Each MLB Team's Player Most Responsible for His Club's Success/Failure

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2013

Each MLB Team's Player Most Responsible for His Club's Success/Failure

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    While baseball is undoubtedly a team game, one player having a terrific year can change a team's fortunes for the better over the course of a 162-game season.

    The opposite holds true as well: One player having a miserable year can sabotage his team's chances of success, costing it wins and, eventually, a spot in the playoffs.

    In 2013, which player on each team has had more to do with his team's success—or failure—than anyone else? Who is each team's MVP—or, in some cases, LVP (Least Valuable Player)?

    To figure that out, we have to look at a player's history, his contributions with the bat and with the glove and what expectations were heading into the season.

    While it's not an exact science by any means, I think we've come up with some solid selections.

    Do you agree with the picks, or do you think there's another player who is more responsible for the current state of affairs surrounding your favorite team?

    There's only one way to find out: Click the big orange box below.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of August 21.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt (MVP)

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    If only Paul Goldschmidt played in a bigger market.

    One of the best players in baseball that nobody really talks about, the 25-year-old Goldschmidt has put up MVP-caliber numbers this season, doing more to keep Arizona in contention for a playoff spot than anyone else on the roster.

    He leads the National League in home runs (31), RBI (100) and total bases (256) and also ranks near the top of the league leaders in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and walks.

    Goldschmidt's glove work has been almost as impressive as his offensive production. According to FanGraphs, his 7.9 UZR/150 ranks fifth among all first basemen, and he leads the league in DRS with 11.

    Historically speaking, Goldschmidt's 2013 season is one of the best in team history:

    Player (Year)BAOBPOPSXBHHRRBIR
    Luis Gonzalez (2001).325.4291.11710057142128
    Luis Gonzalez (1999).336.403.9527526111112
    Paul Goldschmidt (2013).296.393.942563110082
    Luis Gonzalez (2000).311.392.9358031114106
    Luis Gonzalez (2003).304.402.934762610492

    With more than a month left to play, Goldschmidt could eclipse some of the numbers put up by Luis Gonzalez more than a decade ago and propel Arizona back into the postseason after it fell short last year.

     

    Honorable Mention: SP Patrick Corbin and 3B/OF Martin Prado

Atlanta Braves: Andrelton Simmons (MVP)

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    I've gone back and forth on this pick multiple times, with both Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons playing major roles in Atlanta's success in 2013.

    While Freeman has the superior offensive numbers, what Simmons has done with the glove at shortstop is nothing short of extraordinary—and that gives him the nod as Atlanta's MVP.

    Simmons makes the difficult defensive plays look effortless and has the speed, agility and athleticism—along with a rocket arm—to make plays on balls that other shortstops have no chance of getting to, much less recording an out on.

    To that end, Simmons defensive metrics are off the charts—literally.

    Going back to 2002, the earliest season that FanGraphs has advanced defensive metrics on, Simmons has posted the highest UZR/150 and DRS (Defensive Runs Saves) for a shortstop that we've seen:

    Player (Team)SeasonUZR/150DRS
    Andrelton Simmons (ATL)201328.837
    Adam Everett (HOU)200625.734
    Orlando Cabrera (LAA)200524.16
    Omar Vizquel (SF)200624.016

    None of this is to say that Simmons is a slouch at the plate.

    While his .246/.294/.364 slash line is less than impressive, Simmons' 11 home runs rank sixth among all shortstops (tied with the suspended Jhonny Peralta) and his 43 RBI rank 11th. His .658 OPS is higher than more well-known shortstops like Elvis Andrus (.625), Starlin Castro (.613) and Jimmy Rollins (.641).

    Would the Braves still be in first place without Simmons at shortstop? Perhaps.

    But there's no way that they'd have a 15-game lead over Washington in the division or be plus-130 in run differential without him.

     

    Honorable Mention: 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Craig Kimbrel and SP Mike Minor

Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis (MVP)

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    To rehash Chris Davis' accomplishments this season would be a waste of your time, for you know that it's Davis who leads baseball with 46 home runs and who is a formidable obstacle for Miguel Cabrera to get around in his pursuit of a second consecutive Triple Crown.

