/.367 over the past 10 days, but that's still awful for a potential Hall of Famer who's just turned 32. Then again, given Rolen's injury history, it could be that his body is a lot older than 32. If that were true, one would expect to have seen some decrease in his defensive play. The early statistical returns do suggest a reduction in his range at the hot corner, but small sample fielding stats are about as sketchy as you can get, and Rolen has not made a single error all year. Maybe he's still sulking over being benched in the playoffs.

C Jason Kendall (.192/.235/.205)
Far and away the worst performer on this list, Kendall astonishingly appears to be in no danger of losing his job as Mike Piazza has yet to catch an inning for the A's and backup Adam Melhuse was sent down briefly at the end of April to solve a roster crunch. Meanwhile, Moneyball draftee Jeremy Brown was just taken off the 40-man roster to clear room for an extra relief pitcher. Given their laundry list of injuries, Kendall would seem to be low on the A's list of priorities, but for an organization that values its outs as highly as Oakland, his .235 on-base percentage, which is dead last among the 185 qualifiers in the major leagues, can't be sitting (or squatting in this case) well with management. Catching prospect Kurt Suzuki hasn't really found his groove in Triple-A, but he couldn't be worse than this, and, while Kendall is owed $13 million this year, it's the last year of his contract. Kendall hasn't shown any signs of snapping out of his funk. It might be time for the A's to cut him loose.

RF Bobby Abreu (.239/.315/.306)
Getting out of Philadelphia looked like it had done wonders for Abreu at the end of last season, as his .330/.419/.507 performance in pinstripes helped lead the Yankees to another AL East title, but after a solid, if power-free 15-game start to the 2007 season, Abreu has hit a Kendall-like .186/.265/.254 over his past 30 contests. Manager Joe Torre briefly tried to kickstart Abreu by flipping him up to second in the order and even leading him off in a couple of games, but when that failed to take, he dropped Abreu down to sixth. Most alarming for the Yankees was a stretch in which the notoriously finicky Abreu walked just once in 77 plate appearances. He looked to be breaking out of it last weekend with four walks and four hits in three games against the rival Mets and Red Sox, but has reached base just once in the two games since then.

CF Jim Edmonds (.222/.298/.302)
Edmonds missed time last year due to post-concussion syndrome and had shoulder and toe surgery in the offseason, which not only caused him to miss most of spring training but caused his left leg to atrophy as he was in a walking cast for six weeks following the toe surgery. The usual aches and pains have followed him into this season as he's missed a handful of games, but there's some cause for hope as he's hit .308/.364/.410 over his past 11 games. There's still not much power there, but it seems a minor miracle that Edmonds, who turns 37 in about a month, is still playing at all given the way he’s mistreated his body over his 15-year-career.

LF Manny Ramirez (.250/.332/.407)
Historically, April is Manny's worst month, but "worst" in the context of his career means .312/.398/.573. That's why Manny's underachieving line is the best of the nine in my starting lineup, he's set a standard that's nearly impossible to live up to, though he does it, year after year. Manny's least productive since becoming a full-time starter with the Indians in 1995 at age 23 came in 1997: .328/.415/.538. Manny's hitting .301/.352/.506 in May, but even that is way below his established standard. For all the Manny Being Manny cracks, its worth remembering that simply being Manny is an incredible thing.

DH Frank Thomas (.224/.343/.362)
In each of his first eight seasons, Frank Thomas hit over .300, reached base more than 40 percent of the time, and slugged over .500. When he hit .265/.381/.480 at age 30 in 1998 people had the audacity to think he was washed up. He rebounded with two strong seasons, hitting .328/.436/.625 with 43 homers and 143 RBIs in 2000 and finishing second in the MVP voting, but then missed all but 20 games in 2001. Since then, injuries have scattered Thomas's playing time (an average of 150 games the next two seasons, but an average of just 54 games the two seasons after that), but his production has largely held steady. Even when he hit just .219 in a season limited to 34 games in 2006, he still cracked 12 homers and slugged .590. Last year was his third and perhaps most unexpected comeback as he hit .270/.381/.545 for Oakland and finished fourth in the MVP voting in his first season outside of Chicago, but there was no guarantee he could repeat it in Toronto. One of these years he's not going to come back. Five years after that, he'll find a permanent home in Cooperstown.

We'll do a lightning round on the pitchers:

The Starting Five:

The injured Chris Carpenter (7.50 ERA), Carlos Zambrano (5.61 ERA) looking like the last victim of Dusty Baker's disregard for pitch counts just in time for his walk year, Mike Mussina (6.52 ERA) looking washed up once again, groundballer Jake Westbrook (7.90 ERA) who's allowing almost twice as many fly balls as in past years, and teammate Jeremy Sowers (7.90) a top prospect whose low strikeout rate defied explanation and who's now being asked to explain himself.

