Each MLB Team's Biggest Disappointment of 2021
Earlier this week, we ran through every MLB team's biggest surprise of the 2021 season, highlighting the likes of Cedric Mullins, Robbie Ray, Austin Riley, Garrett Whitlock, Ranger Suarez, Frank Schwindel and others who exceeded expectations this year.
Now it's time for the opposite end of the spectrum.
From injury-plagued seasons to underperforming young players who took a step backward in their development, every team has at least one guy who didn't deliver.
For the sake of this discussion, disappointment is all about production relative to expectations. Salary, role on the team and previous performance were also taken into account.
Baltimore Orioles: LHP Keegan Akin
Akin debuted in 2020 with a 4.56 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 25.2 innings, providing some hope that he could emerge as a key member of the O's starting rotation this year. Instead, the 2016 second-round pick struggled to a 6.63 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 95 innings, allowing a .290/.357/.491 batting line along the way.
Boston Red Sox: OF Franchy Cordero
The Red Sox sold low on outfielder Andrew Benintendi last offseason, flipping him to the Kansas City Royals in a three-team deal that brought Cordero to Boston. The hope was a change of scenery would help tap into his significant power potential, and while he raked at Triple-A, he hit only .189/.237/.260 with a 37.5 percent strikeout rate in the majors. Meanwhile, Benintendi had a solid season and a terrific final month in Kansas City.
New York Yankees: 1B Luke Voit
After leading the AL with 22 home runs and finishing ninth in AL MVP voting last season, Voit dealt with an oblique strain and a knee strain while playing only 68 games this year. When healthy, his strikeout rate spiked from 23.1 to 30.7 percent, his OPS+ dropped from 157 to 109, and he homered only 11 times in seven more plate appearances than last season. All of that led to the Yankees' addition of Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline.
Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Chris Archer
In one of the most intriguing buy-low moves of the offseason, the Rays reunited with Archer on a one-year, $6.5 million deal. A small sum for most organizations, it made him the second-highest-paid player on the Tampa Bay roster. Alas, forearm tightness limited him to 19.1 innings in another lost season for the former All-Star.
Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Cavan Biggio
Reliever Kirby Yates signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal and didn't throw a single pitch for the Blue Jays, but there was always considerable boom-or-bust potential in his return from injury. More troubling for Toronto's long-term outlook was the significant step backward that Biggio took in his third MLB season. The 26-year-old was a 5.0 WAR player in his first 159 career games, but he hit only .224/.322/.356 in 79 games and lost playing time to Santiago Espinal while also dealing with a back injury.
Chicago White Sox: LHP Dallas Keuchel
The White Sox could not have envisioned leaving Keuchel off their 2021 playoff roster a year after he posted a 1.99 ERA in 63.1 innings to finish fifth in AL Cy Young voting. In the second season of his three-year, $55.5 million contract, he scuffled to a 5.28 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 162 innings, including an 8.62 ERA in his final eight appearances.
Cleveland Guardians: 1B/RF Josh Naylor
After he went 5-for-7 with three doubles and a home run in the AL Wild Card Series last year, Naylor was a popular breakout pick for Cleveland this season. The 24-year-old broke camp as the everyday right fielder, but he hit only .253/.301/.399 for a 90 OPS+ with 20 extra-base hits in 250 plate appearances before a fractured right ankle ended his season in late June.
Detroit Tigers: 2B Willi Castro
Hopes were high for Castro after he hit .349/.381/.550 in 140 plate appearances last year to finish fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. However, when the smoke and mirrors of an unsustainable .448 BABIP faded, he crashed back to earth with a .220/.273/.351 line and 74 OPS+ in 450 plate appearances en route to a minus-0.7 WAR season.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Brad Keller
A Rule 5 success story in 2018, Keller posted a 3.50 ERA and 131 ERA+ with 8.4 WAR in 360.1 innings over his first three seasons in Kansas City. The 26-year-old earned the Opening Day start as the seasoned veteran of a young staff, but he failed to live up to the role, pitching to a 5.39 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 133.2 innings while allowing a .297 opponents' batting average.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Randy Dobnak
Signed to a five-year, $9.25 million extension in March, Dobnak broke camp in a swingman role for a Twins team with postseason aspirations. Much like the team, he failed to deliver on expectations, struggling to a 7.83 ERA in 43.2 innings before a finger strain sidelined him for more than two months. He returned for one appearance in September, but the injury resurfaced and he was shut down.
