Well, it’s midseason, and that means it is time to take stock of where things stand in the baseball world. For me, this means it’s time for an annual personal tradition, a column on the players whose stock has fallen the farthest the fastest: the All-Collapse All-Stars.
The initial inspiration for this column was memories of childhood of some players who were pretty damn good in their primes, but when those primes ended, so did they. Not all careers have second acts, and that was the case with players like Von Hayes and Alvin Davis.
Aging affects everyone, but it doesn’t hit all at the same rate. Some players hold up surprisingly well over time (just ask Raul Ibanez). This is a column about guys at the other end of the spectrum. An ideal player on the All-Collapse All-Stars should be like this:
- He should have been a quality player as recently as last year, and this year has turned into a pumpkin.
- He should be in his early 30s, the period when aging really first makes its mark. I really don’t like putting guys on if they’re out of their mid-30s, because they’re living on borrowed time. Guys who aren’t in their late 20s are so young that they still have time to recover and thrive. This list is going after guys who are in that career phase where some guys keep on keeping on, and others utterly hit the wall. We’re looking at the wall-hitting ones here.
- There should be no injury to explain what’s happened. This isn’t the All-Injured All-Stars, but the All-Collapse All-Stars.
That’s how it should work in theory, but when you try to fill out a team, you can’t always find perfect fits for each slot. You find the guy who best fits the above conditions, even though he may not fit them perfectly. Some guys might be a little younger or older than ideal, or perhaps their decline isn’t a complete collapse but just part of a decline, or maybe there is a lingering injury. As I said, when you can’t find a perfect fit, you find the best you can get.
With that said, here are the 2013 All-Collapse All-Stars (a.k.a. the guys who are killing their fantasy owners).
Catcher: Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks, age 29
Normally, I aim at guys who are at least 30, but on the 2013 edition of the All-Collapse All-Stars, 29 is the most common age. (Then again, if Montero had been born 10 days earlier than his actual birth of July 9, we’d consider this to be his age-30 season).
Since taking over as Arizona’s catcher in 2009, Montero has been a dependable, quality hitter, batting over .280 with 15-20 homers and maybe 30 doubles a season.
Not this year. Not even close. Right now, Montero is batting under .230, about 50 points off where he’d normally be. And it’s not just singles he’s lacking, as his power has withered away. Normally, his slugging percentage is about 170 points higher than his batting average, but right now it’s barely 100 points better. A batter worth about three wins per year according to WAR is currently a replacement-level disappointment.
First baseman: Paul Konerko, White Sox, age 37
Konerko is the old man of the squad, a full four years more aged than anyone else. He’s also a little out of position, as he’s spent much of the year at DH. Still, the longtime Sox first baseman has earned his slot.
A very good player for an awfully long time, Konerko first looked like he was on the way out a few years ago. In 2007, the 31-year saw his batting average drop several dozen points to .259, and the next year it slipped even further.
Well, you’d expect a player as good as Konerko to hit the wall around then, but instead of fading away, he rallied and had maybe the best batting season of his career in 2010, belting 39 homers while hitting .312. He’s declined a bit after that, but in 2012 he still hit around .300 with power.
Now Konerko is batting .249 with just seven home runs. He hasn’t played much lately due to injuries, but mostly he hasn’t been very good.
The other contenders for this slot are Ike Davis of the Mets and Yuniesky Betancourt of the Brewers. The 26-year-old Davis actually has been sent to the minors he’s so bad, while Betancourt never was much of a hitter.
Second baseman: Jeff Keppinger, White Sox, age 33
Keppinger’s game always has been built on batting average, and last year he had a career year, hitting 40 points higher than his career .284 mark. Now he’s nearly 40 points under with a .250 mark. And it’s an empty .250, too. Why, he didn’t draw his first walk until mid-May despite playing almost every day.
At the midseason mark, WAR declares Keppinger to be tied for the unwanted designation of worst position player in baseball: 1.6 wins below replacement level. That helps Keppinger claim this slot over competitors Martin Prado of Arizona and Darwin Barney of the Cubs.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Cubs, age 23
Well now, age 23 sure is rather young for this squad. The next-youngest guys here are 28 years old. Yeah, but if you’re going to put a 23-year-old on team, Castro is one to put on.
First, whereas most 23-year-old players have virtually no track record to draw on, Castro has been a starter since mid-2010 and appeared in over 500 games. He’s a two-time All-Star who led the league in hits in 2011.
Oh, yeah, and he has completely, utterly cratered this year. He’s played in nearly every game this year and has a .234 batting average, four home runs, and 14 walks (versus 68 strikeouts). Over the last seven weeks, he’s hit barely .180 with a .221 on-base percentage and .249 slugging percentage. That’s pretty good … for a pitcher, but not for anyone else. And that’s not even counting all his mental errors on the bases and miscues in the field.
