It’s midseason, and the All-Star game is upon us. And at this point in the year, it’s time to take stock of what’s happened. For me, that means an annual tradition here at THT: the All-Collapse All-Stars.
You see, aging doesn’t work the same for everyone. Ever since the days of Bill James, we’ve known that a player’s prime is typically from age 27 to 30 and that in the 30s players gradually decline in their skills and abilities. Yup, on the whole there is a gradual decay in performance in those years.
But that’s in the aggregate. For individuals, it doesn’t always work that smoothly. Some hold on better than expected, while others age just as they’re supposed to. But other, well, others get really old really quickly. That’s what this column is looking at.
To be fair, a lot of this isn’t just aging but random variation from year to year. Last season’s collapse king was Adam Dunn. He’s an All-Star this year. Still, some guys fall apart, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put these guys back together again. Just ask your friendly local neighborhood Roberto Alomar about how that can work.
For this team, I’m looking at guys who were good in the past but have really fallen far. Ideally, they should be in their early 30s, the point in life when age-related decline really can strike with unexpected fierceness. Also, there shouldn’t be any injuries to explain the flopping.
That’s the theory of how the team should be staffed. In reality, it’s hard to always do that, but you field the best All-Collapse roster you can based on what’s happened so far on the season. Who knows what the future will hold for these guys, but as of right now they are the All-Collapse All-Stars for the first half of 2012. (Note: all numbers are through Friday’s games and thus a bit out of date but close enough.)
Catcher: Brian McCann, age 28
He’s been an All-Star caliber catcher for the last several years, but this season is different. McCann still has the same power as in recent years, but his walks are down a tick, and his batting average is well below normal for him. A .286 lifetime hitter heading into this year, his average is currently at .231.
McCann is a good bet to rebound, but it’s been a rough go of it so far in 2012.
Alternate pick: Miguel Olivo of the Mariners.
First base: Adrian Gonzalez, age 30.
Gonzalez is the first Red Sox player to get mentioned on this squad, but he won’t be the last.
In 2011, he led the league in hits with 213. This year, his average is down nearly 60 points, from .338 to .280. Well, that’s because last year’s average was flukishly high, and .280 is closer to his normal season.
Yeah, but his power numbers are well off a typical Gonzalez performance. He’s bashed at least 30 homers each year from 2007 through 2010 and then smashed another 27 last year. Yet with over 80 games played, he’s stuck on just six homers. To be fair, Goznalez has more doubles than normal, but he really misses those homers. That should be something of a fluke as it looks like he’s just missing, but as of now, he hasn’t delivered.
With power and numbers down, pitchers are less likely to keep the ball away from batters. As a result, the man who led the NL in 2009 in walks with 119 has just 23 so far on the season. Yeah, that’s a collapse.
Second base: Orlando Hudson, age 34.
You can stick a fork in O-Dog; he’s done. He’s the sort of player you’d expect to collapse around age 34, as he was a long good-but-never-great player. He maintained his game for as long as he could, but now Hudson is just a disaster.
He began the year in San Diego, batting barely over .200 in 35 games with the strange power numbers of zero doubles, five triples, and one home run. The White Sox took a flier on him, but Hudson has been even worse there while providing bad defense at third base, a position he never played before in the majors.
Hudson is having an undeniable collapse season. He was a solid starting player last year, and he might be out of baseball altogether by Labor Day this year..
Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez, age 30
But Ramirez, perhaps their most seemingly dependable player on Opening Day, has been a disaster. A typical Ramirez season features nice tweener power of 15-20 homers, a batting average around .280, and maybe 50 walks.
Well, his average isn’t too far below normal, around .260. But his power has completely evaporated. He has got just two homers in 80-plus games. Oh, and he’s drawn just nine walks.
Bill James invented a fun stat, secondary average, designed to look at all the main non-batting average offensive components. It’s extra bases plus walks plus stolen bases divided by at-bats. The highest score is supposed to be around .500 and the lowest around .100. Ramirez typically scores lowly in secondary average (.198 heading into 2012), but this year he’s a dreadful .125.
In other words, aside from batting average, Ramirez isn’t contributing anything. And his average is no great shakes.
Honorable mention: J.J. Hardy of the Orioles.
Struggling Sox shortstop Ramirez
Third base: Kevin Youkilis, age 33.
There’s no third baseman I really like for this team. It’s either Youkilis or Arizona’s Ryan Roberts, and Roberts has never had back-to-back good seasons.
On the face of it, Youkilis is a good man to put on the team. He’s an early-30s player who is having a rough go of it after several years on consistent quality batting performances.
Yeah, but part of the problem with Youkilis has been injuries, playing in barely 50 games so far. Also, he’s woken up lately. Since the Red Sox traded him to the White Sox, Youkilis has hit .310. Admittedly, it’s only 11 games, but then again he played just 42 in Boston when he hit .233. He’s here because I have to put someone at third base.
Outfield: Marlon Byrd, age 34.
As it happens, the most promising outfield candidates this year all play center field.
Byrd has been a consistent player for a few years now. Going by OPS+, his numbers from 2009-11 are: 106, 105, and 97. Yeah, it’s a downward trend, but it’s more consistent than anything. He never walked much, but he got his hits and generally had some doubles power.
This year he’s been a disaster. He played in 47 games for two teams and managed a grand total of three extra-base hits. Meanwhile, he’s only hitting .210. Never a king of patience at the plate, Byrd has just five walks on the year. Oh, and he’s also 0-for-3 in stolen base attempts. Remember how bad Alexei Ramirez’s secondary average was? Well, Byrd’s is even lower: .065.
