In case you haven’t noticed, it’s officially summer time, as Tuesday marks the solstice. For us regular folks, that means it’s time to relax and head to the beach in your spare time. For MLB players, it may be time to panic, because if you still haven’t shaken off your slow start, there’s a good chance this year is going to end up going down in the books as a season to forget … or the beginning of a permanent decline.
This week saw the end of a lot of streaks. Atlanta’s season-best 14-game winning streak was snapped Friday by the Cubs, who had lost 10 in a row. Pittsburgh snapped a nine-game skid Wednesday, and the Yankees saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end Sunday against Toronto. With all these long stretches of hot and cold in recent weeks—don’t forget the Angels recently lost 14 straight, and the Phillies followed their five-game slide with nine consecutive wins—this is a good time of year to highlight some bests and worsts. Last time, Nick Selbe highlighted each team’s top offseason acquisition. This week, I’ll dig into the biggest disappointment for each club.
30. Washington Nationals (LW: 27)
Last week brought yet another injury flare-up for Stephen Strasburg, whose total of eight starts since the Nationals won the 2019 World Series has been a disappointing development for the entire sport. But as far as letdowns on the field, it’s hard to top Patrick Corbin being paid more than $23 million to lead the majors in earned runs allowed (51) and hits allowed (97).
29. Oakland A’s (LW: 29)
Lou Trivino allowed runs in two of his first four appearances this year, went to the injured list, lost the closer’s role by the time he returned, then gave up four runs in his first outing back in May. It’s just been that sort of year for Oakland’s 30-year-old righthander, who curiously has had by far the worst season of his career while cranking up his strikeout rate to an AL-best 14.3 K/9 IP (min. 17 innings). Unfortunately, he also leads all relievers with an absurdly high .490 opponents’ BABIP, meaning he’s been victim to some truly awful luck both in terms of batted balls and injuries.
28. Kansas City Royals (LW: 30)
Whit Merrifield’s contract used to be considered one of the most team-friendly deals in baseball, but the 33-year-old should be glad it was restructured in the offseason. I’m not so sure the Royals will exercise his 2023 club option if he keeps up his current career-worst paces (.229/.274/.312 slash line).
27. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 28)
The Reds acquired Mike Minor for Amir Garrett in March, but the lefthander didn’t debut until earlier this month due to a shoulder injury. It hasn’t been worth the wait, as the 34-year-old has given up a whopping seven homers in 20 ⅔ innings to contribute to a 6.97 ERA and was tagged with his third loss Sunday against the Brewers to extend Cincinnati’s four-game skid, currently the longest in the majors.
26. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 26)
Up until a couple of weeks ago, the easy answer here would’ve been Bryan Reynolds, whom I foolishly dropped in fantasy right before he started to rediscover his 2021 All-Star form. Now that he’s looking good (and on SI MLB editor Matt Martell’s team), Pittsburgh’s most disappointing player may be Bryse Wilson (8.29 ERA), who was the headlining prospect in last summer’s trade for former closer Richard Rodríguez. He was summoned from Triple A to make his sixth start of the year on Tuesday, got crushed by the Cardinals and was promptly sent back down. He’s only 24, but his peripherals aren’t encouraging.
(Editor’s Note: Will and I have the two worst teams in the fantasy league.)
25. Detroit Tigers (LW: 25)
You could make an argument for quite a few Tigers hitters contributing to the league’s lowest-scoring offense (2.9 runs/game, on pace for the worst mark of the modern era). Spencer Torkelson owns the lowest fWAR (-0.8) among 158 qualified hitters, but he’s also a 22-year-old rookie. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has the lowest on-base percentage (.228) and wRC+ (50) among qualified hitters. But I’ll go with Javy Báez, who owns the league’s second-worst OBP (.237) and wRC+ (54) while carrying much higher expectations than his middle infield partner after signing a $140 million contract over the winter.
24. Colorado Rockies (LW: 22)
Kris Bryant is still waiting for his first Rockies home run after an injury-plagued start to his career in Colorado. Still, you’d think he would’ve managed one in his 73 plate appearances in purple so far.
23. Chicago Cubs (LW: 24)
Jason Heyward is under contract at $24.5 million per year through the end of the 2023 season, but it feels like it’s about time the Cubs should cut bait and move on. The 32-year-old is batting .198 with one home run in 133 plate appearances and isn’t even seen as a plus fielder by most metrics anymore.
22. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 23)
Cedric Mullins was a deserving All-Star starter last season, when he joined the 30/30 club and was one of the few reasons to tune in to watch the Orioles. The lefty batter has been a roughly league-average hitter this time around (99 OPS+), which isn’t as fun, but he’s still swiping bags (15) and playing solid defense this year.
21. Seattle Mariners (LW: 19)
I loved the Jesse Winker trade for the Mariners when it happened during the offseason, but it certainly hasn’t worked out so far. His .299 slugging percentage is the lowest among corner outfielders, a precipitous decline for a guy who was a National League starting outfielder last summer. What’s most disappointing here is how much he is underperforming his expected stats. His expected slugging is a much more respectable .439, though it’s still not up to his standard.
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20. Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 20)
Carson Kelly’s emergence last season before he suffered a broken foot felt like a critical development for the Diamondbacks, but his dismal .122/.175/.135 slash line has resulted in a league-worst -12 wRC+ and cast doubt on his true offensive capabilities.
19. Texas Rangers (LW: 18)
Marcus Semien and Jon Gray have both rebounded a bit after struggling early in their first year with the Rangers, but Semien’s uncharacteristic power outage to start the season (no home runs until May 28, six in 288 total plate appearances) put a lot of focus on his $175 million deal. He still has to prove he can be a consistent force at the plate year after year.
18. Miami Marlins (LW: 17)
Out of all the veteran sluggers the Marlins could have signed last offseason, they chose Avisaíl García at the price tag of $53 million over four years, meaning he’s their highest-paid hitter. The 31-year-old has graded out as one of the league’s 10 worst qualified batters by wRC+ (67), meaning he’s been 33% worse than the average MLB hitter. Poor free agency targeting like that can sink a cheap franchise like Miami.
17. Chicago White Sox (LW: 21)
Yasmani Grandal usually has a low batting average, but he typically has hit for enough power and drawn enough walks to make up for it in the past. That’s not been the case in 2022, as the switch-hitting catcher/DH has logged a league-worst .237 slugging percentage with just five extra-base hits (three doubles, two home runs) in 201 plate appearances. He’s the least valuable player on baseball’s most disappointing team.
16. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 16)
Anthony Rendon’s season-ending wrist surgery means the third baseman will have only played 155 games in the first three seasons of his seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels. That deal seems like a lock to end up on the Mount Rushmore of Arte Moreno’s ill-advised free agent expenditures (a designation with a lot of competition).
15. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 11)
This will be a tie between former top infield prospects Vidal Bruján and Taylor Walls, who have both been overmatched by major-league pitching during their second extended stints in the bigs. Bruján’s elite speed hasn’t even translated well, as he’s been caught on five of seven stolen base attempts. Their failure to compensate for the injured pair of Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco have contributed to Tampa Bay’s bottom-five offense by OPS (.668).
14. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 15)
Another year, another dysfunctional Phillies bullpen. This time the weakest link looks like Corey Knebel, whose four blown saves lead all MLB closers. His 15.4% walk rate is the worst among NL relievers (min. 20 innings), and his 4.92 FIP (against a 3.62 ERA) indicates he’s actually been lucky not to have performed even worse to this point, especially with Philadelphia’s horrid defense behind him.
13. Cleveland Guardians (LW: 14)
Aaron Civale’s 7.83 ERA is precisely four runs higher than it was last year, while his FIP is nearly identical, in the high fours. He looked like he’d figured something out in his most recent outing against the Tigers, which was his first quality start of the season, but he also may have just benefited from Detroit’s dreadful lineup. Civale has always been a rather hittable starter, though, so he may just have to battle bouts of bad batted-ball luck (say that five times fast) once in a while for his entire career.
12. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 13)
Christian Yelich hasn’t been awful, but he’s been a below-average hitter by wRC+ for the first time in his career, and that’s just not what the formula of success is to bring a World Series trophy to Milwaukee.
11. Boston Red Sox (LW: 12)
Alex Verdugo’s OPS has significantly declined by each passing season with the Red Sox, down to its current mark of .648. And so, as a baseball writer, it’s my job to remind you once again that he was the main return in the Mookie Betts trade (Jeter Downs is below the Mendoza line during his second season in Triple A, so it’s not looking great for him, either).
10. Minnesota Twins (LW: 9)
Dylan Bundy may just have captured lightning in a bottle during the shortened 2020 season. That was the only time he’s had an ERA below 4.00, and this year is the second straight one in which he’s had an ERA above 5.00. His career-low 18.8% strikeout rate leaves little hope for a bounceback, though his career-low 4.3% walk rate, which represents a 50% decrease, is at least a step in the right direction.
