MLB's All-Bust Team for the First Month of the Season
With the first month of the baseball season in the books, we can look ahead in projecting which of the early season standouts will continue their march towards individual awards.
On the other hand, we can start to wonder about some of the projected stars that are off to below average starts.
Is an early season slump the sign of a down year, a masked injury or a small sample that will correct itself with more at-bats or innings?
In the case of most of our All-Bust Team, there is a track record of performance over the course of a 162-game season. As the summer heats up, so should most of these projected stars.
Yet, in some cases, doubt should creep in. If the league has detected a hitch in a swing or picked up on a delivery, performance may not rise to the occasion.
Without further ado, MLB's All-Bust Team for the first month of the season.
*All statistics are valid through the end of play on May 1.
Catcher: Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Stats: .194/.295//247, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 9 R, -0.2 WAR
Over the last few years, Montero has become one of the more consistent backstops in the game for the Diamondbacks. His 33 home runs and .372 OBP have helped him to post a 121 OPS+ since the start of the 2011 season, factoring into the 8.6 wins above replacement he's been worth.
The 2011 All-Star is just 29 years old, so wear and tear is unlikely the issue early on. Instead, look to bad luck as to the reason why Montero hasn't gotten going this season.
Since 2008, he's posted the following year-by-year BABIP (batting average on balls in play) marks: .321, .327, .318, .317, .362.
Thus far in 2013, that number is .230.
Due to a walk rate (12.5 percent) that is virtually identical to last year, and a strikeout rate (19.6 percent) that's actually better than last season, Montero is a good bet to start seeing some of his line drives land over the wall or in the gap as this season progresses.
For Arizona, they'll hope his luck turns around very, very soon.
First Baseman: Ike Davis, New York Mets
Stats: .169/.272/.315, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 12 R, 0.0 WAR
In what's becoming an uncomfortable theme for Met fans, Davis is channeling his 2012 self, off to an eerily similar funk at the plate that plagued him for most of April and May last year.
If there's a silver lining to Ike's slump, look to consistency and the eventual breakout.
Through 25 games last season, or, in other words, the exact point we're at in the 2013 season, Davis was sporting the following line: .180/.232/.292 with three home runs.
The numbers above are almost identical.
Despite continuing his issues through May, Davis finished with 32 home runs, slugging .532 from June 1 onward.
Another reason for hope: Davis is swinging at only 23.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, the best mark of his career, nearly six percent better than last season.
New York isn't known as a patient town, but they should be with this early season bust.
Second Baseman: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
Stats: .189/.265/.270, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 7 R, -0.2 WAR
Heading into this season, Cleveland was rightfully excited about adding Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds to a lineup that already had young, emerging stars like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis.
Through the first month of the year, Santana is leading by example for the powerful Indians, cranking out extra-base hit after extra-base hit.
At second base, Jason Kipnis hasn't found his groove yet.
After providing Cleveland with 3.2 wins above replacement last season, it's going to take a turnaround with the bat to duplicate or surpass that value this year.
While he has hit into some back luck (.255 BABIP), it's worth noting that Kipnis has seen his strikeout rate spike from last season (16.2 to 27.4).
He's looking less and less like the emerging star from 2012. Keep an eye on him, Indian fans.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
Stats: .248/.287/.312, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 13 R, 0.5 WAR
When the Texas Rangers awarded Andrus a lucrative, long-term contract at the start of the season, fans were left to wonder how a player with a career OPS under 700 could warrant a deal worth up to $146 million.
From the perspective of Jon Daniels and the Ranger front office, Andrus' age (24), defensive ability and annual increase in on-base percentage (.329, .342, .347, .349 since 2009) made their young shortstop worth a commitment and risk on his future.
While it's impossible to know if the contract or expectations have factored into Andrus' play, his slow start is worth noting because of the contract and the impending call-up of middle infield prospect Jurickson Profar.
If Andrus didn't receive the money, some fans would have called for him to be replaced with a more dynamic hitter.
That won't be happening anytime soon, and, to be fair, likely never was.
Instead, Texas hopes Andrus gets going and eventually becomes the best up-the-middle combination in baseball with Profar.
Third Baseman: Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox
Stats: .206/.241/.422, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 15 R, -0.1 WAR
Coming off a rookie year at Fenway that saw Middlebrooks post an .835 OPS, crank a home run every 19 at-bats and help convince the Red Sox brass to move on from Kevin Youkilis, much was expected from the 24-year-old Middlebrooks heading into this year.
