The 2009 Dang-I-Wish-It-Were-Still-2008-When-I-Didn't-Suck All-Star Team
If you are the kind of person that does not appreciate a great comeback story, then you also might be the type that enjoys to strangle kittens, collect road kill, and drink deer’s blood.
Comebacks are the epitome of sports—whether it is a team rallying in the final seconds to take the lead, or a single individual overcoming all odds.
Be it Lance Armstrong’s rebound from cancer, Magic Johnson’s return to basketball while battling HIV, or Britney Spears’s hair growing back, comeback stories provide individuals with inspiration and hope.
However, with every comeback there is a collapse.
Like anyone else, athletes experience moments of glory and elation, but also endure trying and wearisome times—both physically and mentally. Baseball players can contribute to a team’s success and be a productive hitter or pitcher one year, and then struggle to find a job the very next season.
While there is still time for players to turn their seasons around, I have listed the most disappointing players of 2009 for every position.
And although there is nothing more frustrating and disheartening than injuries decimating a player’s season, I focus on players that have stayed healthy for the majority of the year but broken down in the batter's box.
First Base: David Ortiz
During David Ortiz’s 6-year career with the Boston Red Sox (2003-2008), he has averaged 39 home runs, 121 RBI and a .297 batting average.
Ortiz has played in five All-Star games, won two World Series rings, and in 2005 he was awarded a plaque declaring him to be “The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox.”
This year, Ortiz is hitting a meager .219, with 15 home runs and 61 RBI. He has struck out in 25 percent of his at-bats, and his on-base percentage has reached a career low .308.
On top of his struggles at the plate, the New York Times recently reported that Ortiz used performance-enhancing drugs during the 2003 season.
A New York editorial also reported that Ortiz is having nightmares of the Green Monster swallowing him alive.
It has been a tough season for Big Papi to say the least.
*Not so honorable mentions: Jason Giambi, Aubrey Huff
Second Base: Dan Uggla
Although Dan Uggla has hit 20 home runs—fourth most in the major’s for his position—his .233 average is dead last for second baseman among the qualified leaders.
Entering this season, Uggla had a career average of .257, so his low batting average is not too surprising.
However, among the qualified second baseman, Uggla has the most strikeouts, ranks second to last in hits, and is sixth-worst in runs scored. Additionally, his eight errors are tied for fifth-most in the majors at second base.
Uggla can undoubtedly muscle the ball out of the park and draw walks, but his average, slugging percentage, and OPS are all career lows.
Third Base: Garrett Atkins
During Garrett Atkins’s first four full seasons for the Colorado Rockies, he averaged 22 homers, 37 doubles, 105 RBI, and a .294 average.
In 2007, Atkins started the season off in a slump, but still managed to hit .307 with runners in scoring position and .364 with the bases loaded. Atkins showed great patience at the plate and he helped the team reach the World Series.
In 2008, his numbers took a dip, and it was the first time since 2005 that he did not bat above .300 or drive in over 100 runs. An even bigger cause for concern was his poor .225 average with runners in scoring position.
Nevertheless, he still finished in the top seven among third baseman in hits, RBI, and average.
2009 has been an abysmal year for Atkins. He is on pace to have career lows in every single major statistic, and he recently lost his starting job to Ian Stewart.
His .651 OPS is more than .300 points below the mark he set in 2005.
It is safe to say that Atkins is colder than a Coors frost brew liner.
Not So Honorable Mention: Melvin Mora
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy
Shortstops are often regarded as the most valuable and difficult defensive position on the field. Finding an offensively and defensively talented shortstop is difficult, and the Milwaukee Brewers thought they found their man in J.J. Hardy after his breakout season in 2007.
Hardy has excellent defensive range, and averaged 25 home runs, 30 doubles, 77 RBI, 84 runs, and a .280 average from 2007-2008.
In 2008 he was second in home runs, fourth in RBI, and fourth in OPS among major league shortstops.
2009 has proven to be a major setback in Hardy’s young career. He is batting .228, worst among major league shortstops, with an on-base percentage of .300.
After having the third best slugging percentage among shortstops in 2008, Hardy’s slugging percentage is the fifth worst for his position this year.
He has struck out in 20 percent of his at bats, and his lack of production tempted the Brewers to trade him to the Boston Red Sox before the deadline.
Outfielder: Alfonso Soriano
From 2002-2008, Alfonso Soriano averaged 35 homers, 29 doubles, 90 RBI, 102 runs, and 29 stolen bases, while batting .285.
Whether Soriano was batting in the leadoff position or in the heart of the lineup, he produced and put up huge numbers.
This year has been a much different story for the seven-time All-Star. Soriano is batting a career low .250, and has struck out 25 percent of the times he has stepped to the plate (which is actually on par with his career strikeout ratio).
He has managed to steal only 8 bases, and is on pace to finish with his fewest amount of home runs since 2001.