He began the year as the Cubs’ Opening Day starting center fielder but is already out of baseball, as the North Siders traded him to the Red Sox, who have since cut him. That’s a collapse all right.
This Byrd has flown
Outfield: Shane Victorino, age 31.
Someone has to represent the Phillies on this team, right? The perennial playoff contenders are in last place, and while their problems go well beyond Victorino, he’s certainly not helping the team.
It’s weird. Victorino hit 39 triples from 2009-11, tied with Dexter Fowler for the most in all of baseball. This year, Victorino has two so far. He’s still stealing bases, but he just can’t leg out triples. He’s also not getting hits, as the man who normally can be safely assumed to hit .280 or .290 is right now looking up at .250.
Victorino is a good bet to rebound some, but for now he’s experiencing a bit of a mini-meltdown to his offensive game.
Outfield: Coco Crisp, age 32.
Crisp was never a great hitter, but he was at least serviceable. He’s hit about .270 while recording about 40 extra-base hits a season. That wouldn’t do for a corner outfielder and certainly won’t make any All-Star squads from center, but it’s been enough for Crisp to keep a starting job over the years.
Those years appear numbered, as Crisp is hitting in the .220 range with just 10 extra-base hits so far. At least he still steals bases: 16 for 17 in that facet of the game.
Designated hitter: Michael Young, age 35.
Young was a great story last year. The long-time Texas stalwart looked like he might be odd man out in the lineup, but instead he batted .338 with 41 doubles and a league-topping 213 hits.
Times change. Young still has a regular role in the lineup, but not only is he nowhere near last year’s career high numbers, but he’s also definitely under his established level of performance.
A traditional doubles threat, Young has just 14 so far this season. A man with decent tweener home run power has just three in 81 games played. And the career .300 hitter is under .270 for the first time in a decade. An All-Star last year is now an offensive liability this season.
Starting pitcher: Tim Lincecum, age 28
He’s a bit young for the team, but what the hell has happened to Lincecum this year? He has been a terrific pitcher for several years. In four full seasons, his ERA has topped 3.00 just once, and that was only 3.43. Meanwhile, he’s led the league in strikeouts three times.
In 2012 … well, if Lincecum was planet Earth, then the Mayan apocalypse predictions would be true. His ERA is on the wrong side of 6.00, as he’s posted a 6.08 ERA. He’s allowed 145 base runners in 93.1 innings for a league-leading 63 earned runs allowed.
Here’s the funny part, though: Lincecum still is striking guys out all the time. He’s 10th in the NL with 101 whiffs and is third in K/9. He still has talent, but he sure isn’t getting the results.
Will Lincecum bounce back or not?
Starting pitcher: Dan Haren, age 31
Haren has been a pretty good pitcher for seven straight seasons, always posting a better-than-average park-adjusted ERA and winning 12-16 games a year.
This year, he’s suddenly become a replacement-level hurler. While he might be a little hit unlucky, his walk-, strikeout- and home run-per-inning rates are all on the wrong side of his lifetime averages. No wonder his ERA is 4.86, easily the worst since becoming a full-time starting pitcher.
Starting pitcher: Ervin Santana, age 29.
Santana, Haren’s Angels teammate, has never been as consistent, occasionally mixing in bad years with good years. But he had back-to-back good ones prior to 2011, and he’s never been as bad as he’s been so far this season.
His 5.75 ERA this year is actually ever-so-narrowly better than his 5.76 mark in 2007, but offensive levels across the game were higher then. More than that, Santana is really earning his bad ERA. He’s on pace for career worsts in walks and homers per nine innings, and he has the second-worst K/9 rate of his life. That adds up to a rotten season.
Starting pitcher: James Shields, age 30
When I wrote the rough draft for this article, this spot originally went to Gavin Floyd of the White Sox. Then he threw nearly eight innings of shutout ball to move his numbers close enough to last year’s level to make it pointless to put him on this team.
So instead the “honor” goes to Tampa’s Shields. By park-adjusted ERA, he is having an off year, but he was actually worse two years ago. Then again, ERA—by its very nature—doesn’t account for unearned runs, and Shields leads all baseball with 12 unearned runs allowed. Overall, he’s allowing over five runs per nine innings. That is a definite step down as, aside from 2010, he’s consistently been a quality arm.
Starting pitcher: Nick Blackburn, age 30.
He’s never been that good a starter, and in 2010 he was downright bad. Overall, though, he’s been about average, posting an ERA+ of 94 from 2008-11. (A typical starting pitcher ERA+ is 96, as relievers have better ERAs overall).
So far in 2012, however, Blackburn has been an utter ball of suck.
In 13 starts, he’s lasted just 63.1 innings. As a general rule of thumb, starting pitchers aren’t supposed to average fewer than five innings per outing. But that’s what happens when you have three times as many hits allowed as batters fanned, as is the case with Blackburn: 90 to 30.
His 8.10 ERA is the most by anyone with at least 32 innings pitched on the year, so he gets the last spot in the All-Collapse team’s rotation, beating out Jon Lester and Gavin Floyd.
Closer: Frank Francisco, age 32
But Francisco has been very consistently good for a few years, and this year just flopped. His ERA was always a respectable three-point-something for several seasons in a row. This year he’s struggling to keep it under 5.00. In fact, it’s only under five because he’s pitched well as of late. As recent as mid-May it was on the wrong side of 8.00.
Control has been his main problem. Instead of walking a batter every three innings as he’s typically done, Francisco is walking one every other inning.
Many of these guys will bounce back in the second half, and others will return to form next year. But for right now, there are the players who have turned into pumpkins the fastest in 2012.
References & Resources
Numbers from Baseball-Reference.com prior to Saturday’s games.