After a three-homer game in Toronto on April 7, expectations went through the roof. At that moment, Middlebrooks was slugging .880 and giving Sox fans dreams of the next great third baseman.
Since that day, Middlebrooks is hitting .169, posting a .470 OPS and sporting a K/BB ratio of 27-2.
If you look closely, his approach at the plate didn't just become a problem. In the midst of the hype about his power last summer, his proponents chose to ignore a 30.6 strikeout percentage.
It's clear, through last season, the three-homer game in Toronto and six thus far on the season, that Middlebrooks has light tower power.
He just doesn't have the discipline at the plate to actually hit the baseball consistently enough to use that skill.
Outfielder: Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
Stats: .243/.292/.288, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 8 R, -0.4 WAR
When breaking down what went wrong during the Blue Jays pursuit of talent this winter, Melky Cabrera's under-the-radar signing was supposed to be a steal, buying low on a player that posted a .906 OPS before a suspension halted his season in San Francisco.
Thus far, Melky looks more like the fringe starter that he was in New York and Atlanta rather than the star he became in Kansas City and San Francisco.
With injuries in the lineup and rotation, April would have been an ideal month for Cabrera to pick up where he left off last summer to carry a slugging Jays roster.
Instead, he's been a bust.
Outfielder: B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
Stats: .138/.219/.266, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, -0.4 WAR
If not for the torrid start of his younger brother, the Upton story in Atlanta would be the slow start of their $72.5 million center fielder.
Although B.J. isn't known as a great hitter, the Braves and their fans had to expect more than this early on.
While it's likely the power will be there, Upton's strikeout rate is at ridiculous level, even by his standards.
Over the course of his eight big league seasons prior to 2013, Upton averaged 128 K's per year, peaking at 169 last season.
Through 25 games, he's on pace to blow that away. If Upton's K-rate doesn't dip below 30 percent, he may top the 200 strikeout mark this season.
Unless he plays the best defensive center field of his career, hits 30+ home runs and steals at least 25 bases, Atlanta won't get value for their money with that many strikeouts from this Upton.
Outfielder: Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels
Stats: .214/.260/.304, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 11 R, -0.5 WAR
For $125 million, Angels fans had to be expecting more than this. While it's unfair to put the team's losing record on the shoulders of Hamilton, his early season slump hasn't helped the cause.
Moving forward, remember that Hamilton is among the streakiest hitters baseball has seen in some time.
He's as likely to go 0-for-30 to begin May as he is to go 15-for-25 with five home runs.
At the age of 31, importing Hamilton from a hitters park to a pitchers haven was a calculated risk. Over the course of the deal, a decline is imminent.
That doesn't mean it's happened already.
Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Stats: 6 GS, 34.2 IP, 32 K, 10 BB, 6.49 ERA, 5.59 FIP, -0.3 WAR
Over the course of his stellar career, Matt Cain has consistently foiled the concept of Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, by posting better ERA's than his peripheral stats indicated he was likely to do.
Much of that had to do with his tremendous ability to keep fly balls in the park.
Since debuting in 2005, Cain has never pitched a season in which higher than 8.4 percent of fly balls against him left the park. When factoring that in with his great stuff, command and quality K/BB ratio, his 3.27 career earned run average comes into context.
This season, the luck has run out.
Through his first six starts, 19.1 percent of fly balls are leaving the yard against him. He's allowing 2.34 home runs per nine innings, by far the highest of his career.
He won't be this bad all season, but the superb ability to keep fly balls from reaching the stands might not be part of Matt Cain's 2013 season.
Relief Pitcher: John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Stats: 13 G, 11.1 IP, 13 K, 2 BB, 10.32 ERA, 8.14 FIP, -0.7 WAR
Just two years ago, Axford was one of the most dominant relievers in the sport, converting 46 of 48 save chances, including his final 43 as the Brewers made a push to the NLCS.
As his performance continues to erode in 2013, he's lost his closers job to Jim Henderson and could soon be totally out of high leverage situations.
While his control has improved, Axford simply can't give up home runs at the rate he is and survive in close games.
Through less than 12 full innings pitched this season, Axford has surrendered six long balls.
Milwaukee has rebounded from a poor start, but their former closer hasn't.
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