    In games where Davis does not record a hit, the Orioles are 15-23, as opposed to 52-35 when he does pick up at least one base hit.

    Speaking of hits, the 27-year-old slugger is on pace to finish the season with 105 extra-base hits, which would tie him with Todd Helton (2001) for the fifth-highest single-season total in baseball history, 12 behind Babe Ruth's 119 in 1921.

    His most recent home run tied him with Jim Gentile for the third-highest single-season home run total in franchise history, set in 1961, five behind Brady Anderson's franchise-record 50 home runs in 1996. Davis could feasibly break the record before the end of August.

    It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyway—that the Orioles would be nowhere near the playoffs without Davis.

     

    Honorable Mention: CF Adam Jones and 3B Manny Machado

Boston Red Sox: Koji Uehara (MVP)

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    How can I pick a relief pitcher over the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz?

    It's easy when that reliever is having the kind of season that Koji Uehara is having, dominating the opposition both as a setup man and as the team's closer.

    Since taking over the closer's job on June 21, Uehara has faced 91 batters, who have managed a feeble .300 OPS against him. Of those 91 batters, only 12 have reached base—eight singles, two doubles and two walks.

    More importantly, Uehara's ability to lock down the ninth inning enabled GM Ben Cherington to focus his efforts at the trade deadline on bolstering the rotation instead of moving prospects to land a reliable closer. Had the team needed to add someone like Jonathan Papelbon to the mix, chances are that Jake Peavy wouldn't wearing a Red Sox uniform today.

    Speaking of Papelbon, Uehara's 0.671 WHIP is the lowest in Boston history among relievers who threw at least 50 innings in any season, besting Papelbon's 0.771 WHIP in 2007 and 0.776 mark in 2006. When you consider Boston's lengthy and storied history, that's no small feat.

     

    Honorable Mention: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 2B Dustin Pedroia, DH David Ortiz and RF Shane Victorino

Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro (LVP)

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    Maybe it's unfair to call Starlin Castro a veteran at the age of 23, but now in his fourth major league season, the two-time All-Star continues to have costly mental lapses in the field.

    His latest mental blunder came this past Saturday against St. Louis, when Castro caught a pop-up in short left field for the second out of the fifth inning with the bases loaded. Castro thought it was the third out and, as he looked down, an alert Jon Jay tagged up from third base to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

    It's not the first time Castro has lost focus in the field, nor is it the first time that manager Dale Sveum has pulled him from a game. Castro forgot how many outs there were in a game against San Francisco last June, a blunder that wound up costing the Cubs a chance at victory.

    To make matters worse, he looks absolutely lost at the plate.

    He's walking and making contact less often than he ever has before, and his strikeout numbers are on the rise. Out of 19 qualified shortstops, Castro ranks 14th in batting average (.240), is tied for 15th in on-base percentage (.275) and is 16th in OPS (.613).

    While the Cubs are still in rebuilding mode, the team isn't devoid of talent, and it's reasonable to say that Chicago should have a better record than the 54-71 mark that it currently has.

    Had Castro been performing up to his talent level this season, it would.

     

    Honorable Mention: Nobody. Castro is in a class by himself.

Chicago White Sox: Jeff Keppinger and Paul Konerko (LVPs)

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    If indeed this is Paul Konerko's final season, the perennially underrated five-time All-Star deserves to go out on better terms than this.

    Unfortunately, he, along with the team's biggest offseason addition, Jeff Keppinger, has been part of the problem on the southside in 2013.

    If you didn't know any better, you'd think that two impostors had replaced the pair of veterans: 

    Yearly Combined StatsBAOBPSLGHRRBIR
    2004-2012 (Avg.).286.359.47642140124
    2013.244.307.326127657

    That's a gigantic drop in production, and there's not enough baseball left to be played for the duo to come anywhere near their averages for the past eight years.

    To be fair, injuries have played a part in their struggles. Keppinger broke his right leg during the offseason, dealt with a shoulder injury in spring training and is currently dealing with back issues, while Konerko's back has been barking all season long.

    But that doesn't change the fact that the White Sox would be in much better shape if the two veterans were playing anywhere near what we've come to expect from them.

