MLB: Top 2011 Underachievers by Position
I did the overachiever thing here (if you didn't see it, click away—if I get to 1,000 reads I win an adorable fake medal), so it's only proper that I highlight the players at each position who have crapped the bed so far this year.
One quick note about the selection process: for the overachiever article, I only used qualified players at each position, according to fangraphs. This time, I used all players to ensure that no one sneaks by my keen eye. I'm looking at you, Alex Avila.
Anyway, here is the 2011 All-Underachiever Team through this point in the season.
Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs
I don't really know what Soto's problem is, but so far his 2011 is looking a lot like his 2009—and that's not a good thing for Cubs fans. Consider the lines:
To quote Scooby Doo, "Rut roh!"
Power seems to be the common denominator between his success and failure; when he's right, Soto puts up an Isolated Power Score (ISO) above .200, which is exceptionally good for an everyday major league catcher.
When things aren't going so well, Soto's ISO hovers around .160, which seems to equate to a slugging percentage below .400.
There is still some reason for optimism with Soto moving forward.
In 2009, Soto's line drive percentage tanked, meaning he wasn't making the kind of contact you'd want as a hitter, but his 2011 LD% isn't that far from his 2010 level.
What this essentially means is that a lot of Soto's problems hitting, especially in the batting average department, may be a result of bad luck (.261 BABIP) rather than overall poor hitting.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Ruiz
First Base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
About as obvious a choice as you're going to find on this list, Pujols' 2011 contract year hasn't exactly gone like his previous 10 years.
Everything is down.
A career .329 hitter, Albert's 2011 average sits at .278.
His OBP of .353 is roughly 70 points off his lifetime mark.
Slugging? Pujols' 2011 SLG percentage is .473, which is 204 points off his career mark of .616! (seriously though, why did anyone ever pitch to him?)
Albert's walk totals are also down, even though he isn't swinging at any more pitches than he usually does out of the strike zone.
Basically, Pujols is just hitting more ground balls than usual, which accounts for some of the drop in production.
I'm not sure where all the power went and, unless there's an undisclosed injury, I doubt anyone else knows either.
Nothing in the peripherals would lead you to believe Pujols is pressing, and my lack of a psychology degree makes me unqualified to guess about the impact of his contract situation on his psyche.
At the end of the day though, it's Pujols. Don't be surprised when he turns it on.
(Note: When I started this article late last week, Pujols was slugging .412. That turned around pretty quick.)
Honorable Mention: Ryan Howard (Unless you're an RBI guy)
Second Base: Orlando Hudson, San Diego Padres
Hudson just narrowly beat out Mark Ellis in a battle of craptastic performances.
Ultimately it came down to BABIP; Ellis' .245 mark means some of his terribleness can be chalked-up to some bad luck (not all of it—he also essentially stopped taking walks). Hudson's BABIP is pretty much league average, meaning bad luck has nothing to do with his ineptitude.
O-Dog is in decline, no doubt, and he isn't exactly All-world to begin with at second. His best year came in 2004, but his second best year was in 2010 in Minnesota, where he was a 3.4 WAR player with a .268/.338/.372 line.
This year, Hudson's posting a .217/.326/.278 line to go along with a 0.3 WAR.
Whatever minute power Hudson had appears to be all but gone and although his walks and steals are up, his overall value is tanking. Might be time to put the ol' dog down.
Honorable Mention: Mark Ellis
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
Here I was thinking with this column that I, too, would have to drop some dirt into the Derek Jeter grave, when down I scroll to find Mr. Ramirez's name alongside some of the most useless shortstops in the game today.
Hanley's line as of today stands at .210/.306/.309.
Some of his problem is bad luck—.236 BABIP—although there has been a slight drop in line drive's hit.
Ramirez's defense has been its normal terrible self, although he's improved (relatively speaking) since he came up.
Bottom line: He's still one of the most dynamic players going, and If I did an end of the year column like this, I don't think he'd still be the pick at short.
Honorable Mention: Derek Jeter
Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets
Aramis Ramirez is having a worse season, but his 2010 stunk and he doesn't have the pedigree Wright has.
Once an above-average defender, Wright has been below average the last three seasons.
His .178 ISO isn't as bad as it was in 2009 (.140), but it isn't particularly close his to 2010 ISO either (.220).