Remember how Keppinger was tied for the honor of worst player in baseball at 1.6 wins under replacement? Castro is the guy he is tied with. A man who made the All-Star team at age 21 and 22 is the worst offensive player in baseball at age 23. Yes, that’s a collapse. (At any rate, there is no definitely deserving shortstop around age 30 to include on the team.)
This is a guy who led the NL in hits at age 21. When Castro came up, optimists said he could be the next Robin Yount, and pessimists feared he’d just turn into the next Garry Templeton. He could still end up being either one of those two. But for now, Castro would need to improve significantly in order live up to the pessimistic projection.
Third baseman: Chase Headley, Padres, age 29.
Headley breaks up the all-Chicago infield with a thudding performance of his own.
Fun fact: last year Headley led the NL in RBIs with 115. Less fun fact: he’s currently tied for 61st in RBIs with 27. That’s quite the come-down. He blasted 31 doubles and 31 homers last year but now has 13 two-baggers and just seven round trippers. Meanwhile, his batting average his dropped over 60 points to .222.
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Angels, age 32
You knew this one was coming, right? An All-Star for five straight years, in the top ten in MVP voting three times—including the 2010 AL MVP Award winner—Hamilton might be the most high-profile flounderer of the season. A slugger who entered the the first year of a big contract with the Angels with a career .304 batting average, Hamilton has a .229 average with only 12 homers.
It would be even worse, but Hamilton has been pretty hot over the last two weeks, hitting .375 with a trio of doubles and a pair of homers, including a walk-off homer last Saturday.
Outfield: Matt Kemp, Dodgers, age 28
Two years ago, Kemp nearly won the first NL Triple Crown since the 1930s, leading the league in homers and RBIs while finishing third in batting average. Last year, he missed a third of the season due to hamstring issues but still batted over .300 with 23 homers.
This year he’s awful, with just four homers and a .254 average. How much are the hamstring issues to blame? Well, he has missed a month this year due to them and wasn’t as good last year when he came back from injury. That said, he hit about .280 after coming off his injury last year, quite a bit higher than he’s managing now.
Kemp is on the team because of how much his production has collapsed, but if the injury angle is too much, you could always replaces him with Arizona’s Jason Kubel or St. Louis’ Jon Jay or Toronto’s Melky Cabrera, or any of a number of other outfielders.
Outfield: B.J. Upton, Braves, age 28
This probably isn’t what Atlanta had in mind when they signed Upton . Never a great hitter for average, he could compensate for his .250-ish average with a well-rounded game. He stole 30-40 bases with few caught stealings, had legitimate mid-range power, and drew his share of bases on balls. At least that was the case in Tampa Bay.
In Atlanta? Not so much. Currently he is hitting .176, the lowest by anyone qualifying for the batting title. It’s the lowest by 26 points. Yeesh. And when you don’t get on base that often, you don’t steal much either, as the elder Upton has seven steals so far. His power numbers also are down. It’s just been a dismal start to his days as a Brave.
Designated hitter: David Murphy, Rangers, age 31
Murphy is actually an outfielder, not a DH, but I shifted him here because I’d rather have him on the team than any DH. Since becoming a starting Rangers corner outfielder in 2008, Murphy has been pretty dependable. He’d have 25 or so doubles and 15 homers with a batting average from .270 to .300. There is nothing sensational about his game, but it generally adds up to a decent performance.
In 2013, he still has his power (if anything, it’s a tad better than normal), but he can’t hit worth a lick. Right now, his average is down to .221. The good news for Murphy is that batting average can fluctuate, and if the rest of his game is there, he has a very good chance to return to form. The bad news is that it’s July, and he’s hitting .221.
There is an obvious DH candidate to be placed here: Albert Pujols. Heck, his troubles this year are even more well-known than those of his teammate, Hamilton. But Pujols, as far as he’s dropped, is still a bit too good for this team.
His OPS+ still is in triple digits, and while that stat isn’t the end-all, be-all, it seems strange putting someone with an above-average park-adjusted OPS on a team that’s supposed to be about guys who are suddenly terrible. Pujols is suddenly mortal, but he isn’t dead.
Starting pitcher: Joe Saunders, Mariners, age 32.
Over the last four or five years, you knew what you’d get from Joe Saunders. He’s never been great, but he’ll eat some innings for you. He takes his regular turn and posts a park-adjusted ERA right around league average. It might be a little above, as was the case in 2011 and 2012, or a little below, like 2008 and 2009. But even in 2009, when he lost 17 games, his ERA was just a little worse than the average starter, and that was his worst year as a starting pitcher.