     

    Honorable Mention: C Tyler Flowers, LF Dayan Viciedo

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto (MVP)

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    Even without putting up gaudy power numbers—18 home runs and 59 RBI isn't very impressive—Joey Votto is still one of the best run producers in baseball, as evidenced by his 157 wRC (Weighted Runs Created), the fifth-highest total among qualified hitters, according to FanGraphs.

    Votto leads the National League in on-base percentage, walks and intentional walks. His .937 OPS ranks third, his .316 batting average fifth.

    He's played in every game for the Reds this season, and while he's no better than average with the glove at first base, his ability to get on base with such consistency not only makes him the team's most irreplaceable piece, but a legitimate candidate for NL MVP honors as well.

     

    Honorable Mention: RF Jay Bruce, CF Shin-Soo Choo and 2B Brandon Phillips 

Cleveland Indians: Jason Kipnis (MVP)

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    Well, that didn't take long.

    In only his third major league season, Jason Kipnis has not only become the most important piece of the puzzle in Cleveland, but one of the best second basemen in all of baseball.

    It comes as no surprise that the Indians are 11 games above .500 with Kipnis in the lineup (63-52) but only 9-8 without him, as the 26-year-old leads the Tribe in nearly every offensive category and has the fourth-highest OPS (.832) among qualified major league second basemen.

    His defense is average at best and remains a work in progress, but his ability to hit for average (.285) and get on base consistently (.366 OBP), despite striking out more than 21 percent of the time that he steps to the plate, makes him irreplaceable in Cleveland's lineup.

     

    Honorable Mention: SP Justin Masterson and UTIL Ryan Raburn

Colorado Rockies: Dexter Fowler (LVP)

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    For someone with as much natural talent and athleticism as Dexter Fowler has, there's simply no excuse for his collapse at the plate and in the field this season.

    Through the first three months of the season, Fowler was solid, sitting with a .291/.390/.473 slash line on June 25. Then he hit the 15-day disabled list with a bone bruise on his right hand that kept him out until July 11. 

    He might as well have not come back.

    Fowler has hit only .227 since his return, with only seven extra-base hits and 15 RBI over his last 35 games. He's regressed defensively, unable to utilize his top-end speed to get to balls that he should.

    At this point, Fowler is a bigger liability in Colorado than he is an asset.

    While it'd be unfair to put all of the blame for the Rockies' disappointing season on Fowler's shoulders, he does carry a bigger load than anyone else on the team.

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera (MVP)

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    Scary but true: Miguel Cabrera seems to be getting better with age.

    A year after winning the first Triple Crown in nearly 50 years, Cabrera is not only eclipsing his numbers from a season ago, but he finds himself with a realistic shot of becoming the first back-to-back Triple Crown winner in baseball history.

    SeasonBAOPSXBH (HR)RBIHR
    2012.330.99984 (44)139205109
    2013 (projected).3581.13184 (51)158208116

    His 158 RBI will set a new record for third basemen, besting Alex Rodriguez's 156 in 2007. And if he stays at this pace, his 1.131 OPS will beat out George Brett's 1.118 mark from his legendary 1980 campaign.

    Without Cabrera in the lineup, the Tigers are a .500 team.

     

    Honorable Mention: RP Joaquin Benoit, 1B Prince Fielder and SP Max Scherzer

Houston Astros: J.D. Martinez (LVP)

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    It's almost unfair to pick a scapegoat for Houston's 2013 season, as nobody—not even GM Jeff Luhnow—could have reasonably expected the rebuilding Astros to be successful in the team's first season in the American League this year.

    But we need to point the finger at someone and for me, there's no bigger culprit than J.D. Martinez.

    Big things were expected from Martinez after he hit .274 with six home runs and 35 RBI over 53 games in 2011. Instead, Martinez has battled injury and ineffectiveness, hitting only .247 with 18 home runs and 91 RBI over his last 191 games.

    He's become allergic to drawing walks, taking a free pass in less than four percent of his plate appearances and striking out more than once in every four at-bats. For a guy without big-time power, that's simply unacceptable.