The decline in defense and the erratic hitting has, in the last three years, turned what was once a 8.9 WAR player into someone who struggles to reach 4.0. As of now, Wright's 2011 WAR is 0.5, which is low for him no matter how you spin it—hence, the "under performer" label.
Don't expect Wright to stay in this rut all season.
Honorable Mention: Aramis Ramirez, Pedro Alvarez
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Ichiro's 2011 suck-a-thon has been particularly interesting because it isn't just one facet of his game that is failing him, it's the complete package.
He's hitting .261 (68 points below his lifetime mark), has a .317 OBP (57 points below) and is slugging .280 (72 points below).
On top of the terrible hitting, Ichiro's defense has been below average for the first time in his career, with a UZR of -5.2 (it's never been lower than 2.8).
For those interested in whether or not it's just a smattering of bad luck, Ichiro's BABIP sits comfortably at .316, so his luck has been just fine.
What this futility adds up to is a player with a -0.4 WAR, meaning Ichiro's performed worse than any right fielder in baseball with at least 150 plate appearances.
Honorable Mention: Magglio Ordonez
Center Field: Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox
I'm not really sure what type of player Rios is anymore. I don't think he's the same guy who was a 5+ WAR stud his last two years in Toronto, but I also don't think he's the 2009 0.3 WAR stinker either.
In any case, Rios' 2011 has been particularly futile. His line stands at .199/.253/.301, which equals a Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA—a hitting aggregate stat that is read like an OBP) of .248.
The bright side for Rios fans—wait, do those exist?—is that a fair amount of his poor performance may be due to bad luck.
Rios' BABIP is .205, so some of the balls are bound to find holes soon, unless he has a historically unlucky season like Aaron Hill had in 2010.
Chances are that won't be the case, so look for that -0.1 WAR to turn positive sooner rather than later.
Honorable Mention: B.J. Upton
Left Field: Jason Bay, New York Mets
"I don't know how Jason Bay got washed up so fast. He looks like he's using Brian Schneider's broken bats."- A Text From my friend Casey, from two nights ago.
My friend Casey is a big Mets fan, and we used to joke that when Brian Schneider was catching for the Mets the only way to explain his complete lack of power was that he must constantly be using broken bats.
It was a theory so preposterous that it was borderline legitimate when considering the 2009 Mets.
Truth be told, I have no idea what's wrong with Bay.
The popular wisdom last year was that Citifield had swallowed another power hitter alive, but that logic didn't hold up when you considered Bay actually slugged 100 points higher at home than on the road in 2010.
His 2011 ISO is essentially the same as light hitting shortstop Jason Bartlett's. K-Rod has a higher slugging percentage than Jason Bay. His .216 BA has little to do with bad luck and more to do with the fact that he's hitting the most ground balls of his career.
His fielding? Still below average.
Basically, if Jason Bay isn't hitting for power, then he isn't really doing much of anything.
Oh, but he's making $16 million this year.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Gonzalez, Carl Crawford
Starting Pitcher: John Lackey, Boston Red Sox
Lackey's Red Sox debut in 2010 was underwhelming, but ultimately not terrible.
His 4.40 ERA was hardly dazzling, but 3.85 FIP was a little better; ultimately he was a 4.0 WAR player.
2011, however, has been a disaster.
Lackey's strikeout rates have been dropping since 2005—he now strikes out a little over four batters per nine innings (which blows).
Inversely, the drop in strikeouts has been accompanied with a rise in walks—he now essentially has a 1-1 K/BB ratio (that, too, blows).
Combine all of that with a drop in ground balls induced, and you have a player with a 7.60 ERA and an equally crappy 5.54 FIP.
Lackey's velocity is down from 2010, but only slightly, so this doesn't appear to be injury related.
That contract he got is looking pretty Bay-esque right now.
Honorable Mention: Ubaldo Jiminez
Relief Pitcher- Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals
Remember how the Royals were horrid the last few years and Soria was the only bright spot? And a lot of smart baseball people said you better trade him now while his value is at it's highest? Kansas City would have been well served to heed that advice.
Everything is seems to be falling for Soria except his ERA and FIP, which have ballooned from 1.78 and 2.53 to 5.76 and 4.82 respectively. Like Lackey, Soria's strikeouts are down and his walks are up, with no discernible change in velocity. He's now giving up home runs at an alarming rate and has recently been demoted from the closer role.
Oh well, at least they have the best farm system in baseball.
Honorable Mention: Neftali Feliz (yep, almost made both lists)