What to Make of the Most Disappointing MLB Players and Teams of 2022

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 2, 2022

What to Make of the Most Disappointing MLB Players and Teams of 2022

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 24:  Josh Hader #71 of the San Diego Padres plays during a baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians August 24, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
    San Diego's Josh Hader (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

    As we enter the home stretch of the 2022 MLB regular season, a bunch of pricey players have been either irrelevant or downright detrimental to their team's cause, and a handful of clubs have come nowhere close to living up to preseason expectations.

    Remember when Josh Hader was one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young?

    When the White Sox were a World Series threat in the preseason and the Angels looked great after seven weeks?

    When Yusei Kikuchi was going to be a key cog in a great Toronto starting rotation?

    Or when Fernando Tatis Jr. was going to be San Diego's midseason savior?

    What happened?

    And what should we make of those and other disappointing situations moving forward?

    We'll touch on nine disappointments: three hitters, three pitchers and three teams, presented in no particular order aside from oscillating among those three categories.

Disappointing Hitter: Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 05:  Marcell Ozuna #20 of the Atlanta Braves in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 05, 2022 in New York City. The Braves defeated the Mets 9-6. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    It should go without saying that, if Marcell Ozuna is guilty, the actions that led to his recent arrest on a DUI charge deserve condemnation. As do those that led to his November suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

    But since this list is largely concerned with the field of play, he's included because of his year-to-date WAR.

    When Atlanta signed Ozuna to a four-year, $65 million deal in Feb. 2021, it looked like a bargain. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Ozuna led all NL players in home runs (18) and RBI (56), batted .338 and was one of the most valuable players in baseball.

    Even though he was already 30 when he signed the deal, it was hard to argue with $16.25 million per year in the aftermath of that type of production.

    Since then, though, he has been a colossal disappointment.

    He went from hitting .338 to barely slugging it, posting slugging marks of .356 last year and .391 this season. He does have 20 home runs and 34 extra-base hits in 2022, but he's batting .213, is a disaster in left field on the increasingly rare occasions that Atlanta puts him out there and has been worth minus-1.2 bWAR and minus-1.1 fWAR.

    Among qualified hitters, he ranks dead last on both sites.

    Given the combination of his performance on the field and his legal troubles, it's surprising that Atlanta didn't release Ozuna immediately after the DUI charge. It'd be a lot of money for the club to eat, and we can appreciate the lack of outfield depth on this roster, but it sure feels overdue.

Disappointing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto Blue Jays

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    TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 28: Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (16) pitches during the regular season MLB game between the Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays on August 28, 2022 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Seattle Mariners could have kept Yusei Kikuchi on a four-year, $66 million club option ($16.5M per year) after last season. Or, after the M's declined that, he could have stayed in Seattle on a one-year, $13 million player option.

    Instead, he chose free agency and ended up in Toronto on a three-year, $36 million deal.

    And, well, the Blue Jays have figured out why Seattle said, "Thanks, but no thanks" to this lefty.

    It's hard to blame Toronto for thinking Kikuchi might be worth that kind of money. The only complete-game shutout of his career came against the Blue Jays in 2019, and he had a 1.77 ERA in three career starts against Toronto.

    But in his first season with Toronto, Kikuchi had a 5.25 ERA in 20 starts before landing in the bullpen and getting worse. (Only three of those 20 starts were quality starts, and he did not pitch into the seventh inning of any of them.)

    As far as "what to make of it," this didn't come out of left field. Kikuchi had a 5.46 ERA in 2019, a 5.17 mark in 2020 and a 6.22 ERA over his final 14 starts of last season. His walk rate in Seattle (8.4 percent) was nowhere near as awful as it has been this season (13.6 percent), but it wasn't great. That plus a mediocre-at-best rate of home runs allowed suggested that things weren't going to get much better for him.

    Case in point: He had a not-good 4.97 ERA with the Mariners, but an equally not-good 4.93 FIP.

    The somewhat good news for Toronto is that it's a front-loaded contract. Kikuchi is making $16 million this season and is due $10 million in each of the next two years. The Blue Jays will presumably give him every opportunity to pitch his way back into the starting rotation next spring, but $10 million per year for two years isn't exactly a Patrick Corbin, Madison Bumgarner or Lance Lynn sunk cost that demands a "well, we're paying him all this money, we better keep him in the rotation if he's healthy" mindset.