The next five: Kevin Millwood (6.62) who has struggled with hamstring trouble, Barry Zito (4.70) who everyone and their mother knew was overrated, but still shouldn't have seen his ERA increase that much moving to a pitchers' park in a pitchers' park division in the easier league, Tony Armas Jr. (8.16) who is always hurt but never this terrible, ditto John Patterson (7.47), and Jeff Weaver (14.32, 0-6 in six starts) who is a perpetual disappointment, but never that terrible and is now injured, which he also never is. Dishonorable mention to Brett Tomko (6.28 ERA), who can usually eat innings without doing that much harm, and Dave Bush (5.56 ERA), who looked like a find last year but needs to find something this year.

Closer:

Mariano Rivera (6.32 ERA, 3 saves)
Rivera allowed just two baserunners in his first four appearances this season, but has had just one one-two-three inning in his 13 appearances since. Mo's low save total is largely a byproduct of the Yankees' winning big on the odd occasion that they actually do win, but he has also blown two of his five chances and has an 8.49 ERA over those last 13 appearances. Rivera has gotten off to slow starts before, but now that he's 37 years old one has to wonder if this time there's more to this. Rivera's home run and runs-allowed totals after less than a third of the season don't look out of place next to his full-season totals from the last five years. He has allowed three home runs already, a total he has only surpassed thrice since 1995, with a single-season high of five. He has also allowed 11 runs thus far. He's surpassed 20 just thrice since 1995 as well, topping out at 26 in 2000.

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posted by SI.com | View comments |  

Comments:

Posted: May 25, 2007 11:22 AM   by Anonymous
I agree with most of your lineup, except for one. Though Delgado is certainly having a rough time of late, not nearly as rough as Richie Sexton (batting .172 through Thursday). Brutal.
Posted: May 25, 2007 11:52 AM   by Anonymous
You must not have seen the Braves lately...How about Andruw Jones? His only achievement has been a bunch of K'S...
Posted: May 25, 2007 12:27 PM   by Anonymous
JD Drew...5yrs 70mil and at this rate 8 homers. I guess still better than Pavano :)
Posted: May 25, 2007 12:57 PM   by Anonymous
i dont think it makes any sense to have carpenter as one of starting five disappointments given the fact that he is in DL since his first and only start of this season so far
Posted: May 25, 2007 1:53 PM   by Anonymous
Agree with the Sexson comment. K - K - K - K - PU - LO - K - HR - K - K... lots of 0-fer nights...
Posted: May 25, 2007 2:02 PM   by Anonymous
You could have written almost the whole column about the White Sox offense, minus AJ and Erstad.
Check out my runners-up over at Bronx Banter.
Posted: May 25, 2007 5:17 PM   by Anonymous
hard to believe you left off Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre and Jeff Weaver. Sexson has been under the mendoza line much of the past two years and Beltre hasnt posted ANY numbers remotely close to what he did in LA before coming to Seattle. Cirillo was just as good and cheaper. As for Weaver - dont even get me started.
Posted: May 25, 2007 5:17 PM   by Anonymous
I would also nominate LaRoche at first base
Posted: May 25, 2007 7:20 PM   by Anonymous
Erstad is just awful. You gotta give him credit for consistency, though. He missed all that time last year and has bounced back to put up his solid sub-.700 OPS. But hey, he played football and is a scrappy white dude with stubble - he must be good! Just ask the Hawk!

Pierzynski hits alright for a catcher. Any way you slice it a .303 OBP sucks, though.
Posted: May 25, 2007 8:06 PM   by Anonymous
What about Lance Berkman? I'm from Houston, and it seems like he's only been in a slump since Day one.
Posted: May 26, 2007 9:13 AM   by Anonymous
How can you leave Soriano off this list? The guy is getting paid 17 mil or so this year and is on pace for 15 homers and 36 rbi.. Jacque Jones fills this list nicely too as he is on pace for a torrid 4 homer year season. Fantastic hitters.
Posted: May 26, 2007 10:56 AM   by Anonymous
from da boy vince

The all under achieving team is every on the phillies except Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer, Carlos Ruiz, and J Rolls April.

I have to go camping so see yall on monday. Kepp it thuggin.
Posted: May 26, 2007 11:20 AM   by Anonymous
Andrew Jones 17 K's in a five game stretch. What is he batting? Around .225?
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