    As previously mentioned, nobody was expecting a winning season in Houston this year. But Martinez was expected to prove that he was part of the team's long-term solution. Instead, he looks as if he's just another problem.

     

    Honorable Mention: 2B Jose Altuve and 1B/OF/DH Chris Carter

Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer (MVP)

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    After a painfully slow start to the season, Eric Hosmer has shown why he, and not Mike Moustakas or Billy Butler, is the key to Kansas City's offense.

    He's not your prototypical power-hitting first baseman, with only 14 home runs and 59 RBI on the season, but his ability to hit for average and get on base consistently is just as important to Kansas City's success as the long ball would be.

    Defensively, Hosmer has improved by leaps and bounds from a year ago, no longer looking completely inept with the glove.

    Since June 1, he has a 318/.357/.514 slash line, erasing both his and the team's early-season struggles. Kansas City has gone 42-31 since the beginning of June, the team playing itself back into playoff contention after it looked like it was doomed to repeat its struggles of the past.

    Hosmer has been as big a reason for that turnaround as anyone, and only 23 years old, the best is yet to come for Kansas City's 2013 MVP.

     

    Honorable Mention: RP Greg Holland and SP Ervin Santana

Los Angeles Angels: Josh Hamilton (LVP)

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    There's plenty of blame to go around for what has been a disastrous season for the Angels, but nobody shoulders a bigger load of that blame than Josh Hamilton.

    Expected to help the Angels lineup simply beat the opposition into submission, making up for the team's obvious shortcomings on the mound, Hamilton has been a shell of the player that he once was.

    According to FanGraphs, he ranks 118th out of 154 qualified batters with a wRC+ of 94—lower than players like Brian Dozier (98) and Lyle Overbay (96). That's awful.

    Who would have thought that on April 14, Hamilton's .234 batting average and .743 OPS would be the highest that they'd be all season long?

    Not the Angels, who can call the first season of the five-year, $125 million contract that they signed Hamilton to before the season a complete disaster.

     

    Honorable Mention: SP Joe Blanton, SP Tommy Hanson and 1B Albert Pujols

Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig (MVP)

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    Sure, Yasiel Puig has had some issues this season, mainly revolving around the fact that he's 22 years old and still has some growing up to do.

    But no player has been more integral in the resurgence of the Los Angeles Dodgers this season than Puig, who has wowed the baseball world with his talents at the plate and his ridiculously powerful and accurate throwing arm in the field.

    Consider this: The Dodgers are 48-20 with Puig in the lineup. Without him, they're 26-32.

    That the team's historic run began just around the time that Puig burst onto the scene is no coincidence. He is a game-changing talent, someone who can—and has—change the outcome of a game with one swing or one throw.

    Without Puig, the Dodgers don't emerge as one of the best teams in baseball—and the Arizona Diamondbacks would have the AL West all but wrapped up by now.

     

    Honorable Mention: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Clayton Kershaw and SS/3B Hanley Ramirez

Miami Marlins: Nobody

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    After owner Jeffrey Loria orchestrated yet another massive salary dump this past winter, leaving the team with little in the way of legitimate major league talent, it was a foregone conclusion that the Miami Marlins were on their way to a 100-loss season.

    They've done just that.

    That said, you can't point a finger at any one player and say, "If he performed better, the team's fortunes would be different."

    As with Houston, the Marlins were doomed to fail from the start. 

Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo (LVP)

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    It's been a season to forget in Milwaukee, with Ryan Braun being exposed as a cheat and a fraud while the team has imploded and finds itself tied with the Cubs for last place in the NL Central.

    While he only plays every fifth day, Yovani Gallardo is a major reason why the Brewers have been as bad as they are this season.

    The team's ace has seen his velocity drop, his number of pitchers per game increase and his effectiveness disappear. Gallardo has made it through seven innings in only four of his 24 starts on the season, allowing four or more earned runs in nine of those starts.

    After averaging 15 wins, a 3.68 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 204 strikeouts a season since 2010, Gallardo is on track to finish this season with 11 victories, a 4.68 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and only 133 strikeouts. That's a pretty drastic drop in production.

