Carl Pavano is a fascinating example of the relationship between expectations and performance.
The 12-year major league veteran has pitched for 5 teams and earned over $47 million throughout the course of his career. There have been seasons in which he looked poised to become an ace (like in 2004 when he went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA and made his first All-Star team with the Florida Marlins), and there have been seasons in which he looked like he might have to retire from baseball (like in 2008 when he only managed to pitch 34.1 innings with a 5.77 ERA while with the New York Yankees).
It's like watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Is he an ace, or is he garbage?
The answer, it seems, is that Pavano's performance largely depends upon which team he is pitching for. Take a look at his career ERA at his last three extended stops (ignoring the 125 innings he threw for Cleveland in 2009).
Florida (2002-2004): 3.64, 485.0 innings
New York (2005-2008): 5.00, 145.2 innings
Minnesota (2009-2010): 3.97, 294.2 innings
That seems like a rather unusual career path. Even in his five years as a young, up-and-coming pitcher for the Montreal Expos, Pavano's ERA was still a respectable 4.83 over 452.2 innings. Why would a player who seemed on the cusp of stardom suddenly forget how to pitch once he got to New York?
The truth is that some players simply can't handle the limelight and constant media attention that comes with playing in a big market city like New York, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles. There's an intense amount of pressure to live up to expectations, which in Pavano's case included a four-year, $38 million contract. Yankees' fans expected Pavano to pitch like an ace and he crumbled, suffering countless injuries and setbacks (including missing the entire 2006 season) and managing only a meager nine wins in his four seasons in pinstripes.
Yet, once Pavano relocated to the small market haven of Minnesota, he reestablished himself as a major league pitcher. Now he's a free agent again and on the look out for the last multi-year contract of his career.
Big market clubs better beware, though. Pavano doesn't pitch so well when he's sweating under the heat of all the cameras and lights focused on him.
What other players struggle to perform underneath the spotlight? Here's a list of the top 10 riskiest free agents for big market teams.