This year, Saunders has fallen from average to replacement level. His ERA+ is 79, which stinks. A typical starting pitcher ERA+ is around 96 (relievers generally have better ERAs), and that’s where Saunders usually is, but this year he’s shifted from pitching like a third starter to pitching like a fifth starter, and fifth starters are the definition of replacement level.
Starting pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies, age 29
Since joining the Phillies rotation in 2006, Cole Hamels has been a tremendous pitcher. He’d gone 94-71 with a 3.41 ERA from 2006-12. Wins Above Replacement lists him as the eighth-best pitcher in all baseball over that span, valuing him at 29.9 wins. Just last year, he posted a 17-6 record with the eighth-best ERA in the NL, 3.05.
In 2013, Hamels again stands among the league leaders, except now it’s for losses. Sure, Philadelphia’s bats haven’t helped Hamels, as he’s stumbled to a 3-11 start to the season, but his ERA has ballooned up to 4.38, about a run per nine innings worse than his career mark.
Starting pitcher: Shaun Marcum, Mets, age 31
Sometimes things fall apart all at once. Marcum had a nice run as a starter. Though he missed all of 2009, in every year he pitched in from 2007-12, he was a solid, though never spectacular, starting pitcher, posting above-average park-adjusted ERAs in each season.
That was then. In 2013, Marcum has the unenviable record of one win and 10 losses. Yeah, a .091 winning percentage isn’t really ideal. His ERA, which has been under 4.00 in each of his last four campaigns, now stands at 5.29.
Starting pitcher: Matt Cain, Giants, age 28
Cain has been a quality pitcher since making it to the majors as a 20-year-old in 2005. In each of the last three years, he’s received support in the Cy Young Award voting. He’s started over 30 games a year, with a park-adjusted ERA better than average every single season. Over the last three years, his ERA+ marks have been a model of consistency: 124, 121, and 126.
Entering 2013, Cain’s career ERA stood at 3.27 through 1,500-plus innings pitched. This year, his ERA is 4.85. When you work in a pitcher’s park, that’s below-replacement-level pitching. He leads the league in earned runs allowed.
What’s killing Cain is his performance with runners on base. Opponents are hitting just .178 with the bags empty but .308 with runners on. Over the course of his career, those numbers are .224 and .230, respectively. So it looks like he’s just having the hits come at bad times, but so far they’ve kept on coming.
Starting pitcher: Edwin Jackson, Cubs, age 29.
This offseason, Jackson signed a nice multi-year deal with the Cubs, already the eighth team to hire him in his career. They didn’t expect him to be great, but a dependable innings-eater. That’s what he’d been over the last five years. From 2008 to 2012, he was 59-52 with an ERA+ of 105 and a full load of starts each season. Even in his worst year, 2010, his ERA+ of 95 was almost perfectly average for a starting pitcher.
An average-quality innings-eater isn’t what the Cubs have seen so far, though. He has a 5.50 ERA to go with his 5-10 record and league-leading 11 wild pitches.
The good news for the Cubs is that Jackson’s problems are primarily caused by balls in play falling for hits. If Voros McCracken has taught us anything, it’s that when a pitcher’s walk, strikeout, and homer rates are consistent with his previous track record, but hits on balls in play aren’t, he has a good shot to recover.
Plenty of other pitchers can be put on this team. I’m tempted to put the entire Toronto Blue Jays starting staff on, as they are all having a down time. True, but none quite fit in year. As down as R.A. Dickey has been, at age 38 I’m a little leery of putting someone that old on when there are other worthwhile candidates. Mark Buehrle had an abysmal start but has recovered since then. Josh Johnson faded in 2012 and has only 10 appearances so far in 2013.
Zack Greinke probably deserves a mention, but he also has just 10 starts. Brandon McCarthy, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Jason Hammel, David Price, Dan Haren, and others all have cases to be made, but they have to settle for this “honorable” mention.
Closer: Huston Street, Padres, age 29.
There are a few good candidates for relief act on the 2013 All-Collapse team. Jose Valverde is having a horrible time of it in Detroit, and Brandon League has been a Dodger disaster. But Huston Street has been not only dependable for several years, but was so extremely good just last year, posting a miniscule 1.85 ERA.
This year, not only has his ERA risen to 4.45, but his peripherals are terrible, too. A year after fanning 47 batters in 39 innings, he’s barely whiffing a batter every other inning. Meanwhile, he’s allowed 10 homers in 28.1 innings, so he nearly has as many homers allowed as strikeouts (15). He’s lucky his ERA isn’t higher than it already is.
The good news for these guys is that most players who fall apart one year come back the next. Some even come back all the way, but most simply improve. It’s the plexiglass principle. But for this year, things have not gone well for any of them.
References & Resources
Info comes from Baseball-reference.com. All stats are through Saturday’s games.