    Then again, "Hey, at least we don't feel like we need to start him every fifth game" isn't what Toronto envisioned when it signed Kikuchi.

Disappointing Team: Chicago White Sox

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    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - AUGUST 25: Lance Lynn #33 of the Chicago White Sox throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 25, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Lance Lynn (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    There's still slim hope for the Chicago White Sox to make the playoffs. They are 5.0 games back in the AL Central and 6.5 games out of the wild-card race.

    However, this sub-.500 team would need to go 28-4 the rest of the way in order to reach its projected preseason win total of 91.5. And based on the White Sox's run differential of minus-43, they should be 60-70, which would mean a 32-0 finish to meet preseason expectations.

    So, yeah, it has been a woefully disappointing year for the South Siders.

    Not all of them, of course.

    Dylan Cease has been fantastic and has a realistic shot at winning the AL Cy Young. José Abreu's power has declined, but he entered play Thursday in second place in the AL in batting average. And who could have guessed 36-year-old Johnny Cueto would have a 2.58 ERA 18 appearances into the season?

    Beyond that trio, though, it has been a campaign full of expensive underperformers and a steady diet of injuries.

    In Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Lucas Giolito, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, AJ Pollock and Yoán Moncada, Chicago is paying $90-plus million this season for seven players worth a combined minus-2.6 bWAR. And it's hard to win when you're getting that kind of negative production for the price of an entire Tampa Bay Rays payroll.

    It's also a testament to the constant slew of minor injuries that Chicago has used 129 unique starting lineups through 130 games. (The only repeat was on July 2 and July 4.) The White Sox have an .888 winning percentage in games where Abreu, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Andrew Vaughn are all in the starting lineup, but there have only been nine games with that full quintet available.

    Even though they might lose Abreu to free agency, the White Sox should bounce back next season with even a moderate amount of injury luck (and, ideally, a managerial change).

Disappointing Hitter: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 13: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds bats in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park on August 13, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Father Time eventually comes for us all, and it seems Joey Votto is no exception.

    The Reds first baseman will turn 39 later this month, and it turns out the 25 home runs he hit after the All-Star break in 2021 represented an unrepeatable flash in the pan.

    Votto recently underwent season-ending surgery on a torn left rotator cuff, so he finishes the 2022 campaign with 11 home runs and a triple slash of .205/.319/.370, each part of which is, by far, the worst of a career in which he sits at .297/.412/.513. He also had both the highest strikeout rate of his career and and his lowest walk rate since 2008.

    But Cincinnati is on the hook for $25 million to Votto in 2023, plus a $20 million club option with a $7 million buyout for 2024, so it needs to hope that surgery corrects something.

    In Votto's defense, he did turn a corner after a horrendous start to the season. He was batting .122 when he went on the IL on May 2, and he hit a respectable .259/.364/.500 with 11 home runs in his first 60 games back. Not exactly "Vintage Joey Votto," but a 162-game pace of 148 hits, 30 home runs and 97 RBI—if maintained for a full season—would at least keep anyone from complaining about his salary.

    Even with that two-month resurgence, though, Votto is at minus-0.9 fWAR and minus-0.2 bWAR, both of which are a far cry from last season and his career norms.

    It would be awesome to see him come back from major surgery for an age-39 season on par with what Justin Verlander has accomplished this year (4.7 bWAR), but it feels like the Reds are going to be paying a lot of money for what is unofficially a retirement tour in 2023.

Disappointing Pitcher: Josh Hader, San Diego Padres

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - AUGUST 28: Relief pitcher Josh Hader #71 of the San Diego Padres throws in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on August 28, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Has there ever been a tale of two seasons quite as drastic as what Josh Hader has gone through in 2022?

    Through his first 27 appearances, Hader had 25 saves, a 1.05 ERA, a 0.74 WHIP, a 5.4 K/BB ratio and a 15.1 K/9 ratio. His consistent dominance in close games was arguably the biggest reason Milwaukee was 11 games above .500 and up two games in the NL Central after 81 contests.

    Since then, Hader has been a train wreck.

    No, that's not harsh enough.

    He has been a train that derailed at full speed and crashed into a dumpster fire.