9. Atlanta Braves (LW: 10)
Whenever a 38-year-old pitcher has a down year, it usually signifies the beginning of a career-ending decline. It’s tough to know if that’s the case for Charlie Morton, though. His average fastball velocity is still above 95 mph and he says the broken fibula he suffered in last year’s World Series isn’t affecting him. Regardless, Morton may have to go on a similar second-half run as he did last year to secure his spot in Atlanta’s projected playoff rotation.
8. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 6)
Both José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi have been maddeningly inconsistent during their first full seasons in Toronto, but Kikuchi’s sky-high walk rate (13.9%) and tendency to exit games early, even by today’s standards—he’s averaging a hair over four innings per start—means he’s the one with the most room to improve. His four-inning no-decision Sunday against the Yankees was the fourth straight time he’d failed to complete five innings, while he’s recorded a 9.45 ERA with seven home runs allowed over that span.
7. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 7)
Tyler O’Neill hit 34 homers last year, finished eighth in the MVP race and won his second Gold Glove, but he struggled tremendously over the first month and a half of this season and then spent 18 days on the IL with a shoulder impingement. Since returning on June 7, he’s been better—.354/.385/.521 in 13 games—but he injured his hamstring rounding first base Sunday at Fenway Park, and his status moving forward is not yet clear. Either way, his overall numbers—.241/.292/.361 with 4 home runs in 185 plate appearances—are a major bummer for a Cardinals team looking to return to the postseason for the fourth straight year.
6. San Francisco Giants (LW: 8)
Buster Posey’s retirement finally opened the door for Joey Bart, the one time top prospect who was proclaimed the next great Giants catcher from the moment they selected him with the second pick in the 2018 draft. But the switch-hitter has really struggled to hit major-league pitching, and this year he has fared even worse than he did during an extended call-up two years ago. Before he was demoted in favor of former Phillies backup Austin Wynns in early June, Bart had struck out in nearly half of his 108 plate appearances this season.
5. Houston Astros (LW: 5)
Alex Bregman’s career-worst 112 wRC+ means he’s still been 12 percent better than a league-average hitter, but much like Christian Yelich and the Brewers, Bregman needs to be closer to his MVP form for the Astros to reach their full potential.
4. San Diego Padres (LW: 4)
Blake Snell hurt his groin warming up before what would’ve been his 2022 debut and spent 37 days on the injured list. In his six starts since his return on May 18, he has 5.46 ERA and has yet to earn a win. He is averaging fewer than five innings per outing, and his 13% walk rate is the worst of his career. The 2018 AL Cy Young winner is the weak link in San Diego’s six-man rotation, and could find himself as the odd man out once Joe Musgrove returns from the injured list. For those of you looking for a silver lining: Snell’s expected ERA (3.75) and FIP (3.43) suggest he’s been better than his overall numbers indicate.
3. New York Mets (LW: 3)
Unless you want to pick nits about Eduardo Escobar’s barely-below-average offensive production, it seems pretty clear that the biggest letdown for the Mets is not having Jacob deGrom. The fact they have the best record in the National League despite deGrom’s absence is remarkable—especially because Max Scherzer hasn’t pitched since he left his May 18 start with an oblique strain—and should serve as a warning to the rest of the league.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 2)
Dodgers fans would probably single out closer Craig Kimbrel after he took the loss Sunday against Cleveland. But he only has one blown save all season and his two other losses involved unearned runs. His 4.71 ERA is jarring, but his 2.32 FIP suggests he’ll turn things around. Instead, I’ll point out that Justin Turner is batting .209 with diminished power and playing poor defense. It may be time to put the beloved Dodger out to pasture and upgrade the hot corner at the trade deadline if Los Angeles wants its second title in three years.
1. New York Yankees (LW: 1)
Not too much has gone wrong for the Yankees this year, but Aroldis Chapman poses an interesting conundrum for a team that is on pace to win 120 games. The seven-time All-Star saw his velocity dip and strikeout rate collapse before he landed on the injured list in late May with Achilles tendinitis, and it’s unclear how Aaron Boone will use him upon his return. Can the Yankees really just take away the closer’s role from Clay Holmes and his franchise record 31 ⅓ consecutive scoreless innings? Well, considering Chapman’s stature, yes, they probably can. But should they?
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