Who is this 2012 Justin Upton impostor, and what has he done with the real thing? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Let's say that you drafted a player in the early rounds, expected him to be the star that would lead your team to the promised land, and then he got off to a slow start. No worries. It's only April. Fantasy championships aren't won in the first month, and many titles have been won despite stars slumping in the early months.
Except that it's not April. It's the second week of May. And your star player still sucks. That SSS no longer stands for "small sample size", but instead for "solid stinky sweat". As in, that beading on your forehead as your team sinks in the standings and you realize that something might just be horribly wrong. That breakout star you drafted in the second round, the guy you just knew was going to have a monster season, is flailing away and sporting a batting average on the interstate. Your whole season is banking on him turning it around, but thus far he's one of the reasons your team is sinking like a rock.
This is a rundown of some of the players who have been, in my opinion, the most brutal disappointments so far this season. I'm going to exclude veterans like Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista in lieu of younger players that were expected to potentially break out or, at the very least, continue progress made the year before. Are these players just unlucky, or are they truly stuck in a prolonged slump that they show no signs of getting out of? After the jump, the five most crushing disappointments to start 2012.
Hosmer slugged .465 as a 21-year-old last year and had people like me fawning over his potential to break out into a 30-homer star in 2012. That could still happen, but damned if Hosmer isn't doing his best to make his proponents look like reactionary jackasses. Hosmer has limped into May, entering Tuesday with a miserable .179 batting average and a .631 OPS. He isn't exactly making Royals fans forget Bob Hamelin, much less George Brett.
Luckily, Hosmer's early struggles look like small sample size BABIP shenanigans, and he should be turning his owners' frowns upside down in no time. For starters, Hosmer's .170 BABIP is bound to come up, and it's clear that that batting average is pretty much the weight dragging his season down. All of his other indicators are actually better than in 2011. His walk percentage is up, his strikeout percentage is down, his isolated slugging is up, and his home run percentage is up. Basically, he's pretty much the same hitter, only mired in a sea of bad luck. If you're in a league full of managers who don't understand BABIP vagaries, snatch him while he's still below the Mendoza Line.
Upton hasn't been awful, but a lot of us were expecting more. "A lot of us" meaning me. I had Upton as my preseason MVP pick, and was looking at a breakout not unlike what Matt Kemp is doing to the National League right now. Instead Upton has slumped, entering this week's games with a .715 OPS and an elevated strikeout rate. He isn't hitting for much power, either, seeing his slugging numbers dip across the board.
The disconcerting thing here is that he had a full season not unlike this just two years ago. In 2010, Upton forgot how to make contact and suffered through a mediocre season. That year, he pretty much resembled the guy you saw this past April. Hopefully we aren't seeing some strange, Saberhagen-ish on again/off again thing going on, where he's a star only every other year. One silver lining: Upton's line drive percentage is through the roof (28 percent), but his BABIP is average, meaning he's hitting the ball hard, just into bad luck. He is still just 24, so these struggles might be more bumps in the road before he makes adjustments and justifies my MVP pick.
You know you're good when your glove is so highly regarded that you push a nine-time Gold Glove winner out of his position. That's what happened with Bourjos in 2010, when he usurped Torii Hunter in center field, based solely on his incredible range (yes, he's that good). The only question was whether or not he would hit, and in 2010, he didn't. In '11, however, his bat showed some life, and after swatting twelve homers, eleven triples, and stealing 22 bases, it looked like Bourjos would turn himself into a legitimate fantasy producer.
That hasn't happened this season. Aside from an insanely fast inside-the-park home run earlier this year, Bourjos has sputtered, and now it looks like his starting role might be immediately threatened by the Coming of Mike Trout. Not only is Bourjos not showing any of the doubles or triples power he displayed last year, he's not displaying much of anything with the bat. He entered Tuesday hitting .192 and has stolen only one base. Those who feared that his inability to take a walk would eat him alive are being proven correct.
On the bright side, it's still early enough (as with most things) to dismiss Bourjos's crappiness as small sample size noise, especially since he's only had 57 plate appearances. Fantasy owners have to hope that when Vernon Wells turns back into a pumpkin (oh wait, it's already happening) the Angels will find a way to keep Bourjos in the lineup to prove his 2011 productivity wasn't an aberration.
This is a particularly sad one to list on here, because I've been a huge fan of Smoak ever since his days as a top prospect with Texas. His struggles last year could be written off as being caused by injuries and off-field issues. This year, though, it's becoming evident that he might just suck. If you own Smoak, especially in a keeper league, and are sitting there clinging to the ever-waning hope that he'll fulfill his promise, you probably don't want to read this. Not only has Smoak made no improvements in power or contact, but his walk rate has fallen into a well. Unless he manages to figure out how to hit big league breaking pitches, this story probably doesn't have a happy ending.
The Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton would have been included in this group at this time last week, but he suddenly decided to wake up and has bombed five home runs in the past week, after hitting only one in April. The rest of the team is still napping. Miami's big offseason free agent pickup, Jose Reyes, sports a .656 OPS. Hanley Ramirez continues to be an enigma and is showing no signs of recovering from his down 2011 season. He's at .706. Gaby Sanchez, not the most inspiring fantasy first baseman in the first place, is at .577. Emilio Bonafacio, despite stealing fourteen bases already, is OPSing an anemic .592. The only hitter besides Stanton having any success is Omar Infante, and no one expects that to last.
From day one, the all of the comments about the Marlins' new ballpark centered on how much its cavernous dimensions would murder offense. Thus far, that's proven somewhat true. The Marlins have hit more home runs on the road, but their OPS is nearly 100 points higher at home. Perhaps it's the Curse of the Center Field Home Run Abomination, but it's hard to blame the new park for the Marlins' early suckitude. More likely, it's just a good, old-fashioned slump, and, just as we're seeing with Stanton, it's only a matter of time before the rest of the regulars begin to hit.
Which of these players will rebound to post the best season in 2012?
Eric Hosmer (65 votes)
Justin Upton (130 votes)
Peter Bourjos (6 votes)
Justin Smoak (3 votes)
Jose Reyes (23 votes)
Hanley Ramirez (62 votes)
289 total votes