In 1951, three-time MVP and future Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio had the worst year of his career. He knew he was done and he retired gracefully as one of the greatest players of all time.
Not all legends can tell when it is time to hang up the cleats, though. Some do their best Brett Favre impression and hang on until it starts to affect their legacy.
Some would argue that is what is happening to Derek Jeter. Others would say he is just going through a bit of a slump and will bounce back. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Jeter is struggling.
On this list, we look at fifteen players who are still taking their cuts in the Major Leagues but whose numbers and production have fallen away sharply in the last few years. Some are fading stars who are nearing their retirement, others are younger players who are struggling to recapture the brilliant starts they made to their careers.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Lackey was never an ace.
He was the de facto number one in Anaheim but was never truly an elite pitcher. The Red Sox may have signed him to a 5yr/$82.5m contract in the winter of 2009 but he was never going to live up to that sort of money.
However, even by his standards, he has absolutely collapsed.
His 4.40 ERA was his worst since 2004 and the third-worst of his career. This season, he has pitched to an 8.01 mark. Even with an injured elbow in 2009 he managed a 3.83 earned run average. He is throwing just 41.7% of his pitches for strikes and even when he does, he is getting smoked.
Wells was never a truly great hitter but he was still one of the biggest power threats in the Blue Jays lineup. In nine full seasons with Toronto he hit .300 three times, clubbed 30 home runs three times and 20 homers seven times.
His last two seasons in Toronto were not great, with both seasons well below his career averages. Then he went to Anaheim and he has fallen off the face of the earth. A .183/.224/.303 line shows just how far he has fallen in a few years and he is definitely not worth the $23m he will make this season.
Everything but his home run swing has fallen away. He hit over .300 in 2008 and was right at his career average in 2009. This year, he is hitting .248. Damon has never swung at pitches outside the strike zone as often as he has in 2011 (30.8%) and has never swung and missed anywhere near as often (8.6%)
Papelbon has started 2011 very strongly but the overriding memory many will have of the Red Sox closer is his disastrous 2010 season, which saw his ERA skyrocket to 3.90 with eight blown saves. The season before that was very poor also. His WHIP was above 1.00 for the first time and his FIP rose from 2.01 to 3.05.
He came second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006 and became the most successful closer in Boston history a few years later. His decline in recent years has been staggering, though.
Vizquel had his first plate appearance in the Major Leagues in 1989 and is still playing at a reasonably high level but while he was an everyday starter just a few years ago, age has caught up with him quickly.
He may have a plaque in Cooperstown waiting for him when he retires, and that is down primarily to his defense, but his UZR is negative this season, a far cry from the 23.1 mark he posted as recently as 2007. He was never known for his power but he has just four long balls in the last four years combined. Having said that, however, he has started 2011 remarkably well with an average over .300.
Bay’s inclusion on this list is a trifle unfair because he has struggled with concussion issues and understanding the effects of that injury is very much a work in progress but his numbers have fallen away quite rapidly since a 4-year/$66m move to the New York Mets.
The 2004 Rookie of the Year, Bay was always an under-the-radar hitter since he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was not until he joined the Red Sox in 2008 that he gained the prominence his numbers warranted.
From 2004 to 2009 he averaged 30 home runs and 99 RBIs, the latter of which is no small feat in Pittsburgh, with a .280 average and a 131 OPS+. In two seasons in New York, he has eight homers total, 53 RBIs, a .251 BA and a perfectly average 100 OPS+.
The Posada debacle which has engulfed the Yankees during their six-game losing streak has been spoken about at length but with conflicting reports emerging, it is still difficult to know exactly why Posada took himself out of the lineup.
What we do know is this: he is having a horrific season. His average is now just .165, over 100 points below his career mark. Last year was a down year. This year raises the question of whether or not he should even be in the lineup.
Rollins is a great player. He battled injuries last year but is still swinging the bat well and playing brilliantly in the field, right? Well…
Even if you take out 2010, in which he only played 88 games, the numbers still show a quick decline.
A .250 BA in the 2009 season was saved only by his 21 home runs. This year he has only two. His OBP is actually up this year, but in almost every other stat, he is down. The 2007 NL MVP has won three Gold Gloves but this season is on pace for the third-worst UZR/150 rating of his career.
James Loney was not a great power threat but still posted an above-average OPS+ in his first four seasons in the Majors. Last year, despite missing only one game all year, he had career worsts in BA, home runs, OBP and his first below-average OPS+. This season has not started well for him at all, with only one dinger and a paltry .230 batting average.
Greinke swept to the 2009 Cy Young Award with a 16-8 record and 2.16 ERA. It seemed a natural development for a player whose earned run average had improved each year since his rookie campaign.
Then, in 2010, he was lit up. His ERA+ fell from a league-best 205 to an average 100 and his ERA rose over two runs, to 4.17.
He started the 2011 season on the DL but since his return, he has averaged just five innings per start and his ERA is 6.60.
He may have never had a good batting average (though he did reach .282 once, in 2007) but Pena was never as bad as he has been the last two years. Take a look just at the last five seasons.
Between 2007 and 2009, he hit 116 home runs and drove in 323. His average was only .252 but his OPS was a brilliant .935. He also won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove, made the All Star Game and finished in the top 10 in the MVP race twice.
Now look at 2010 and 2011. Last year he hit 28 homers but batted below the Mendoza Line, at .196. This year he has just four long balls and his BA is not much better, at .219. Also, his OPS has fallen to just .726.
Okay, this is kind of a cheat, since he retired last month, but he was still an active player in 2011 and no one on this list had a more spectacular implosion than Manny Ramirez
After managing just nine home runs in 2010, he was batting a homerless .059 this year before he was caught – again –using a banned substance and suspended for 100 games. Rather than serve the suspension he chose to retire, with a sorry end to a 555-home run, .312 BA career.
Lee was an underrated hitter for much of his career. From 2004 to 2009 he batted .300 five times and in his career he has hit 30 home runs five times and 20 homers eleven times. But while he was stellar for the Astros in 2009 (.300, 26 HR, 102 RBIs) he has been woeful since then.
In 2010 he hit a career-worst .246 and had a below-average OPS+ for the first time since his rookie year. In 2011, he is batting at a .250 clip and has went deep only twice. He also started spending more time at first base because his defensive abilities had regressed so much. His UZR was -17.4, which means he was 17 and a half runs worse than an average outfielder.
A-Rod is still one of the best hitters in baseball but when you consider that just three years ago he had renegotiated his contract and signed a ridiculous 10-year/$275m deal, you see how far he has fallen.
He is still having 30-100 seasons (he has 13 in a row) but in each of the last two years he has hit exactly 30 home runs. He had not hit that few since 1997. He is on pace this year for his worst OBP in 12 years and his worst average in a full season.
Jeter’s contract expired at the end of last season and so began shockingly acrimonious negotiations between the Yankees and their captain. Jeter was reported as saying he wanted nine figures and five or six years. After a sub-par 2010 campaign – which saw the 36-year-old shortstop post career lows in average, home runs, OBP and wOBA – the Yankees were never going to give him that sort of deal.
Instead, they settled on three years and $51 million. Even that might prove to be too much.
Jeter has been much better in the last two weeks and has managed to lift his average to .260. That should tell you how bad he was to start the season. It is 53 points below his lifetime BA and his OPS+ is now just 76 (a perfectly average player would be 100), 42 points below his career mark.
It is quite disheartening to see how he has declined. He will get the 35 hits he needs to reach 3,000, but there was talk a few years ago of his joining Ty Cobb and Pete Rose in the 4,000 hits club, and no one thinks him capable of reaching that mark now.