They say it is one of (if not) the hardest things to do in all of professional sports; hit a round ball with a round bat and hit it squarely. That is why outside of a weather man, only a position player in baseball can fail seven out of 10 times, and be one of the most successful at his job.
You see it all the time, players excel one year, and face plant the next. This isn't just an epidemic in baseball, all profession sports are this way.
I see a problem in baseball though, one season heroes being treated like kings, and getting paid like them too. This has hurt many teams, putting them in a financial stranglehold, when they give big contracts.
Most notably, players getting contracts after "career" seasons.
When looking at "career" seasons, you have to separate that from "breakout" seasons. In my opinion, a 24 year old that has been in the majors since he was 19 or 20, can't have a "career" year. Instead, I would call it a "breakout" season.
There were a number of both of these in 2008. Seasons that nobody can predict, nor can we be sure they will be replicated.
Position players had a lot of success breaking out last season. Future stars were born in both leagues. The list includes; Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Theriot, Joey Votto, Geovany Soto, Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin, Evan Longoria, Nate McLouth and even more.
Soto and Longoria were the National League and American League "Rookies of the Year" and were big parts of the Cubs and Rays playoff runs. Others, like Pedroia and Theriot were playing in their second seasons as full time players.
Some would say Pedroia broke out one season earlier, when he won the "Rookie of the Year" award, but his 2009 season was even more of a breakout.
Other players were not expected to perform the way they did; most notably Nate McLouth and Carlos Quentin. Though young and talented, nobody predicted the impact they would have on their teams.
The problem is, you don't know for sure whether it is something you can count on going from season to season. You can have a better idea about what you will get from players like Pedroia, Soto and Longoria, these were all guys that people expected to be good players. The other guys on the list are hit and miss types.
The most confusing is when a player that has been around, typically in his 30s, has a monster year nobody saw coming.
Christian Guzman, a man that would have been considered a "breakout" player in 2001, but declined ever since, was among batting average leaders in the National League all season.
Mark DeRosa, who had a fine 2007 season after moving to the Chicago Cubs from Texas, had an absurd year by his standards. He topped 80 runs (103), 15 home runs (21), and 75 RBI (87) all for the first time in his career. This is a Major League career that started when he was 23, in 1998.
The Cardinals stayed in their playoff hunt longer than anybody expected because of the emergence of two outfielders that had "career" years: Ryan Ludwick and pitcher turned hitter Rick Ankiel.
If I was a MLB GM, I would not be too sure that any of these guys would emulate this past season. I sure wouldn't be ready to give them a big pay increase. Rick Ankiel, though he broke into the majors 10 years prior, is the youngest of the group at age 29.
Hitters weren't the only ones that had "breakout" and "career" years in 2008, pitchers did too.
Tim Lincecum, in his second full season, won the National League "Cy Young" award. Jon Lester, in his third season, first full because of his battle with lymphoma, threw a no-hitter and held Boston's staff together.
Edison Volquez was right there with Tim Linceum for most of the season before fading a bit late. John Danks and Joe Saunders were big parts of the White Sox and Angels playoff runs.
There were many more young pitchers—Scott Baker, Ricky Nolasco, and Jesse Litsch to name a few—that had fantastic seasons.
Guys like Cliff Lee and Ryan Dempster were once prospects with high ceilings, but until 2008 had battled inconsistency and injuries. Lee was in the minors in 2007 and Dempster was the Cubs closer.
In 2009 they were both All-Stars, Lee won the American League Cy Young and Dempster started game one of the Divisional Series for the Cubs.
For the Cardinals, along with their "breakout" by outfielders, had Todd Wellenmeyer. He, in five prior seasons, had never thrown more than 80 innings, or had an ERA under 4.00. At age 29, he threw 191.7 innings with a 3.71 ERA.
These types of players come about every year. Never can the following season be relied upon, but it is always expected. Teams always make these players a big part of their following seasons plans, but rarely ever have back-up plans to protect themselves.
That is why, like any other year, predicting the upcoming baseball season is nearly impossible. We just do not know who will live up to it, die by it, or shop up unannounced.
Will Ryan Dempster lead the Cubs rotation again? Will Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer keep the Cardinals in the playoff race? Maybe Cliff Lee will find himself in 2007 form?
Dustin Pedroia could have a junior year slump. Maybe Felix Pie or Lastings Milledge will live up to their billing. If blessed, Mark Prior may find himself among the elite starters in the game once again.
There is no telling, only blind-eye predictions of whom will or will not have big seasons. Outside of the mainstays like Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, there ar only a select group of guys that can be counted on year in and year out.
In 2009, there are so many teams that are borderline playoff contenders, that "unknown" heroes will play a huge factor in who is successful.
I don't know who these players will be and I will not give any bold predictions, but I will close by throwing out a few names of guys that I think are threats to fit these profiles. I am sure there will be numerous not mentioned.
Breakout possibilities: Delmon Young, Mike Fontenot, Lastings Milledge, Felix Pie, Felix Hernandez, Matt Weiters, David Price and Denard Span.