    In 17 appearances prior to logging his first save with the Padres on Wednesday night, Hader had pitched 13.0 innings with a 17.31 ERA and 2.92 WHIP. He did still have a nice K/9 rate (16.6), but in terms of total batters faced, he's whiffing 30.4 percent compared to 44.3 percent before July 4.

    When the Brewers traded him to the Padres for Taylor Rogers, Dinelson Lamet, Esteury Ruiz and Robert Gasser, it felt like a laughably lopsided trade in San Diego's favor. But now Milwaukee looks brilliant for parting with what had been the most dominant relief pitcher from April 2017 through the end of this June.

    So, what the heck happened?

    His slider is still solid, and the average velocity on his fastball (sinker) in 2022 (97.4, per FanGraphs) is higher than it has ever been, so it's not a "dead arm" situation. But opponents are teeing off on that fastball. Per Baseball Savant, the batting average against on his sinker was below .180 in each of the past five seasons and all the way down to .103 last year. This year, it's .267.

    Moreover, the BABIP against Hader was below .240 in each of the past five seasons, but he entered play on Wednesday at .380. That suggests he is enduring some horrific luck right now and might be dominant again if and when he gets his confidence back. But it has been tough to watch him get knocked around over the past eight weeks.

Disappointing Team: Los Angeles Angels

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    TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 28: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels celebrates his home run with Shohei Ohtani #17 against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on August 28, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
    Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

    More than one-quarter of the way through the regular season, Los Angeles was 27-17 with a plus-53 run differential. It was just one game behind the Astros for first place in the AL West, and it legitimately felt like we could be headed for N.Y. vs. L.A. in both the ALCS and NLCS—even though reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani was batting a modest .256 and on pace for 34 home runs at the time.

    Then they imploded.

    Well, not Ohtani. He has been better both on the mound and at the plate since May 24 than he was before it. But pretty much everyone else has either fallen apart or endured a lengthy trip to the IL, as the Angels have gone an MLB-worst 30-57 (with a minus-101 run differential) since that hot start.

    It has primarily been the bats that let LAA down.

    Taylor Ward was hitting .370 after 44 team games, but he is at .219 since then. Anthony Rendon played in 39 of those first 44 games and managed to appear in just six after that before season-ending wrist surgery. And Mike Trout is somewhere in between those two extremes, batting .229 since May 24 and missing 35 games during that stretch.

    Throw in the declines of Brandon Marsh (.282 hitter through 44 team games; .185 hitter through his next 55 games before getting traded to Philadelphia) and Jared Walsh (.243 hitter with nine home runs through May 24; .200 hitter with six home runs since) and the Angels went from a team averaging 4.8 runs per game to one averaging 3.3 runs over its last 87 contests.

    And that's a shame, because the young starting pitching has been rock solid. Ohtani gets all the fanfare, but Patrick Sandoval has a 3.02 ERA for the year, Reid Detmers is sitting at 2.98 over his last 15 starts and José Suarez has at least been good lately with a 2.12 ERA since the All-Star break.

    Surely, that pitching is cause for optimism heading into next season.

    But will they be able to sign Ohtani to a long-term deal? And will they trade him this offseason if they can't? It's hard to make any sort of projection for the 2023 Angels until we know if their superstar unicorn will still be on the roster.

    If he's back, though, and if Rendon can stay healthy for a change while Ward reharnesses his magic from early in the year, Los Angeles should at least contend for a playoff spot.

Disappointing Hitter: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 23:  Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres looks on during the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies June 23, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Aside from "What will the Angels do with Ohtani?" the biggest question this offseason might be "What should we make of Fernando Tatis Jr.?"

    Even before this whole ringworm/steroids debacle, his ability to stay healthy was becoming a concern.

    He would have been the no-brainer NL ROY in 2019 if he had played in more than 84 games. However, a hamstring injury cost him more than a month early in the year, a back injury kept him out for the final seven weeks of the regular season and he finished third in that ROY vote.

    He made it through the two-month 2020 campaign with no issues, but multiple shoulder injuries (and a brief trip to the COVID IL) limited him to 130 games last year. Then he had the broken wrist this offseason and is set to undergo surgery on his shoulder after he was suspended 80 games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

    At what point is it fair to wonder if the Padres signed Troy Tulowitzki 2.0 to a 14-year, $340 million contract?

