Disappointment in sports is a funny thing.
It's a term that is dictated by so many tangential factors: expectations, salaries, past performance, historical success, and potential.
In baseball, we can quantify and systematically break down just how much of a disappointment someone is more than in any other sport.
Heck, a statistic even exists (VORP, Value Over Replacement Player) to quantify the number of runs a player contributes beyond what a replacement-player (at the same position, with the same amount of ABs) would contribute.
In essence, VORP is measuring just how much a player produces beyond what would be considered a marginal, or disappointing, stat line.
Take J.D. Drew, for example. Always a good player, never a great one. But what makes J.D. Drew an annual disappointment and, say, Casey Blake a serviceable utility-man? Expectations, salary, and potential.
The same basic principles can be applied to teams.
How can an 85-win season be a massive disappointment for the New York Yankees, while a similar season would be a historic success for the Tampa Bay Rays?
Historical success and team payroll are two factors that directly influence how we perceive success and, thus, failure from a team-centered analysis.
What’s a success for some is a failure for others. What’s a career year for some is a down year for others. In other words, the term “disappointment” has everything to do with what the public expects, and hardly anything to do with rational, realistic expectations.
With this, I give to you my top five disappointments as we near the halfway mark of yet another great baseball season.
1. Erik Bedard, SP, Seattle Mariners
Look no further than Major League Baseball's worst team, and you'll find one of the biggest disappointments of the '08 season.
Bedard cost the Mariners their crown jewel of a prospect, Adam Jones, but was thought to be a power arm that, alongside Felix Hernandez, would vault the M's past the Angels in the AL West. Those are some expectations.
From the get go, things haven’t worked out.
Bedard dealt with some elbow issues early in the spring, and one has to wonder, given his statistics, whether the lefty hurler who notched 221 Ks in 2007 is really 100 percent.
Bedard is on pace to register under 30 starts, whiff less than 130 batters, and win just 10 games as we enter the second week in June. What's more, the Mariners are just 5-5 in games when Bedard takes the bump.
I, for one, thought Bedard would have a monster campaign by moving out to the spacious confines of Safeco Field, a notoriously favorable pitchers park. Also, Bedard would no longer have to deal with divisional heavy-hitters New York and Boston, something that would make a percentage of his starts less prone to high pitch counts and heavy workloads.
Everything pointed to a repeat of what we saw in 2007.
Thus far, it's just been a pile of disappointment for Seattle fans, as their team sits in the basement of the AL West and their supposed "ace" continues to struggle.
Bedard is a disappointment because he put up a career year in 2007, signed a massive free-agent deal, and has yet to look that much different than, say, Carlos Silva or Jarrod Washburn.
Whenever you combine a huge decline in production with a huge incline in wealth, you’re gonna get the label of a disappointment.
2. The New York Mets
The Mets (34-35, 6.5 GB in the NL East) are an interesting case study in disappointment.
It began in 2006, when they made the NLCS and lost in a close and highly contested Game Seven to St. Louis. They had signed Billy Wagner that year, and Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran the year before, in the hopes of out-shining their cross-city rivals and competing for a World Series.
And yet, Martinez was under the knife and out for the year when the playoffs rolled around in 2006. Omar Minaya had signed Pedro to anchor his team in just this type of a series, but his ace wasn’t healthy during the Mets' best chance at a ring.
So the Mets fell a tad short. But coming into 2007, expectations were sky high. Many felt the Mets were the better team and that they, not the Cardinals, should have won the World Series that year.
So basically, an outside panel of fans, radio talking-heads, and analysts deemed the Mets the favorites in 2007 because many believed they should have won in 2006. Dubious indeed.
Never mind the fact that Pedro would be out the whole year, or that the core group of talent Minaya brought in (Beltran, Wagner, Delgado, Alou, O.Hernandez) were aging and reaching the end of their prime years, or that the Phillies were becoming real threats in the NL East.
People decided from day one that the Mets were the team to beat in ‘07, and those expectations—as well as their skyrocketing payroll—affect how we look at this team today.
We all know what happened in ’07. The Mets suffered one of the worst collapses in baseball history, failed to make the playoffs, went out and signed Johan Santana to compensate for it, and entered 2008 with even higher expectations.
With Pedro returning from his late ’06 surgery, Oliver Perez and John Maine emerging as reliable starters a year earlier, Wagner still effective, and the core offensive nucleus of Reyes, Wright, and Beltran around for at least one more year, Minaya invested big bucks in Johan. He knew he had to compensate for failed expectations a year earlier (those expectations that were perhaps too lofty in the first place).
Thus far, that investment has been most disappointing.
Martinez suffered another injury early in the year and has been a non-factor in ’08. Oliver Perez has been awful. Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, and Luis Castillo are old and past their production lines, while young star Jose Reyes has become somewhat of a liability in the leadoff spot, due to his plate approach and flyball rate.
Even Santana has been somewhat average. It’s all unraveling in front of Minaya like a nightmare, and it’s clear he’s trying to mix things up, starting with the firing of skipper Willie Randolph.
The Mets are a huge disappointment for two reasons: one, they spent a lot of money on aging talent, and that aging talent is starting to catch up with them; two, they play in a highly-competitive division, and they just aren’t that much better than either Philadelphia or Atlanta (we’ll leave the Marlins on the side of this debate for now).