Outfielder: Magglio Ordoñez
Magglio Ordoñez’s career embodies consistency.
Since 1999 (excluding the 2004 and 2005 seasons when he was injured), Ordoñez has averaged 188 hits, 29 homers, 98 runs, 117 RBI, and a .317 batting average.
In 2007, the six-time All-Star led the American League in average and doubles. That same year his on-base percentage was .434, which was the second best mark in the majors behind David Ortiz.
However, this year he has struggled to keep his starting job in right field. Ordoñez has managed only 6 home runs, 34 RBI, and 39 runs scored. He is hitting .267, which is .043 points below his career average.
Ordoñez currently has 326 plate appearances, and if he makes it to the plate 540 times, his contract guarantees him $18 million in 2010.
With the Tigers fighting to win the AL Central, it will be interesting to see how much playing time Magglio gets down the stretch.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton
2008 was Josh Hamilton’s first full season in the majors, and he was the feel-good story of the year.
After battling a heroin addiction, the former first overall pick sobered up and took advantage of his second chance, belting 32 home runs and leading the American League with 130 RBI.
Hamilton put on a show at the 2008 home run derby, as he blasted 28 home runs in the first round alone. Hamilton hit three shots farther than 500 feet, awing the nation despite finishing second to Justin Morneau.
This year, however, Hamilton has battled injuries and controversy. His batting average is a miserable .235, and he has managed only 8 home runs and 33 RBI in 64 games.
I said that I would target players that have stayed healthy for the majority of the season, but Hamilton is right on the cusp, and his lack of production when in the lineup is baffling after such an inspiring 2008 season.
Likewise, the recent photos that show Hamilton drunk at a Texas bar dancing with multiple women, none of whom are his wife, put a damper on his comeback story. Whether or not the criticism is fair, Hamilton’s reputation has taken a significant hit.
*Not So Honorable Mention: B.J. Uptron, Delmon Young
The disappointing five-man pitching staff: Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano.
Kazmir has had some injury-plagued seasons and high walk totals, but the left-handed two-time All-Star had NEVER been hittable before 2009.
Entering this season, Kazmir had only one season with more innings pitched than strikeouts (2005: 174 K’s/186 IP), and one season where batters hit higher than .250 off of him (2007: .251). His highest ERA was 3.77, and he had never lost more games than he had won.
The Rays became the surprise story of 2008, as the ball club had their first winning season in franchise history and won the AL pennant with Kazmir leading the staff.
2009 has not been so enjoyable for Kazmir. He is currently 6-7 with a 6.50 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .289 BAA, and 70 strikeouts in 90 innings. Kazmir has been pitching better lately, but his struggles and inconsistency are extremely surprising.
*Note: I disregarded the 2004 season when Kazmir was first called up and pitched only 33.1 innings.
In 2008, Santana and Saunders were a combined 33-14 for the Angels with a 3.45 ERA.
This year, they are 13-13 with an ERA close to 6.00.
Dempster had a stellar 2008, finishing with a 17-6 record and 2.96 ERA.
This year, he has won only six games, and batters are hitting .266 off of him.
Liriano was once regarded as the best young pitcher in all of baseball, as he baffled hitters with his devastating change-up and slider.
In 2006, he finished with a 12-3 record and a 2.16 ERA. Opposing hitters hit a meager .205 against Liriano, and he was discussed as a candidate for the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards before injuring his forearm.
Unfortunately, Liriano's dominance is an afterthought now, as the velocity on his fastball has dipped and his slider no longer moves like it once did.
He is currently 4-11 with a 5.63 ERA.
*Not So Honorable Mention-Daisuke Matsuzaka
Closing Pitcher: Brad Lidge
Brad Lidge started his career as a dominant closer, then fell apart and lost his job in Houston, then had a perfect season in 2008—48 saves in 48 opportunities, including the playoffs—and now appears to have fallen apart again.
He won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 2008, after he posted a 1.95 ERA and struck out 92 batters in 62.1 innings. The Phillies won the World Series, and Lidge capped off his perfect season by recording the final out.
Although it appeared that Lidge had resurrected his career, he has struggled tremendously in 2009. Lidge has already blown six saves, which is tied for most in the majors, and has lost four games.
Lidge's ERA is 7.24, which is the most among any pitcher that has recorded a save this year, and a career high for Lidge.
Batters are hitting an astounding .294 off of the closer, and he has given up 10 dingers to opposing batters, which ties his career high.
Perhaps LIdge is setting himself up for a bounce-back season in 2010, so he can become the sixth player in major league history to win the Comeback Player of the Year twice.
Nobody enjoys watching a player struggle (unless, of course, the player is competing against your favorite team), but failure is an inherent aspect of athletics.
Hopefully all of the aforementioned players recover from their slumps and become the focal point of future comeback stories.
My list is by no means comprehensive, so please post a comment if you believe that I neglected someone.