Every year there are players who you draft with high expectations, only to have them underachieve and crush your team's chances down the stretch. Here is my list of the most disappointing players of 2012, by position.
A quick note before we dive in. I intentionally left off players who lost large chunks of the season due to injury. Obviously, players like Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, and Jose Bautista were crushing disappointments, but their seasons were sunk by injuries, so I'm giving them a break. I'm looking for players here who had no excuse, players who played poorly and destroyed our dreams all season long.
C: Mike Napoli
Napoli was arguably the best catcher in fantasy baseball in 2011, when he smashed 30 homers and hit over .300 for the first time in his career. That those numbers far outshone anything he had done in his career thus far should have given managers reason to be skeptical about the chances of a repeat. Since his days with the Angels, he'd developed a reputation as a low-average, high-strikeout power guy, with his Three True Outcomes hitting style being easier to stomach because he was a catcher. Still, some people (i.e. me) chose to believe, however naively, that he would be able to maintain his newfound ability to hit for average because of Arlington's hitter-friendly environs.
Nope. Not only did Napoli regress, but he had one of his worst years in quite some time. His batting average sank more than 90 points, to .227, and he didn't hit for quite the same power. While still decent by catcher standards, he was far from the monster that his owners loved so much in 2011. The most disconcerting part of the downfall was that his strikeout percentage skyrocketed to a career-worst 30%, even worse than his rookie season, when he was a green, whifftastic youngster. This is of particular disappointment because his strikeout rate had been generally improving every year since then. Napoli's power (and first base eligibility) make him a nice fantasy player, but if he's going to be a .220 hitter from now on, you'd better have a half-way decent backup plan.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez was likely taken in the first round in more than a few fantasy drafts, but ended up with an utterly lackluster (by his standards) .299/.344/.463 line. That's fine if you're James Loney, but not okay if you're a player with a career .889 OPS coming into the season. Gonzalez not only suffered a power outage (career-low 18 home runs), but he also stopped drawing walks, and he (unbelievably) nearly went the whole month of July without drawing one free pass (he finally drew one on July 31).
Gonzalez is a player with "old player skills", a slow slugger who draws a lot of walks and hits for power. Those skills tend to erode once a player hits age 30, and we might be seeing it with Gonzalez. A rebound isn't out of the question, but his power and walk totals have declined for two straight years, and the Red Sox may have cut bait at just the right time. If he's going to rejuvenate himself, Dodger Stadium will do him no favors.
2B: Dan Uggla
Uggla drew a career-high in walks in 2012. That was the good part. Everything else about his season was...well, uggla. Uggla had always been a reliable source for 30-plus homers (he'd eclipsed that mark for five straight seasons), and the power helped you stomach the high strikeout totals and relatively low batting averages.
This year, though, the power never materialized, and Uggla was pretty much just a big black hole. His OPS landed at a career-low .732 and his home run total of 19 was a career-worst. Downward trends in power are discouraging signs for players in their 30s, and Uggla appears in danger of falling into Bellhorn territory, which...um...isn't what you want from your second baseman,
3B: Michael Young
One year he's garnering ill-conceived MVP hype, the next he's the bane of an underachieving team that inexplicably crapped its way out of the playoffs in the last week of the season. After leading the league in hits and batting .338 last year, Young suddenly got old this season and finished with a 78 OPS+. The value he used to provide with his multi-position eligibility just meant he was now killing you at four different infield spots. Since he was never one to walk much, he loses just about all of his value if he isn't hitting for a high average. If this is an indication of lost bat speed, it's probably curtains.
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
I'm not ready to declare Cabrera's stellar 2011 season a fluke, since he's still only 26, but those expecting him to build on his breakout season were sorely disappointed with his output in 2012. Ironically, his rate stats were only slightly worse than 2011, with a 30 point decline in OPS separating the two years. However, his counting stats (the home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases) slumped a bit. He was probably just regressing to his norms, so don't be shocked if 2012 is what you get from now on from this guy. Even if that's the case, he's a solid option in a weak AL shortstop pool.
OF: Jeff Francoeur
Some might be shocked to see Francouer's name on here, because Frenchy and "disappointment" have been synonymous for several years now. That being said, look at Francouer's 2011 line. He hit .285/.329/.476, with 20 home runs and 22 stolen bases. That is a solidly above-average fantasy outfielder. It might have been folly to think Francouer would build on that line, but who expected him to turn around and post what some consider to be the worst season ever? I was never a big fan of this guy, but even I thought he could kind of maintain the progress he made last year. Instead, we get to watch as the Royals deal with the uncomfortable situation of holding back Wil Myers, as Frenchy s under contract for one more year.
SP: Roy Halladay
Halladay has been a solid number one starter for just about ten years now, and he was probably the top pitcher taken in many drafts this year. At 35, he might be finally showing his age, as he suffered through his worst season since 2000 and battled nagging injuries all season. It may have been the product of the injuries, but his K:BB ratio has his worst in years, and his walk rate shot up to almost double what it was in 2011. I like his chances of remaining as one of the better starters in the league in the next year or so, but he'll turn 36 next year and his days as a fantasy star may be over.
RP: Heath Bell
This one was a little easier to see coming. Bell's strikeout rate dipped drastically from 2010 to 2011, and the move from the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the majors didn't stand to help matters. Naturally, Bell's ERA ballooned to 5.09 and he turned into one of the worst closers in the league. He ended up losing the closer role at midseason and owners who drafted him expected his formerly lofty save totals were left holding the bag. He's got that magic "C" label still, and the Marlins gave him a lot of money, which means he'll probably get more chances. It's tough to be an effective pitcher with a big fork sticking out of your back, however.