Houston Astros: LHP Enoli Paredes
One of Houston's most important relievers in 2020, Paredes had a 3.05 ERA while tying for second on the team with 22 appearances. The 26-year-old issued six walks while recording only four outs in his first three appearances of 2021 before he was quickly optioned to Triple-A, and he finished the year with a 6.23 ERA and 17 walks in only 8.2 MLB innings.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Dylan Bundy
Bundy went No. 4 overall in 2011 and debuted as a teenager the following year, but injuries derailed his development. He finally seemed to turn a corner in 2020 following a trade to the Angels, finishing ninth in AL Cy Young voting during the shortened season. With free agency looming, he could have cashed in with a strong contract year, but he instead struggled to a 6.06 ERA in 90.2 innings before a right shoulder strain ended his season in late August.
Oakland Athletics: RHP Trevor Rosenthal
The highest-paid player on Oakland's roster in 2021 with an $11 million salary, Rosenthal underwent thoracic outlet surgery in April and then suffered a torn labrum in his hip in July, ending his first season with the Athletics before it ever started. Third baseman Matt Chapman also warrants a mention here after striking out 202 times and taking a significant step backward offensively.
Seattle Mariners: LHP Justus Sheffield
Once one of baseball's top pitching prospects, Sheffield had a 2.16 ERA over 25 innings in four September starts last year, and it looked like that could be a springboard for a breakout 2021 campaign. However, the 25-year-old was tagged for eight hits and six runs in his first start of the year and never found his groove. He finished with a 6.83 ERA in 80.1 innings while allowing a .316 average and .913 OPS to opposing hitters.
Texas Rangers: CF Leody Taveras
Taveras is only 23 years old, so he still has plenty of time to deliver on his potential. He held his own with a 93 OPS+ and 11 extra-base hits in 33 games while tallying 1.3 WAR as a rookie in 2020, but he was completely overmatched this year. With a lackluster .161/.207/.270 line and a 60-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 185 plate appearances, he spent most of the year at Triple-A.
Atlanta Braves: CF Cristian Pache
It looked like Pache was ready to ascend to the Braves' everyday center field job in 2021, but he went only 7-for-63 with 25 strikeouts in 22 games while dealing with a groin strain and hamstring inflammation over the first two months. The 22-year-old was optioned to Triple-A upon returning from his second IL trip and spent the rest of the year in the minors, hitting .265/.330/.414 with 26 extra-base hits in 89 games.
Miami Marlins: RHP Sixto Sanchez
Sanchez began the season in the No. 5 spot on Bleacher Report's Top 100 prospect list after posting a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings down the stretch before tossing five shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Series. Expected to be one of the front-runners for NL Rookie of the Year, he instead suffered a shoulder injury in March and underwent season-ending surgery in July.
New York Mets: C James McCann
McCann signed a four-year, $40.6 million deal in free agency after earning an All-Star nod in 2019 and then logging a career-high 143 OPS+ in 2020. Expected to shore up a revolving door at the catcher position, he hit only .232/.294/.349 for a 77 OPS+ and minus-0.2 WAR over 121 games in his Mets debut.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Alec Bohm
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Bohm hit .338/.400/.481 for a 137 OPS+ in 180 plate appearances to finish runner-up to Devin Williams in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year. Still just scratching the surface of his offensive potential, he hit only .247/.305/.342 with 22 extra-base hits in 417 plate appearances this year, and he was optioned to Triple-A in August.
Washington Nationals: CF Victor Robles
The fact that Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin earned nearly $47 million combined and were worth minus-0.9 WAR in 2021 is impossible to ignore. But for a Nationals team entering what could be a multiyear rebuild, the regression of Robles is far more troubling. A 4.4 WAR player in 2019, he hit .203/.310/.295 in 107 games before he was optioned to the minors. The former uber-prospect is now at a career crossroads.
