Fantasy owners and baseball experts alike are baffled as to why Adrian Gonzalez suddenly forgot how to hit. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
I got the idea for this post from watching the foibles of Miami's Gaby Sanchez this afternoon. Sanchez became the Marlins' regular first baseman in 2010, and ended up making the All-Star team in 2011. The operative word for his production in two years as a major leaguer would probably be "unspectacular". Sanchez has never topped 20 home runs in any of his seasons in the majors, but he has shown the ability to draw a walk, has knocked in a fair amount of runs, and has been a guy who wouldn't kill your fantasy team if you had to settle for him as your first baseman.
Then 2012 started, and since the calendar turned over, it's been one long nightmare for the formerly competent Sanchez. He hasn't been able to get his bat going, at all, this season, and it got so bad that he was briefly exiled to AAA in a desperate effort to rejuvenate him. Some have blamed the Marlins' spacious new ballpark for his troubles, but whether it be at home, on the road, during day, during night, in a box, with a fox...he's been just frigging awful. He tore it up in his brief minor league stay, but since being called up his bat has gone back into hiding.
Sanchez came into tonight's game with a hideous .188/.232/.273 line, and then went 0-3 to make that line even worse. He's striking out a lot more often this season, which is disconcerting since he's never been a particularly strikeout-prone hitter. I picked him up from the waiver wire in one fantasy league in the hope that he can turn it around (yes, my first base situation in that league is that desperate). However, since he wasn't all that great in the first place, maybe I shouldn't dream too loud.
This got me thinking of other players who were expected to be good but who have thus far done faceplants in the 2012 season. After the jump, a collection of disappointing hitters who shouldn't stink, but do. For the sake of brevity, we're keeping this exclusive to the American League. We'll tackle the NL in the not-too-far-future.
No one knows what to make of the disaster that has been Adrian Gonzalez. This is the same guy who used to make a living making Petco Park look small and who nearly won a batting title last season. Now, poof...seemingly overnight he's turned into a mediocrity and has seen his power dry up (career-low .396 slugging percentage). Fantasy owners who took him in the very early rounds are busy making space in their ovens to shove their heads in.
The bright side, if you can call it that, is that Gonzalez leads the league in doubles. The hope is that those doubles will just turn into home run balls in the second half. Or maybe he's 30 and fading and following the Todd Helton career path. The fact that he isn't drawing walks anymore seems to support the latter. Scary stuff all around.
I understand that he's young still and Safeco Field is a hellish place to hit in (his .252/.325/.351 line is still good for a 94 OPS+), but I think Ackley's fantasy owners were expecting more. The high-average, high-OBP potential that made Ackley a top prospect has not manifested itself so far, and owners have been stuck with a very unexciting second baseman so far. Second base has generally been a crummy fantasy position this year, so it could be worse. Still, we're all checking our watches waiting for Ackley to live up to expectations. What makes me wary is that this hitting funk has essentially been going on since the start of September 2011.
For the past few years and, for the most part, his entire career, Michael Young could be relied upon to give you a few things. Namely, a .300+ batting average, 20-something home runs, 90-100 RBIs, and eligibility at several positions. This season, unfortunately, all he's given owners is that aforementioned positional flexibility and a migraine. His bat has gone bye-bye.
The recipient of ill-conceived MVP love last season, Young is being touted only for dishonorable mentions this year, as he came into today hitting an anemic .271/.301/.352. Young has always been kind of an up-and-down hitter, in the sense that one year he's a star and the next he's merely solid-to-very good. His OPS+ numbers each year since 2007: 106, 95, 128, 102, 124. This year it sits at 71. Since he's 35 and not getting any younger, and since his success has typically hinged on bat speed and ability to hit for average, there's a real possibility that we aren't going to see those OPS+ numbers go back into the 100s.
Remember when Gordon Beckham was supposed to be the American League's next star middle infielder? Yeah, those were the days. Cynics could argue that he doesn't even belong on this list because he hasn't been any good in three years, but he showed too much promise as a rookie (and in the minors) to completely dismiss him. The good news is that he's still only 25, even though it seems like he's been around forever. The bad news is everything else. The power he displayed in his rookie year has returned in the past two months, so here's hoping he builds on that and gets himself out of his two-year rut.
Cripes, there are two of them! Not content to let Beckham take home the title of Most Inept Chicago White Sox Middle Infielder, Ramirez has stepped up the crappy game to put together a truly gawdawful season. The encouraging increase in plate patience in 2011 (career-high 51 walks) was apparently a total mirage, as Ramirez has regressed to his old, flail-happy self. The results have been ugly; he now sports an unsightly 47 OPS+.
Since he broke in as a rookie in 2008, Ramirez has been a decent source of power and moderate stolen base totals at shortstop. If you struck out trying to get the star players in the draft, Ramirez could always be relied on as a good backup plan. We have to hope that his struggles are small sample size goofiness, but remember, he is 30. Players with little plate discipline tend to not last long once they hit that age.
Look at it this way: at least he hasn't been as bad as his brother. Weeks has shown a nice ability to work the count this year, already eclipsing his 2011 walk total. However, he's been pretty bad in just about every other category, and that's a pretty big disappointment for a guy who was supposed to be the one good fantasy producer in a very weak Oakland lineup.
Youth is still on his side and his .251 BABIP is bound to go up, so he should end the year on a better note. However, the way that the Oakland
Pisshole Coliseum absolutely murders batting average, it might be unwise to expect Weeks's numbers to get substantially better.
Long a frustrating and enigmatic player, Escobar bounced back from a miserable 2010 season (one that saw him railroaded out of Atlanta) to put up solid numbers in his first full year in Canada. When Escobar is at his best, he's a very solid shortstop option, mixing moderate power with a good batting average and some walks thrown in. He isn't great at anything, but has usually been steady in every category.
Well, he hasn't been at his best this year. Not even close. Invoking ghosts of '10, Escobar has slumped again, hitting .249/.302/.331. Since he doesn't steal bases and he isn't a big power threat, when he isn't hitting for a high average, he's generally worthless. If he can't get out of his current funk, that would make two crummy seasons in three. That ain't good.
Which of these struggling American League players will start hitting first?
Adrian Gonzalez (82 votes)
Dustin Ackley (14 votes)
Michael Young (23 votes)
Gordon Beckham (5 votes)
Alexei Ramirez (5 votes)
Jemile Weeks (5 votes)
Yunel Escobar (3 votes)
137 total votes