    He looked significantly better in his first start since being activated from the disabled list, tossing 6.1 innings of three-hit, shutout ball against Cincinnati on August 17. But even a strong finish to the season isn't going to be enough to make 2013 anything other than a complete disaster for the 27-year-old.

     

    Honorable Mention: LF Ryan Braun

Minnesota Twins: Josh Willingham (LVP)

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    After hitting .260 with 35 home runs and 110 RBI in 2012, Minnesota was counting on Josh Willingham to continue to provide timely hitting and produce runs in the middle of the team's lineup in 2013.

    Instead, the Twins have gotten little in the way of quality play out of the 34-year-old left fielder.

    After raising his slash line to .280/.486/.600 on April 9, Willingham all but disappeared. Over his last 75 games—he missed all of July and part of August with a torn meniscus in his left knee—the 10-year veteran has managed only a .211/.340/.380 slash line with 10 home runs and 40 RBI.

    While you could point to Minnesota's lack of quality starting pitching as the biggest culprit for the team's struggles in 2013, it's hard to imagine that a productive Willingham in the middle of the lineup wouldn't have turned some of the team's losses into wins.

     

    Honorable Mention: 1B Justin Morneau and SP Vance Worley

New York Mets: Ike Davis (LVP)

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    After catching fire in the second half of the 2012 season, hitting .255 with 20 home runs, 41 RBI and an .888 OPS, the Mets were counting on Ike Davis to hit the ground running in 2013, giving David Wright some protection in the lineup and serving as the team's biggest run producer.

    Instead, Davis wilted under the pressure, eventually leaving the team with no choice but to demote him to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 10 after posting a .161/.242/.258 slash line with five home runs, 16 RBI and 66 strikeouts over his first 55 games of the season.

    While Davis has been better since his return on July 5, putting together a .282/.448/.455 slash line over his last 40 games, the power and run production remains absent, with only three home runs and 13 RBI during that time.

     

    Honorable Mention: OF Lucas Duda and SS Ruben Tejada

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda (MVP)

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    With the team's offense largely absent for most of the season and three-fifths of the rotation—CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes—all struggling, the Yankees have no business still being in playoff contention.

    That they are is largely due to Hiroki Kuroda, who has been the team's most important player this season by a wide margin.

    Kuroda has only had three starts on the year where he surrendered more than four earned runs, the same number of starts in which he's failed to pitch into the sixth inning.

    Owner of the American League's lowest ERA (2.41) and fourth-lowest WHIP (1.05), Kuroda should have 15 or 16 wins on the season at this point, not the 11 that he sits with. New York's offense—or lack thereof—has betrayed him, offering up the second-lowest run support (3.24 per game) of any AL starter, with only Chris Sale (2.96) getting less help from his lineup.

    Without Kuroda, the Yankees would have been crossed off the list of legitimate contenders a long time ago.

     

    Honorable Mention: 2B Robinson Cano, C Chris Stewart

Oakland Athletics: Josh Donaldson (MVP)

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    With Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Riddick both struggling to repeat their successful 2012 seasons, Oakland needed someone to step up and carry the offense in 2013.

    Enter Josh Donaldson, who, aside from a terrible July, has been Oakland's most consistent and productive batter all season long. 

    MonthBAOPSXBH (HR)RBI
    April.314.87813 (2)20
    May.330.99414 (6)13
    June.303.8559 (5)20
    July.233.6965 (3)8
    August.281.8085 (2)10

    Donaldson hasn't only been a stud at the plate. The 28-year-old has also developed into an excellent defender at the hot corner, ranking fifth in DRS (7) and sixth in UZR/150 (9.0) among all third basemen, according to FanGraphs.

    On a team that has multiple moving pieces, Donaldson is the one constant figure in Oakland's 2013 success.

     

    Honorable Mention: SP Bartolo Colon and SP Jarrod Parker

Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard (LVP)

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    After missing more than half of the 2012 season due to a torn Achilles tendon, Ryan Howard was expected to return to his slugging ways in 2013, helping to carry the Phillies back to the promised land of the postseason.

    Instead, the 34-year-old first baseman landed back on the disabled list in early July with a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery to repair, and he has yet to return to action.