Perhaps it’s unfair that we label the team from Queens a disappointment, but it comes with the territory of having a high payroll, multiple big-name stars, and little to show for it.
3. Andruw Jones, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2008 Salary: $18 million
2008 Home Runs: 2
2008 Strikeouts: 45
2008 Average: .165
2008 DL Trips: 1
The numbers speak for themselves. I don’t need to explain why Jones—he of the 118 home runs since 2005—is a massive disappointment.
Breathe Dodgers fans...breathe.
4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers and Dontrelle Willis, SP, Detroit Tigers
I lump these two together because, well, that’s how they arrived in Detroit—together.
The two players Florida sent to Motown in exchange for Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin have been a big reason why Detroit—preseason AL Central favorites—sit six games under. 500 and 6.5 games out of first place.
Let’s start with the herky-jerky hurler.
Many knew that Willis—once a 22-game winner and Cy-Young candidate—needed work after a horrible 2007.
The deceptive delivery that once made Willis so effective had betrayed him, and his mechanics were paying for it. His walk rates had risen, his command was erratic, and the results were pretty ugly.
But many thought a change of scenery would right what went wrong for the man they call D-Train. Many believed that with a few tweaks to his delivery, some increased run support, and a new environment, Willis would be able to contribute nicely to a somewhat unspectacular Detroit rotation.
But none of the optimistic projections have been anywhere close to correct. Willis has struggled mightily from the get-go, posting a 10.32 ERA and logging just 11 innings of work in four starts through June 10.
Read those stats again: four starts, 11 innings, June 10. Yes, he’s been that disappointing.
In his first start since coming back from a hyperextended knee, Willis was pounded by Cleveland, and he looked positively hopeless on the hill. The Tigers— recognizing they have a truly serious problem on their hands in regards to the future confidence and production of Willis—sent him to Single-A Lakeland after the game.
Cabrera, meanwhile, hasn’t been that much of a train wreck, but he certainly hasn’t been the all-world, 24-year-old slugger Detroit thought they were adding behind Magglio Ordonez last winter.
Cabrera is on pace for career lows in HR (20), RBI (96...not too shabby), R (70), and average (.277). Out of all of those statistical regressions, the dip in batting average—nearly 50 points off his three-year average—is most troubling.
Cabrera just hasn’t looked comfortable since moving to the American League. He looks overweight and out of shape, and he has had to move to first base due to his lack of mobility at third. He’s had to adjust to a host of new pitchers and ballparks, and he’s had to adapt socially to a much more rigid clubhouse under Jim Leyland than the one he enjoyed under Fredi Gonzalez.
Add it all up and this is not what Detroit thought they were getting when they initiated the mega-deal of the offseason.
Most scouts thought Cabrera would thrive in the Detroit lineup, one that could offer him much more production, and many more RBI chances, than he ever had in Florida.
But Miggy has hit just .238 with RISP and has just one HR against left-handed pitching. He’s had ample opportunities to deliver in the clutch and give his slumping squad a boost, but it just hasn’t clicked.
I am more confident in Cabrera regressing back towards his statistical mean than I am of Dontrelle. Heck, I dunno if Dontrelle will even sniff the big leagues again this season. That’s how lost he looked in his last start.
Detroit has disappointed this year due to a lot of elements that have nothing to do with these two ex-Marlins (relief pitching being the most blatant).
But there’s no denying that Willis's inability to pitch to Single-A teams, and Cabrera's failure to provide a power punch in the middle of the lineup, are two huge factors contributing to the demise of the ’08 Tigers.
5. The Colorado Rockies
This disappointment was, perhaps, a bit more predictable than the other four on this list.
Colorado surpassed all expectations—even those they set for themselves—en route to a Cinderella World-Series appearance in 2007. They did it with good young pitching, an emerging star closer, and the always-influential Lady Momentum.
But coming in to 2008, I heard almost no one predicting a repeat of Mile High success.
It wasn’t the personnel (Colorado returned virtually everyone from their pennant winning squad), it wasn’t injuries or contract disputes, and it wasn’t tougher competition from their National League foes.
It was the simple fact that most saw Colorado as the .500 team they were for 80 percent of last season, not as the nearly unbeatable force that won 28 of 29 games before getting swept in the World Series.
But this year’s performance still has to be a disappointing one by any standards.
Currently, the Rox sit in the basement of the NL West, 14 games under .500 and tied for the second worst record in all of baseball.
They’ve lost rookie sensation Troy Tulowitski for much of the season with a leg injury, but even when he was playing, he showed every sign of a sophomore slump. Other sluggers Holliday, Hawpe, and Atkins have battled injuries.
Their ’07 stopper, Manny Corpas, lost his job as closer and has been relegated to middle relief, where he’s been just as awful. Their crop of young pitchers who helped them piece together win after win late in 2007—Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Franklin Morales—have been significantly less effective in ’08, with Morales down in AAA and showing no signs of returning to the big-league club.
It’s all gone wrong for Colorado, and while some might call last year a fluke, and this year hardly a disappointment, I think this team is capable of much better baseball.
There is simply no excuse to go from National League champs to last place in one of the worst divisions in baseball.