Chicago Cubs: RHP Zach Davies
There was no shortage of disappointment on the North Side of Chicago, and much of the team's struggles stemmed from an underperforming starting rotation. Davies had a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts in 2020 before he was shipped to the Cubs as part of the Yu Darvish trade. That spiked to an unsightly 5.78 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 148 innings in 2021, and he allowed an NL-high 75 walks. In the process, he erased any potential trade value in his contract year.
Cincinnati Reds: LHP Amir Garrett
A leaky bullpen played a major role in Cincinnati failing to reach the postseason, and Garrett's regression from one of baseball's best lefty relievers to a 6.04 ERA in 47.2 innings was a big part of the problem. The 29-year-old missed fewer bats with his trademark slider, going from a whiff rate of 53 percent or higher in each of the past three years to 47.8 percent in 2021. That made it easier for hitters to sit on his fastball.
Milwaukee Brewers: CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Of the 262 players who recorded at least 300 plate appearances, Bradley ranked dead last with a brutal 34 OPS+ in his first season in Milwaukee. The 31-year-old hit .163/.236/.261 with 23 extra-base hits in 438 trips to the dish, and his solid center field defense (9 DRS, 13.6 UZR/150) failed to make up for his nonexistent offensive game.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Mitch Keller
One of Baseball America's Top 100 prospects in 2017 (No. 22), 2018 (No. 12), 2019 (No. 28) and 2020 (No. 52), Keller has long been viewed as a future staple in the Pittsburgh rotation. Now 25 years old with 170.1 big league innings under his belt, his outlook has become decidedly less promising. He had a 6.17 ERA, 1.79 WHIP and a .322 opponents' batting average in 100.2 innings in 2021.
St. Louis Cardinals: SS Paul DeJong
The fact that rookie Edmundo Sosa started at shortstop in the NL Wild Card Game should tell you all you need to know about how things went for DeJong in 2021. The 28-year-old is only two years removed from a 5.3 WAR season and a trip to the All-Star Game, but he hit only .197 with an 86 OPS+ this year, and Sosa took a bite out of his playing time. The Cardinals still owe DeJong another $15.3 million over the next two years before a $2 million buyout in 2024.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Stefan Crichton
With a mid-90s sinker and a lethal curveball that generated a 44.6 percent whiff rate in 2020, Crichton looked poised to take over closer duties for the D-backs in 2021. Instead, he stopped missing bats with his breaking ball and struggled to a 7.33 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in 31 appearances. He was equally ineffective after he was optioned to Triple-A.
Colorado Rockies: SS Trevor Story
While he was still unquestionably one of the best players on the Rockies roster in 2021, the fact that Story stayed put at the deadline was due in part to a lackluster first half that robbed him of some of his trade value. The 28-year-old hit only .249/.323/.442 before the All-Star break, and Colorado failed to capitalize on its most valuable trade chip as a result.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Trevor Bauer
One of the highest-paid players in baseball in 2021 after signing a three-year, $102 million contract, Bauer spent more time on paid administrative leave following sexual assault allegations than he did in a Dodgers uniform. There's a very real chance the 2020 NL Cy Young winner will never play another MLB game.
San Diego Padres: LHP Blake Snell
Part of an offseason rotation overhaul that also included Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, Snell had a 4.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 4.8 walks per nine innings in 128.2 innings in his Padres debut. The 2018 AL Cy Young winner failed to finish five full innings in 12 of his 27 starts.
San Francisco Giants: RF Mike Yastrzemski
Yastrzemski set the bar high with a brilliant 2020 season in which he posted a 164 OPS+ and 2.4 WAR in 54 games to finish eighth in NL MVP voting. The 31-year-old wasn't necessarily bad this year with a 106 OPS+ and 56 extra-base hits in 139 games, but he wasn't the same impact player that he was last season. In truth, disappointments were few and far between on a Giants roster that exceeded expectations, and he was the closest thing to a disappointment they had.