    While you can't fault Howard for getting injured, you can fault him for a lack of production when he was healthy, helping to dig the massive hole that Philadelphia simply hasn't been able to get out of all season.

    Not only were Howard's power numbers down—only 11 home runs and 43 RBI over his first 80 games of the season—but a player who averaged 83 walks a season from 2006 through 2011 had only 23 free passes on the season before going down with his knee injury.

    An inability to produce runs and get on base is a losing combination, especially when you combine that with a newfound penchant for spending more time off of the field than on it.

    Would the Phillies be able to get past the Braves had Ryan Howard been healthy and productive? Probably not. But they'd still have a shot to make the playoffs as a wild card.

     

    Honorable Mention: SS Jimmy Rollins

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen (MVP)

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    Is there anything Andrew McCutchen can't do?

    He's batting .319 with a .395 on-base percentage and .511 slugging percentage, hitting for power (17 home runs), flashing his speed on the bases (26-of-32 SB) and playing above-average defense in center field.

    McCutchen is the center of the universe on what is arguably the best team in the National League and is the main reason that Pittsburgh is on the verge of ending 20 years of futility by not only finishing the season with a winning record, but by making the playoffs as well.

     

    Honorable Mention: 3B Pedro Alvarez, LF Starling Marte and C Russell Martin

San Diego Padres: Chase Headley (LVP)

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    One of the biggest surprises of 2012 was Chase Headley, who seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the National League with 115 RBI while cracking 31 home runs and finishing fifth in the MVP voting.

    San Diego was convinced that it had a superstar on its hands and was counting on Headley to repeat, if not exceed, those numbers in 2013.

    While he still plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base, gone is the power and run production. Headley's eight home runs and 35 RBI on the season are far more reminiscent of the first four years of his career, when he averaged nine home runs and 51 RBI a season.

    His inability to produce runs—players like the suspended Everth Cabrera, Kyle Blanks and Chris Denorfia have created more runs for the Padres this season than Headley—makes him the biggest goat in what has been another disappointing season in Southern California. 

     

    Honorable Mention: SP Jason Marquis and CF Cameron Maybin

San Francisco Giants: Pablo Sandoval (LVP)

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    Remember when people used to call Pablo Sandoval "Fat Ichiro"?

    He doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the future Hall of Famer.

    The burly third baseman's decline continues in 2013, with Sandoval unable to hit for power or average and becoming a defensive liability at the hot corner. The numbers don't lie: nine home runs, a .266 batting average, a minus-six DRS and a minus-9.1 UZR/150 don't excite anyone, and they certainly don't help his team.

    While San Francisco's problems run deeper than just one player, Sandoval has become part of the problem and not part of the solution.

     

    Honorable Mention: Every OF not named Hunter Pence and SP Barry Zito

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero (LVP)

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    Seattle was banking on Jesus Montero building on his first full major league season in 2012, when he hit .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI as a 22-year-old.

    Instead, the Mariners got a 23-year-old catcher who struggled behind the plate defensively and was absolutely lost at the plate with a bat in his hands.

    After hitting .208/.264/.327 with three home runs and nine RBI through 29 games, the Mariners had no choice but to demote him to Triple-A Tacoma, where he began making the transition to first base...until he tore the meniscus in his right knee and needed surgery to repair it.

    Then, of course, came the revelation that Montero was caught up in the Biogenesis scandal and accepted a 50-game suspension from MLB, effectively ending his season.

    He has contributed absolutely nothing to Seattle in 2013. While others are worthy of blame and criticism as well, no one has been as big a disappointment as Montero.

     

    Honorable Mention: 2B/OF Dustin Ackley and 1B/OF Michael Morse

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina (MVP)

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    Without question, St. Louis was the most difficult team for me to decide on a selection for, as multiple players have had tremendous seasons and been major parts of the team's success in 2013.

    But you can't overstate how important Yadier Molina has been to it all coming together.

    Not only is Molina a force at the plate, hitting a career-high .332 with an .874 OPS, but he remains the best defensive catcher in the game. And it's his ability to handle the pitching staff that gives him the edge over his equally deserving teammates.