    Like, we're there, right?

    We officially have to preface future discussions about Tatis with "if he can stay healthy" until further notice, yeah?

    To all of my fellow fantasy addicts in dynasty/keeper leagues, I feel your pain with Tatis. I kept him this year. I missed the playoffs by a razor-thin margin, surely because I wasted an early-round pick on a guy who didn't play in a single game.

    And we already know he's suspended for the first 33 games of next season, so what do we do now? Throw him back to the draft pool and watch someone else reap the rewards, or risk wasting another keeper pick on him?

    I'm still inclined to believe he'll be back and performing at an All-Star level shortly after the suspension is over. But at the same time, if this season/suspension has led you to believe he'll never be an MVP candidate again, well, I can't argue with you.

Disappointing Pitcher: Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals

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    WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: Patrick Corbin #46 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park on August 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Credit where it's due: Patrick Corbin has at least been competent in recent weeks. In three starts since reaching a 7.02 ERA in early August, he has gone 17.1 innings with a respectable 3.63 ERA. He even had a rare quality start and win against the Reds on Sunday—improving to 5-17 on the year.

    But even with those decent outings, Corbin still has a 6.56 ERA, a 1.76 WHIP and a minus-2.4 bWAR.

    As of Wednesday morning, Corbin had allowed 12 more hits and 10 more earned runs than any other pitcher in 2022—this after "leading" the majors in hits allowed in 2020 and earned runs allowed in 2021.

    What happened to the two-time All-Star who played a key part in Washington winning the 2019 World Series?

    Simply put, what used to be his out pitch is now about as hittable as a slow-pitch softball.

    In 2018, Corbin had the most devastating slider in baseball, worth a total of 27.0 runs above average, per FanGraphs. This year, his slider has been one of the least valuable pitches in the majors, worth minus-16.7 runs above average. It has been rapidly getting worse over the past four seasons, but now it's just a cement mixer that opposing hitters are mashing with regularity.

    And the Nationals still owe him $24.4 million in 2023 and $35.4 million in 2024, which is just a nightmare for a team already in rebuilding mode.

    With any luck, he'll at least remain an innings-eater for the next two seasons on a team going nowhere fast. But if he doesn't improve upon this disastrous season, the Nats may need to consider going the David Price route with Corbin by relegating one of the most expensive pitchers in the majors to middle-relief work.

Disappointing Team: Detroit Tigers

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    CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 17: Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Baez (28) slides into third base as he advances on a sacrifice fly during the fourth inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Guardians on August 17, 2022, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Javier Baez (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Now that the Detroit Tigers are 30 games below .500, it's hard to remember there was palpable optimism surrounding the club before the regular season began.

    The Tigers went 68-61 over the final 129 games of last season and then made a bunch of moves that sure looked like a step in the right direction. Most notable among them were signing Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez in free agency and trading for Tucker Barnhart and Austin Meadows.

    But nothing has gone according to plan.

    Baez batted .271 with a 162-game pace of 32 home runs from 2017 to 2021, but he's sitting at .223 with just 11 dingers this year. Rodriguez got out to a rough start to the year before leaving the team for three months for personal reasons. Barnhart has yet to homer in nearly 250 plate appearances this season, nor has Meadows in 147 plate appearances in between IL stints.

    Moreover, last year's top contributors have all been a mess.

    Jeimer Candelario, Casey Mize, Robbie Grossman, Akil Baddoo, Tyler Alexander, Wily Peralta and Jonathan Schoop were each worth at least 2.0 bWAR in 2021 for a cumulative total of 18.1 wins above replacement. In 2022, that septet has amounted to a total of 0.5 bWAR. Injuries to Mize and Baddoo have played some part in that steep decline, but this season has just been one letdown after the next for Detroit.

    The good news is this wasn't a "now or never" year for the Tigers. Left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin may well decline his $7 million player option to become a free agent, but the only other players they're losing this offseason are Barnhart, Drew Hutchison and Daniel Norris.

    They'll probably need to add at least one starter via free agency to make up for losing Mize and Tarik Skubal to major surgery for at least some chunk of next season. But if Baez, Candelario and Schoop remember how to hit and Rodriguez makes a full season's worth of starts as the ace of this staff, the Tigers should be competitive in 2023.

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