    Molina's 3.28 CERA (Catcher's ERA) ranks third in baseball, as does his .424 caught stealing percentage. He has guided a relatively young, inexperienced bullpen to a 3.68 ERA, 15th-best in the majors, while the 3.46 mark posted by the starting rotation ranks fifth in the game.

    With Molina in the lineup, the Cardinals are 63-41. Without him, they're 10-12.

    There's no question that in St. Louis there's Yadier Molina, and then there's everybody else.

     

    Honorable Mention: 2B Matt Carpenter, 1B Allen Craig, RP Edward Mujica and SP Adam Wainwright

Tampa Bay Rays: Wil Myers (MVP)

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    Since Wil Myers was promoted to the major leagues in the middle of June, Tampa Bay has gone 33-20, playing itself back into playoff contention after a rough start to the season.

    Without the 22-year-old right fielder in the lineup, the Rays are 39-33, which, while still a respectable record, is nowhere near as impressive as what the team does when Myers is around.

    He leads the team in batting average (.312) and on-base percentage (.364), has as many home runs (nine) as Ben Zobrist and as many RBI (39) as Luke Scott, despite spending the first two-and-a-half months of the season in the minor leagues.

    Myers has played above-average defense in right field as well, yet to make an error and posting the ninth-highest UZR/150 among all right fielders.

    He gives Tampa Bay the potent bat in the middle of its order that the team has been looking to pair with Evan Longoria for years, making the Rays a far more dangerous team than they were before he arrived.

     

    Honorable Mention: 3B Evan Longoria, SP David Price, IF/OF Ben Zobrist

Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre (MVP)

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    While his defense has fallen off from where it was in years past, Adrian Beltre remains a capable defender at the hot corner and one of the most productive third baseman in baseball not named Miguel Cabrera.

    He has helped to pick up the slack left by Josh Hamilton's departure before the season, leading the Rangers in multiple categories, including batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.379), RBI (78) and hits (162).

    His 145 wRC+ is the 10th-highest of any batter in baseball, regardless of position, and he sits four home runs away from his third consecutive 30-home run season, the fourth of his career.

    Without Beltre's bat in the middle of the lineup, there's no possible way that Texas would have a 2.5-game lead over Oakland in the AL West or be in contention for a playoff spot.

     

    Honorable Mention: SP Yu Darvish

Toronto Blue Jays: Josh Johnson (LVP)

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    While none of the three veteran arms that Toronto traded for before the season have lived up to expectations, both Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey have improved as the season has progressed.

    Josh Johnson only continues to get worse.

    Currently sidelined with a strained right forearm—his second stay on the disabled list this season—Johnson has been an absolute disaster on the mound.

    He's allowed four earned runs or more and failed to finish the sixth inning in half of his starts on the season, and while he's averaging more strikeouts per nine innings of work than he ever has before (9.2), he's also giving up more hits than he ever has (11.6), the fifth-highest average among starting pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched on the season, according to Baseball Reference's Play Index (subscription required).

    Instead of solidifying the team's rotation, Johnson has left Toronto with more questions than answers, both in 2013 and beyond, as re-signing the free agent after the season is no longer the sure thing we assumed it would be before the season started.

     

    Honorable Mention: 3B Brett Lawrie

Washington Nationals: Denard Span (LVP)

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    I've always been a Span fan, so watching Denard Span struggle as he has in his first season with Washington has been painful to watch at times.

    Expected to be the table-setter atop the Nationals lineup, Span has been anything but that, with a .314 on-base percentage that ranks 109th in baseball this season.

    Generally a disciplined hitter at the plate, Span's walk rate is down (a career-low 6.4 percent), and he's swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone (27 percent) than he ever has before, according to FanGraphs.

    Typically a Gold Glove-caliber defender in center field, Span's defense has fallen off in 2013 as well, with a 6.4 UZR (seventh among center fielders) and only four defensive runs saved, eighth among his contemporaries.

    If Span were getting on base with any regularity, Washington's offense wouldn't be as underwhelming as it's been this season—and the Nationals might have a far better chance of making the playoffs than they do.

     

    Honorable Mention: 1B Adam LaRoche